Almanac: Woody Woodpecker

Woody Woodpecker Lantz/Universal Pictures

(CBS News) And now a page from our Sunday Morning Almanac . . . November 25th, 1940, 72 years ago today, a date that will live in cartoon history.

For that was the day Woody Woodpecker made his big-screen debut, as a guest star in an Andy Panda cartoon called "Knock Knock."

Woody was the creation of animator Walter Lantz, who told his children's TV show audience many years later that the character was inspired by the incessant knocking he once heard on the roof of his country cabin:

"Yes, it was a big, red-headed woodpecker banging on the roof as if his life depended on it," Lantz recalled. "I shouted at him and he flew away, and as he flew away, he laughed this crazy sort of laugh!"

Woody's maniacal laugh, incidentally, was the creation of Mel Blanc, who recorded it BEFORE he signed an exclusive contract to voice the Warner Brothers cartoon characters.

Woody was an immediate hit, and he went on to star in dozens of cartoons over the years - with Lantz's own wife, Grace Stafford, eventually providing Woody's voice.

With time, Woody became rounder and cuter, and a tad more restrained.

And as the golden era of theatrical cartoon shorts faded in the 1950s, Woody got a second life as a children's TV series, with Walter Lantz himself as host.

Though Lantz shut down his animation studio in 1972, Woody has lived on in re-runs. He also had a brief cameo in the 1988 film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

For many years Woody was a star of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Now, these days he has his very own rollercoaster at the Universal Theme Park in Orlando.

As the old adage has it: He who laughs last, truly does laugh best.

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