KNOCK ON WOOD

Woody Woodpecker

MY FAVOURITE FUNNIES No. 21

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that’s the woody woodpecker song

Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters were having great success as a team recording for Decca Records, from 1947 to 1950, when they covered THE WOODY WOODPECKER SONG (circa 1948). Danny did the laugh himself.


theWoodyWoodpeckersongGeorge Tibbles and Ramey Idriss wrote THE WOODY WOODPECKER SONG, which was first recorded by Kay Kyser’s orchestra with Harry Babbitt doing the laugh and Gloria Wood singing the tune. Released in 1948, it was a huge hit. It was even nominated for an Oscar.

The song started a national Woody Woodpecker craze with boys–and even some girls–getting Woody Woodpecker haircuts.

THE WOODY WOODPECKER SONG was soon covered by many other artists, including Danny and the sisters Andrews, and there was even a version by Mel Blanc and the Sportsmen.

Blanc’s was the original voice of Woody Woodpecker.

Yet Mel was not too happy with Walter Lantz–the producer of the Woody Woodpecker cartoons–as Blanc’s laugh continued to be used (without pay) as a stock effect in all the Woody Woodpecker cartoons. Blanc sued and the case was settled out of court, with Lantz no longer using Mel’s recording of the laugh; however, all the Woody Woodpecker cartoons continued to use Blanc’s Guess who? at the beginning of every feature.

not wanted on the voyage

Sometime in the late ‘60s, I forget exactly when, my sisters and I got a bunch of Big Little Books as gifts. I was given BATMAN AND ROBIN: THE CHEETAH CAPER, DICK TRACY ENCOUNTERS FACEY and THE FANTASTIC FOUR IN THE HOUSE OF HORRORS–except that I didn’t like the Fantastic Four on a matter of principle and traded the book away without giving it a chance.

I was angry at THE FANTASTIC FOUR IN THE HOUSE OF HORRORS for not being what I had thought it should be which was FANTASTIC VOYAGE. The latter was quite awesome–in addition to the FANTASTIC VOYAGE movie that had been aired on TV–there was a Gold Key one-shot comic book and a new cartoon series. I expected the Fantastic Four to be those people and when Reed Richards didn’t turn out to be Stephen Boyd and Sue Storm was not Raquel Welch, then I was angry at them for calling themselves Fantastic. How dare they!

Fantastic Voyage

So I traded away that Big Little Book for a Woody Woodpecker Big Little Book–WOODY WOODPECKER AND THE METEOR MENACE. Apparently some people liked THE FANTASTIC FOUR IN THE HOUSE OF HORRORS–there’s a positive review of it on Dial B for Blog–but I think I got the best deal. Because, of the three, the Woody Woodpecker adventure was far and away the most satisfying read. The Dick Tracy story was all right, while the Batman and Robin story I have to say was not so great.

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But the Woody Woodpecker tale was one of those books that just sweeps you up in its spell and takes you for a great ride. The plot may have owed something to Alexander Korda movies and if I had been older, maybe I would not have been so impressed. But that book got me at just the right time and remains with me as an example of how to tell a good story.

knothead and splinter

Produced by the Walter Lantz studio for Universal Pictures, Woody Woodpecker first appeared in what was ostensibly an Andy Panda short–KNOCK KNOCK (1940)–but the red-headed woodpecker took over all the action and Andy is almost a side note in that feature.

woody.knotheadwoody.xmaspartyAs with most cartoon characters, Woody would go through growing pains before the definitive image of the bird was developed. Woody Woodpecker soon gave up his manic ways as the animation style altered and United Artists took over distribution from Universal.

So by the ’50s, a domesticated version of the bird appeared at the movie theatres, as well as in the comic books published by Dell. Knothead and Splinter were added to the cast as Woody’s young wards. Presumably Woody was their uncle. However, in my Big Little Book this is never made clear–Knothead and Splinter simply refer to the older bird as Woody.

the big and the little of it

The Whitman Publishing Company began selling their Big Little Books in 1932 with THE ADVENTURES OF DICK TRACY DETECTIVE. The classic period for these books lasted through the ’40s. After that there were different attempts to revive the line. The books that our family got in the late ‘60s were part of the 2000 line issued between 1967 and 1969.
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For more on all things Big, Little and Book go to the website: http://www.biglittlebooks.com

The challenge in reading Big Little Books was trying to find a way to read the text as well as the caption under the illustration on the facing page.
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Usually the caption wasn’t a pull quote from the text, yet nevertheless referred to what was happening in the story. I’m sure every reader found his own solution to this challenge. Yet this resulted in a backward and forward sense to the narrative, as whenever one chose to read the caption it was either referring to something already stated in the text or something one hadn’t got to yet.

