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Meet my boss, Walter Lantz

October 22, 2007 |  6:49 am



Oct. 18, 1957
Mirror-News Staff Writer

1957_1018_bazoom_girl There may be no production of cartoon shorts for theaters within five years, warns Walter Lantz, veteran cartoonist-producer.

The creator of Woody Woodpecker blames the possible end of a theater cartoon era on skyrocketing costs and the lack of extra funds from exhibitors.

"But there'll always be a market for cartoons," he hastens to point out. "Even if no more cartoons are made, old ones will continue to be screened on a periodic basis."

In 28 years, Lantz has produced 600 cartoons released through Universal Pictures Co. Thirteen cartoons are slated for production next year.

Seven cartoon producers turned out 175 shorts in 1947, Lantz mentions. Now, he adds, only 75 cartoons are scheduled this year by five producers.

He says in 1941 seven- to eight-minute cartoons were made for $15,000 ($208,367.01 USD 2006). If produced the same way today, he figures, the same cartoon would cost $75,000 ($537,396.28 USD 2006). However, average cost now is $35,000 ($250,784.93 USD 2006) and some of the quality is lost.

Cartoons are one or two minutes shorter now than in 1941, Lantz reveals. A 45-piece orchestra for background music in 1941 has been scaled down to a dozen men. Animators were paid $70 a week in 1941 compared with a minimum of $225 ($1,612.19 USD 2006) now, Lantz explains.

Meanwhile, exhibitors are paying only 15% more now for cartoons than in the prewar days, he stresses.

"Exhibitors still won't pay 25 cents extra for a booking," Lantz emphasizes. "We're lucky to get $100 a week for a cartoon at a first-run theater. But the fee goes as low as $4 a week at second-run small-town houses."

Despite the glum outlook for the cartoon industry, Lantz expects his Walter Lantz Productions (of which he is sole owner) to increase business next year. He started his firm with $20,000 in 1937, now values it at $6 million.

Sensing the downward trend in cartoons, Lantz has expanded to television, where he shows older cartoons on ABC-TV (Thursdays, 5 p.m.). "If TV hadn't come along, there would be a very sad picture in the cartoon industry," he says.

"I'm aiming for the biggest teenage and adult audience of any cartoon show on TV," Lantz declares. On the TV show, he includes short segments on how cartoons are made. He also makes TV commercials, using Woody Woodpecker.

Lantz sees no additional producing firms entering the field. "To start out today it would cost a firm $40,000 for each six-minute short and there are many obstacles in the way." The figure does not include rent, camera equipment, etc.

"It takes four years of showings to break even," he explains. "And if it weren't for reissues (about every seven years) I'd be out of business today."