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 fulfill both of those needs. He may have looked cute and innocent, but woe to the poor soul who stood in his way of finding either, because Chilly was nothing if not persistent.
In nearly all of the earliest cartoons, Chilly Willy’s nemesis was a dog named Smedly (often wrongly spelled Smedley), who acted as caretaker or guard dog for some establishment that Chilly Willy raided to find shelter from the cold or a free meal. Chilly was fairly easily foiled, but he kept returning no matter how many times he was booted from the premises. A common scene involved Smedly throwing Chilly out a door or window or escorting the penguin far from the grounds, only to find that by the time he turned around or got back Chilly Willy would already be there, as if he had never left. He also had a habit of just appearing in the most unlikely of places, such as sardine cans or closed vaults that had no way of being accessed. Later friends who would join Chilly Willy in his exploits were 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 pesky penguin didn’t speak again until the mid 60s, when Daws Butler took over the voice chores for the penguin. In fact, Daws Butler did most of the voice work for the series, and the voices he provided for the main characters were largely inspired by, or would provide the inspiration for, more familiar Hanna-Barbera characters also voiced by Daws. Chilly Willy’s voice strongly resembled Elroy from The Jetsons (although not initially—Chilly’s voice changed), Smedly’s voice was identical to Huckleberry Hound, and Gooney’s voice was a dead ringer for Peter Potamus.
Despite the fact that penguins are 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 he was later often found in Alaska and even in the Alpine Mountains in Switzerland. Perhaps Chilly Willy was just looking in all the wrong places for a warm climate?