I find it interesting that, in my reading, I’ve never run across an analysis of what this does to a child’s mind. You would think educators would have done a study on it. It probably accounts for my present confusion about what is future and what is past.

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plot, we got a lot

With Knothead and Splinter, Woody flies off to the land of Torabia, in hopes of seeing his pen pal Prince Abdul. However, the trio of woodpeckers are waylaid at every turn and never get to have an audience with the prince.

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A desert kingdom, Torabia’s main export is carpets. And after treking through the desert, the three are delivered to the royal palace rolled up in a carpet.

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The younger two are separated from their guardian, as Woody is tortured by being tickled while listening to a recording of bad jokes. Next, Woody is catapulted to what should be his doom. However, rescued by Splinter and Knothead, they then commandeer the volatile Hamel the Camel.

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For most of the book, Knothead and Splinter are the ones who have to think their way out of sticky situations, whereas Woody seems a bit slow on the uptake. Knothead even has a clever device, made to look like an ordinary camera case yet outfitted with useful secrets for an aspiring spy kid.

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The evil Grand Vizier Vana conspires to use a catapult to launch a large boulder that will land on Prince Abdul as he sits in his royal box, thus killing the prince. It will seem as though the prince was killed by a falling meteor, leaving Vana to take over the government. Of course, this can’t happen and tragedy is avoided in the end.

he’s don arr christensen,  christensen that’s he

The author of WOODY WOODPECKER AND THE METEOR MENACE was Don R. Christensen–also known as Don Arr.  Don R. Christensen was a teller of tales, with many a tale to tell and I’d say he told them rather well.

woody.frontispieceChristensen’s own tale took in the whole length and breadth of classic American cartooning.  Born Donald Ragnwald Christensen in 1916, he studied at the Minnesota School of Art in Minneapolis. In 1937, Don Christensen became a sketch artist for Walt Disney–where he would work on PINOCCHIO and DUMBO. But along with a large group of other artists working for Disney, who had gone on strike against their master, Don was dismissed in 1941.

[It was after this dispute that Walt decided to get out of town and go on his Latin-American tour–see OTF 17.02.15]

In the following years, Christensen worked in comics, both as an artist and as a writer. Most of the work he did in the ‘40s was either funny animal or some other form of humour–primarily for National (DC) and for Ned Pines (Standard, etc.). But Don gained a  lot of employment with Dell, especially in the ‘50s and he continued to work for Western Publishing when it switched over to Gold Key in the ’60s–and then on into the ‘70s.

At Dell/Gold Key, Don Christensen worked with many licensed cartoon characters, including Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse.

woodywoodpecker36As many Dell comics were based on a variety of movies and television shows, Christensen branched out into all genres for his comic book work. And he worked on original series, as well, writing MAGNUS ROBOT FIGHTER for Gold Key (created by Russ Manning).

While working in comics, Don Christensen continued to work in animation for Bob Clampett (at the Warner Brothers studio) and then subsequently for Hanna Barbera, Walter Lantz Productions, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, and even for Disney again.

From 1966 to 1974, Christensen was the art director at Filmation Associates–turning out such cartoon series as SUPERMAN, BATMAN, SUPERBOY, STAR TREK and ARCHIE. From 1975 to 1982, for Filmation, he produced other animated features like THE SECRET OF ISIS, FLASH GORDON, TOM & JERRY and MIGHTY MOUSE.

After Filmation closed down, Don continued to work for assorted animation studios until his retirement in 1994.

Other cartoon work included: for Walter Lantz, the Woody Woodpecker feature COO COO NUTS (1970);  for Ruby Spears, a segment of THE PLASTIC MAN COMEDY-ADVENTURE SHOW; and for Marvel Productions, stories for MY LITTLE PONY (1987).

Don R. Christensen was so prolific and involved with so many varied forms–including comics strips and Big Little Books and no doubt sailing ships and fishing hooks–that we might go around and around and never find an end to all the telling of his tale before the end would come and take away the tale.

In the end, Christensen was taken away in 2006 at the age of ninety. When he was thirteen, he was diagnosed as diabetic and was not expected to live past forty. So there you are, that’s Don Arr.

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my favourite finds
Kermit the Hermit!

by Don Arr

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The story of Kermit the Hermit appeared in COO COO COMICS No. 45 (May ’49), published by Ned Pines. Don Christensen did the artwork–under his pen name Don Arr–and one can guess that he may have written the story, as well. This story can also be found on Comic Book Plus: http://comicbookplus.com

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WARNING!
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the next issue is
THE RUIN

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All characters, logos, and images are owned and © 2015 by current copyright holders. They are used here for educational and review purposes.

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