Encyclopedia of Cartoon Superstars
by John Cawley & Jim Korkis
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Superstar Summary
THE STAR: Casper, the Friendly Ghost
STUDIO OF DEBUT: Famous (Paramount)
SIGNATURE: "A g-g-g-ghost!" (How Casper is usually greeted)

KEY CREW BEHIND THE STAR: Joe Oriolo (creator), Irving Sparber, Seymour Kneitel (directors), I Klein, Otto Messmer, Bill Turner (writers)

CAREER HIGH: GHOST OF THE TOWN (1952) - Casper, with his friendly nature, becomes a celebrity, appearing on front pages of newspapers, magazine covers and THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW! Everyone loves Casper in this film.

Casper is one of the most unique of the Cartoon Superstars, if for no other reason, than he is a dead one. Decades before the megahits GHOSTBUSTERS and BEETLEJUICE made the hereafter seem more like Disneyland than a religiously significant location there was Casper, the friendly ghost. He was also the only major Cartoon Superstar to Debut at the Famous Studio.

Truly a ghost, Casper is generally all white. Over the years, his sheet became form fitting, outling his oversized head. In his early shorts, he is somewhat translucent. The later years found him painted solid white. Short, and somewhat chubby, he is portrayed as a young boy.

In 1949, Sam Buchwald, president of Famous Studios, told reporters that Casper was "approximately eight years old... and probably will grow no older." (Unfortunately, the same wasn't true for Alan Shay, then aged 12 who did the character's voice at that time. He inherited the role from the original boy who was forced into early retirement when his voice changed.)

In his early cartoons, the fact that Casper is a ghost is made overly clear. Like most ghosts, Casper has supernatural powers. He can fly, move through solid objects like walls and turn invisible. He is found hanging around haunted houses and graveyards. In one short, he's even sitting in front of his own tombstone. These images of death were soon removed, placing Casper in more humorous and "safe" arenas like a school for ghosts.

He was "the friendly ghost." Casper was easily one of the most kind, sympathetic and forgiving cartoon characters ever created. He pursued friendship with a fervor unequaled in either the human or inhuman world. The ultimate un-bigoted personality, Casper could have out done Will Rogers who "never met a man" he didn't like. Casper never found anyone he didn't like. He liked everything and everyone, even his fellow ghosts.

This is not to say that Casper was the ultimate "goody two shoes." He had his darker side. This was only raised when he saw his friends in danger. At moments like this, he would become angry and rush to their defense. However, even then about the worst he could do was to sternly ask the threat to "leave my friends alone." Such a request would have brought peals of laughter from the average menace, but even a polite ghost seemed to scare the most vicious threat.

In fact, some of the biggest laughs in Casper shorts are from the extreme takes that animals, humans and even inanimate objects do when viewing Casper. In his first short, THE FRIENDLY GHOST (1945), Casper finds a cat and mouse battling. The cat, seeing Casper, throws himself against a wall, mouth wide open. The mouse, seeing Casper, throws himself inside the cat's mouth and closes it! The mouse then runs into his hole, dragging the cat along. Even more extreme, in PIG-A-BOO (1952) Casper scares a Wolf's skeleton right out of it's body. The Wolf then jumps on the skeleton and rides off!

Critics of this friendly character thought the idea of a cartoon based on a "dead little boy" was in bad taste. The general public, though, found this slightly shapeless, but always hopeful, character to be highly sympathetic. Perhaps they empathized with this gentle soul who only wanted to make friends. At the end of every short, he always succeeded and found a friend. That was a happy ending every child could appreciate.


Of course there had been ghosts and friendly spirits before Casper, but they had always been secondary players. Felix, Mickey, Porky, and dozens of others have encountered at least one ghost in their many comic adventures. However, Casper was not there to support a star, he was the star.

Casper's origin in the Forties came about when Joe Oriolo, a young animator at the Famous Studio, sold a script to the studio. Famous, which had originally been the Fleischer Studio, had just moved back to New York. (The Fleischers had moved their New York studio to Florida to avoid union problems.) Allegedly Sam Buchwald, President of Famous, was upset that the story department had fallen behind. The studio needed a story for a new short and needed it fast.

Oriolo had been working on a character with a friend (Seymour Reit) that they planned to sell as a comic book or children's book. Oriolo came up with the concept in the late Thirties as a story he told his children. (It was to help them get over being scared in the dark.) He then enlisted Reit's assistance in putting the book together.

The original design featured Casper wearing a hat and sprouting a bit of a tail. They chose the name "Casper" based on the mildmannered, unthreatening, Casper Milquetoast character created by cartoonist H.T. Webster. The pair had some interest shown from publishers, but no final sale materialized.

When he heard the call for scripts, Oriolo and Reit quickly put together a script called "The Friendly Ghost." Famous liked it and the story went into production. According to Oriolo, he and his friend received a total of $250 for the idea. (The actual amount varied as Oriolo told the story over the years.) According to Oriolo, the sale was for a "one shot" production only. He had thought a cartoon based on the character might increase interest in the book.

