(1899-1994) US animator who joined the Hearst animation studio at the precocious age of 16; there he worked alongside such greats as Burt Gillett, Jack King, I Klein, Grim Natwick and Ben Sharpsteen; his development was rapid. When the studio closed in 1918, WL moved first to Barré/Bowers and then to John Bray, where he soon became studio manager and produced his Dinky Doodle series of live-action/animated shorts. When this studio in turn closed in 1927, WL was employed as a gag writer by Mack Sennett. In due course Universal's Carl Laemmle asked him to set up an animation studio, his first project being to continue the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. The commercial details of this are murky, and best left so; WL himself was blameless. In the wake of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) he proposed to create for Universal a rival feature, «Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp», but this never appeared – largely because WL wisely realized that, at the time, no one could take on Disney at their own game and win (Max Fleischer was less wise).
Over the years WL had created various Talking Animals for his animated shorts: the one he is renowned for, Woody Woodpecker, seems in fact to have been created by Ben Hardaway (see Bugs Bunny) for the short Knock Knock (1940); the raucous laugh was done first by Mel Blanc, then by various others briefly until in 1951 Grace Stafford, WL's wife, adopted it in perpetuity. The character had really been launched with The Barber of Seville (1944), when Shamus Culhane took over the direction.
Over the years WL also, in imitation of Disney's Silly Symphonies series, was responsible for Cartune Classics, Swing Symphonies and Musical Miniatures. He eventually gave up animation in 1972, apparently because it no longer made commercial sense to produce shorts. Although he was never a real innovator, his genuine wit and his ability to spot and hire talented animators – any list would fill a column of this book – make him a landmark figure in the history of screened fantasy. [JG]