Walter Lantz, Ben Hardaway & Alex Lovy (1940)
Woody Woodpecker is an animated cartoon character, an anthropomorphic red-headed woodpecker who appeared in theatrical short films produced by the Walter Lantz animation studio and distributed by Universal Studios.
Knock Knock is a 1940 animated short subject, part of the Andy Panda series, produced by Walter Lantz. The cartoon is noted for being the first appearance of Woody Woodpecker, and was released by Universal Pictures on November 25, 1940.
Like most of the early 1940s Lantz cartoons, Knock Knock carried no director’s credit. Lantz himself has claimed to have directed this cartoon, although more recent information has indicated that Alex Lovy was the actual director. The cartoon features animation by Lovy and Frank Tipper, a story by Ben Hardaway and Lowell Elliott, and music by Frank Marsales. Knock Knock was Marsales’ final score for Lantz.
As the first appearance of Woody Woodpecker, Knock Knock is also the first cartoon to feature Woody’s trademark laugh, a gurgling cackle voice artist Mel Blanc had been perfecting since high school. This is also the laugh Blanc used for Happy Rabbit, a predecessor to Bugs Bunny in the 1939 cartoon Hare-um Scare-um. This cartoon is also notable for featuring a very crude Woody design, something that was softened by 1942 and later changed into a much more realistic and easier to animate woodpecker by 1944. This first design featured Woody with red vest feathers (instead of white), buck teeth in some shots, thick ringed legs, two green tail feathers, and a big chin. The short almost never saw the light of the day because then distributor Bernie Krieser (representing Universal) thought Woody was the ugliest thing he had ever seen. Lantz told him, “You’re not paying for these pictures. All you’re doing is distributing them. So release him because I’m taking a chance.” So then Krieser took it back and asked for a series as the short was a hit.
Woody’s first words are his trademark “Guess who?” as he pops through the roof of Andy Panda’s house, except the voice is normal-sounding instead of sped-up as Woody’s voice normally would be.