(Oriolo stated to his death, in 1985, he had a contract indicating the character was only sold on a "one shot" basis. However, Paramount/Famous had copyrighted the character in the film. Oriolo couldn't find lawyers willing to go up against Paramount. Oriolo also always maintained that Buchwald had promised him a contract guaranteeing a percentage of any licensing revenue, but could never get the actual document. Buchwald died in the early Fifties, and by the mid-Fifties, Harvey had purchased the property and films from Famous, making legal action even more confusing.)


In 1945, THE FRIENDLY GHOST debuted. It was directed by I. Sparber, and written by Bill Turner and Otto Messmer. (Messmer was the creator of Felix the Cat, a character Oriolo would later inherit and develop into a TV superstar.) Casper was re-designed for animation by Famous artist John Walworth. The voice of the famous ghost would be done by various talents including Mae Questel (Olive Oyl, Betty Boop), Norma McMillan, Gwen Davies, Alan Shay and Cecil Roy.

This "Noveltoon" (the series Famous released all their one shots under) looked like just another one shot cartoon. However, this one shot would be the definitive pattern for all Casper cartoons to come... around 100 of them! (Many books indicate over 200 Casper cartoons, but this figure is from the syndicated package and includes scores of Famous and Harvey shorts that don't star Casper.)

The short begins with a narrator (Frank Gallop) asking if the viewer believes in ghosts as the camera pans an old house. Inside the house is seen Casper, laying on a suit of armor and reading the book "How To Win Friends." The narrator tells of how Casper doesn't like to scare people. The clock strikes twelve, midnight, and all the ghosts go out to do their work. Meanwhile, Casper watches and shakes his head. The narrator states that Casper decided to leave home, "to forget he's a ghost and make friends with the world."

Casper tries to make friends with various animals including a rooster, a mole, a cat and mouse, and a group of hens. All exhibit the extreme takes famous in Casper cartoons. These failures depress Casper greatly. He whines, "I'm just a scary old ghost." Deciding to end it all (again?) Casper lays down on the railroad tracks in front of a train. However, when the train runs over him, it merely blows him further down the tracks. This final failure is too much for Casper who breaks down and cries.

Suddenly two young children appear, Bonnie and Johnny. They ask if Casper would like to play with them. Casper blushes and happily agrees. After some play time, the children take Casper home. Upon arrival, they introduce the ghost to their mother who does a (more restrained) take and rushes the children under the bed with her. Rejected again, Casper heads towards the door. He repeats his lament of being "only a scary old ghost."

As he reaches the door, it flies open. Standing outside is a moustached, top-hatted melodrama-designed villain. He holds up the mortgage and tells Casper to inform the mother that the mortgage is due. Before the villain can finish his speech, he realizes he is talking to a ghost. He does a quick take, declares the house is haunted, tears up the mortgage and runs away. Casper begins to continue out of the door when the mother comes up from behind him. She picks him up and hugs him. The scene dissolves to a new day as the mother is seeing all her children off to school - Bonnie, Johnny and Casper. The friendly ghost is happily dressed in shorts and a hat.

This film features every major element that would be repeated, almost exactly, in practically all future theatrical Casper cartoons. First is the desire to find friends. Next is the sampling of humorous takes as Casper approaches others. Third is the location of an "innocent" (usually a child, or young animal). This character is unprejudiced by the world and thus accepts Casper for "who" he is rather, than "what" he is. Finally, there is the rescue which makes him a welcome commodity by all.


As stated, the first Casper short was released as a one- shot. However Buchwald thought the ghostly youth was a strong personality. A little over two years after his debut, Casper returned in THERE'S GOOD BOOS TONIGHT (1948).

Once again, Sparber handled direction. The story was credited to Bill Turner and Larry Riley. The short also featured a title card showing Casper sitting by a tree with the wording "Featuring Casper, the Friendly Ghost." Casper's design was slightly altered too, giving him a bit more shape, and larger, more expressive eyes.

In this second outing, Casper joins the animal world. He is first seen sitting at his own grave. As the other ghosts head out to scare people, he is reading "Animal Friends." Once again, in his search for friends, he only manages to scare the various people and animals he meets. Discouraged, he sits down and starts to cry, and wishing he were dead! Suddenly a fox pup comes up to him. Too young to be frightened, the fox and Casper become friends. Casper names the pup Ferdie Fox and the two play hide and seek, with Casper as "It." Unfortunately for Ferdie, a hunter is also after a fox.

When Casper hears the shooting he races to the aid of his vulpine buddy. Casper flies in front of the hunter and demands he stop shooting at Ferdie, as bullets fly through his ghostly body. The hunter and dog realize that Casper is a ghost, do the appropriate takes and disappear. Casper finds Ferdie but he is too late, Ferdie is dead! Now totally heartbroken, Casper takes the limp body of Ferdie back to the graveyard and buries it next to his tombstone. Casper sits down and begins to cry again. Suddenly, a ghostly Ferdie springs from the ground and begins to lick Casper. The Friendly Ghost is overjoyed that his friend is back.

At times funny, at times touching, this short is well done and entertaining. It is also somewhat gruesome. In this era when the word "kill" can not even be used in cartoons, to find death as a sort of resolution for friendship is quite eerie.

