The Mocking ‘Heh-Heh-Heh-HEHHH-Heh’ Voice of Woody Woodpecker Dies
BURBANK, Calif. (AP) _ Gracie Lantz, who conceived the Woody Woodpecker cartoon character and gave the bird its contemptuous ″Heh-heh-heh-HEHHHH-heh″ laugh, has died at age 88.
Mrs. Lantz, wife of animator Walter Lantz, died of spinal cancer Tuesday at St. Joseph Medical Center, said Faith Frenz-Heckman, president of MCA Animation and a family friend.
Woody was inspired by a woodpecker that disturbed the Lantzes’ honeymoon at California’s Lake June in the early 1940s. Mrs. Lantz suggested her husband create an animated character based on the bird.
The late Mel Blanc was among a flock of actors that became the bird’s voice over the years. But Lantz was forced to hunt for another Woody voice when Blanc signed an exclusive contract to do the voices of Bugs Bunny and other Warner Bros. characters in the late 1940s.
Lantz’s wife asked to audition for the part, but Lantz refused. She then secretly made a recording and placed it among the audition tapes of seven other applicants. Lantz picked her.
During the next 40 years and about 200 cartoons, she put the words in Woody’s beak. ″Woody wasn’t cute until I took over,″ she said in a 1981 interview with The Washington Post.
During appearances on talk shows or at schools, Mrs. Lantz would invariably be asked to perform the Woody laugh. When she did, her husband would shake his head and say:
″No dignity. She used to be very proper.″
In addition to her husband, who turns 92 in April, Mrs. Lantz is survived by two brothers. No funeral or memorial service was planned.