Grace Stafford, The Woman Woody Woodpecker

I know you are lured by the headline but there are other things to tell about Grace Stafford (Grace Boyle (1903-1992) first.

According to Brian Nelson of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Grace hailed from Worcester, Mass., where her father Ed Boyle, was a blind pianist who played in vaudeville. She took her professional name from Stafford Street in Worcester, where she grew up.

Stafford was only 16 years old when she married actor Tom Keene in 1919. At the time, Keene was still George Duryea, a Rochester native who had studied at Columbia and Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon). In 1923, Keene broke into silent films as an actor. While Keene starred in many more respectable films over the years (mostly western B movies), our more puckish readers may know him best as the crusty Colonel in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). In 1935, Stafford became a character actress herself, making her debut in Dr. Socrates starring Paul Muni. Her numerous other credits include the hit Anthony Adverse (1936), Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), Blondie Brings Up Baby (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1942), and Larceny, Inc. (1942).

In 1940 she divorced Keene and married animator and producer Walter Lantz. That was, in fact, the same year he launched the popular character Woody Woodpecker. And yet it would be an entire decade before Stafford took over the role. She continued to take live action roles through 1942’s You’re Telling Me (1942). For the rest of the ’40s she played the occasional voice-over part for Lantz. Then, in 1950, after many other actors had played the part (including Mel Blanc, who played him first and created the trademark laugh) the coveted Woodpecker role became hers. She played Woody in around 200 animated shorts through 1972, the year Lantz stopped producing them. Her last role was in the live-action Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1935).

o learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous. For more on classic comedy shorts, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.