A promotional drawing of Inspector Willoughby
A promotional drawing of Inspector Willoughby.

Inspector Willoughby, the world's most unlikely secret agent (Agent 6 7/8 to be exact), started off as a recurring supporting character in the Walter Lantz cartoons of the late 1950s, before graduating to his own full-fledged series of cartoons starting in 1961.

The characters' roots can be traced to an earlier character named "Hercules" who appeared in two 1957 cartoons directed by Alex Lovy: Plumber of Seville and The Goofy Gardener. Much like Willoughby, Hercules was also a short, soft-spoken, balding mustachioed man with squinty eyes and a bulbous nose. The character was redesigned and reintroduced the following year by director Paul J. Smith as a foil to two new characters, a father-and-son duo of bears named Windy and Breezy. The character now looked like he would for the remainder of his cartoon career, but was now nameless. The little man turned up in various roles throughout the run of Windy and Breezy shorts, including that of a guard at a cannery, a truant officer, and – in his most bizarre appearance ever – a bee. Paul J. Smith also started using the character in his Woody Woodpecker cartoons, most memorably the baseball umpire in Kiddie League (1959).

When Jack Hannah arrived at the Lantz studio, he started a series of shorts highly reminiscent the Humphrey the Bear and Ranger Woodlore cartoons he directed at the Walt Disney Studio. At Lantz, the bear became a "new" character dubbed "Fatso". Hannah cast the little man as Fatso's ranger nemesis and named him Ranger Willoughby.

Starting in 1961, the character finally became known as Inspector Willoughby in Paul J. Smith's Rough and Tumbleweed and a new series was launched. Upholder of the law, Willoughby was no match for any felon or crook he would be assigned to bring to justice. At first, the villain would just laugh at the diminutive Inspector, but would soon realize that they could run but not hide from him. No matter how hard they tried to escape, the Inspector would be there at every turn. Dal McKennon provided the voice of Willoughby.

The cartoon series lasted until 1965. The character appeared in a handful of comic book stories and the backlog of his cartoons were reissued for the home movie market by Castle Films.

— J.H.C.


1958: Salmon Yeggs

1959: Truant Student, Tomcat Combat, Bee Bopped, Kiddie League

1960: Hunger Strife

1961: Rough and Tumbleweed, Eggnapper, Mississippi Slow Boat, Case of the Red-Eyed Ruby

1962: Phoney Express, Hyde and Sneak

1963: Coming Out Party, Case of the Cold Storage Yegg, Hi-Seas Hi-Jacker

1964: The Case of the Maltese Chicken

1965: The Case of the Elephant's Trunk