INSPECTOR WILLOUGHBYMedium: Theatrical Animation
Released by: Universal (Walter Lantz)
First Appeared: 1958 or so
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Inspector Willoughby is among the better remembered Walter Lantz characters introduced after the early 1950s — but in
a group that includes such stellar names as Maggie & Sam, Sugarfoot and The Beary Family, that's not saying a lot.
Inspector Willoughby (aka Secret Agent 6-7/8) was mostly a 1960s guy, part of the 007-inspired trend toward numbered secret agents, and it was as Secret Agent 6-7/8 that he was promoted as a lead character. But there were other guys named Willoughby, with the same bald head, droopy eyes, bushy mustache and laconic voice, in Lantz cartoon supporting or co-starring roles going back to the '50s. The first was probably Salmon Yeggs (1958), in which he was a watchman in a canning factory, keeping Windy & Breezy (another pair of minor Lantz characters and no relation) from stealing salmon. In Kiddie League (1959), a Willoughby appeared as a baseball umpire.
Were these relatives, or the Inspector himself (perhaps working undercover)? Probably the former. Even as the first few Inspector Willoughby cartoons were coming out, director Jack Hannah was using Ranger Willoughby as a foil for an even more minor character named Fatso Bear, in a short-lived series strongly reminiscent of the conflict between Humphrey Bear and Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore, which Hannah had directed at Disney a few years earlier. (For that matter, it was not dissimilar to Yogi Bear's milieu, but it's more likely Hannah was imitating his own character than Hanna-Barbera's.) The first Fatso/Willoughby cartoon was Hunger Strife (1960).
In all their occupations, the Willoughbys closely resembled Tex Avery's Droopy. In voice, stature and personality, Willoughby could easily have been Droopy, re-designed as a human — especially, in the case of the Inspector, the Droopy of Northwest Hounded Police (1946), in which the imperturbable hound played an implacable law enforcement officer. But Jack Hannah was no Tex Avery; and Dal McKennon (Courageous Cat, Bucky & Pepito, who did Willoughby's voice, was no Bill Thompson. McKennon's other credits include Courageous Cat and Archie.
Hannah directed the first couple of Inspector Willoughby cartoons before leaving the Lantz studio. Eight more were directed by Paul J. Smith, whose credits as an animator go back to the early 1930s but who never made much of a mark as a director. The character made a similar splash in comic books, appearing in the back pages of a few Dell and Gold Key issues.
In all his forms, Willoughby was retired in 1965.