Chilly Willy was a penguin who starred in a series of self-titled theatrical shorts from 1953 to 1972. He was arguably Walter Lantz Productions second most popular character, behind Woody Woodpecker. In 1957, Chilly Willy made a successful transition to the small screen when his theatrical shorts aired alongside other Walter Lantz cartoons on The Woody Woodpecker Show.
A penguin has two main concerns, staying warm and finding food. Chilly Willy spent a great deal of time attempting to do both. He may have looked cute and innocent, but woe to the poor soul who stood in the way of his finding either, because Chilly was nothing if not persistent.
One of Chilly Willy’s earliest and most frequent nemeses was a dog named Smedly. As a standard setup, Smedly acted as caretaker or guard dog for some establishment that Chilly Willy raided for a free meal or to find shelter from the cold. Smedly could easily foil Chilly’s ambitions, but the tiny invader returned no matter how many times he got booted from the premises. If Smedly threw Chilly out a door or escorted the pesky penguin from the grounds, he would turn around or get back to find Chilly already there, as if he had never left. Similarly, Chilly Willy had the habit of appearing in the most unlikely of places, such as sardine cans or closed vaults he had no real way of accessing.
The cast of characters expanded slightly after the series became established. Later friends to join Chilly Willy’s exploits included a polar bear named Maxie and an albatross named Gooney.
Sara Berner provided the voice for Chilly Willy in the very first short “Chilly Willy”. However, the silent penguin didn’t speak again until the mid 60s, when Daws Butler took over voice chores for most of the characters.
Despite penguins being indigenous to the southern hemisphere, the creators placed Chilly in whatever location they found convenient. The first cartoon took place in the South Pole, but Chilly would later find himself in places like Alaska or the Alpine Mountains. Perhaps he was just looking in all the wrong places for a warm climate?