This short was followed even more rapidly by a third, A HAUNTING WE WILL GO (1949). Directed by famed Disney animator Bill Tytla (FANTASIA's "Night on Bald Mountain" and others), and written by Larry Bourne, this is almost a remake of THERE'S GOOD BOOS TONIGHT. It opens with Casper attending school in a haunted school house, where the ghosts are singing "A haunting we will go." (This is the first sign that ghosts have an organized society of their own.) Casper sits in a corner with a dunce cap on.

After class he attempts to make friends but fails. When he scares a flock of ducks, he sits down dejected and accidentally hatches an egg. The duckling, who Casper names Dudley, is not afraid of the ghost so they become friends. Casper teaches him to swim and fly. Unfortunately, once airborne, he becomes the target of hunters. Casper scares the hunter, though Dudley does get shot. As Casper grieves over his Dudley the other ducks return. They watch in silence as Casper's tears revive the duck. Dudley was only grazed! The short ends with Casper and Dudley happily flying with the flock of ducks.

Now the formula was complete. Casper no longer came from a grave. His friend no longer had to die. But more importantly, his heroic act is witnessed by the masses. Casper was guaranteed to have friends.


Casper was now a full fledged star, and in 1950 Famous launched the Casper series. It was Famous' first, wholly owned success story. The Casper series of the Fifties reflected newer economies. They were generally less detailed in the areas of artwork, and Casper was not quite as transparent. Casper also was now being drawn with eyelashes many times, giving him a bit more feminine look. However the storylines were still as strong, if repetitious, as ever. Casper traveled the world always in search of, and finally finding a friend.

There were some exceptions. GHOST OF THE TOWN (1952) has Casper save a child from a burning building at the beginning of the short. The rest of the film shows how the city honors him from front page headlines to an appearance on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW! (An animated version of Sullivan appears.) Once on stage, the entire audience, many clad in Casper T-Shirts, sings his theme song.

Another entry from 1952, TRUE-BOO has Casper play Santa Claus for a poor boy on Christmas Eve. When the boy asks for toys, Casper begins making toys out of ordinary objects laying around the house. The mother sees Casper, grabs her son and barricades themselves into the bedroom. However the crying boy makes the mother think twice and she asks Casper to return. All three have a very merry evening... and Casper didn't have to save anyone!

One subtle change occurred when Casper became a series. The ghosts become a bit better organized. In the first three shorts, Casper decides to go out on his own. Most of the Fifties' entries feature a fairly regimented ghost society. The shorts often open with scenes of this society which is usually either military or scholarly. These scenes offer some good humor as the ghosts show that bureaucratic thinking is not always correct. When Casper declares he doesn't want to scare people, he is kicked out (literally in some shorts).

The series debuted with two entries in 1950 that were less strict with the formula, CASPER'S SPREE UNDER THE SEA and ONCE UPON A RHYME. Both were written by I. Klein. UNDER THE SEA was Tytla's final entry. In it, Casper finds that while creatures on land are afraid, the fish in the water are not. (This helps him save his friends from fishermen.) RHYME was once again in the hands of Sparber. It has Casper enter a book of Mother Goose rhymes. Once there, he scares some, rescues others and generally becomes a hero. The end has Mother Goose write a special rhyme for Casper.

1951 saw the series grow to five shorts. The titles that year were BOO HOO BABY, TO BOO OR NOT TO BOO, BOO SCOUT, CASPER COMES TO CLOWN and CASPER BOW WOW. Several had some clever or fun touches.

CLOWN tells the story of Casper and a bear cub he calls Brownie. Casper trains him to be a juggling bear and sings a pleasant song called "Brownie is a juggling bear." Both end up performing a successful circus act. CASPER BOW WOW starts out with Casper on trial in the "Spookreme Court." The sequence is done all in rhyme and ends with Casper being found "guilty of friendship." He is sentenced to "life with humans!" (He then goes out and makes friends with a dog.) This is a good example of the fun the writers had with ghost society.

All were directed by Sparber except BOO HOO BABY which introduced director Seymour Kneitel to the series. Sparber and Kneitel would direct all the theatrical shorts through 1959.

In 1952 the total grew to six shorts. Several featured animal worlds such as PIG-A-BOO, which had Casper rescue the three pigs (Momma, Poppa and Son) from the wolf. Another one was SPUNKY SKUNKY. A group of animal kids won't let the little skunk play baseball because he "stinks." The skunk, depressed, jumps off a cliff. Before Casper can catch him. The skunk falls into a can of paint. Believing he's a ghost, the skunk merrily plays with Casper. (Casper keeps up the pretense by helping the skunk "walk through" things.)

When the paint washes off, the skunk realizes he's not dead and runs from Casper. However by now, the Wolf has shown up and is threatening the kids. The skunk tries to save them by spraying the Wolf (the skunk's scent is seen as a red cloud). This only makes the Wolf go after the skunk with a gas mask. Casper arrives in time to save the skunk. The happy ending finds both the skunk and Casper playing baseball with all the animals. (The animals do where clothespins on their noses, though.)

The Casper series peaked with seven Casper films each year for 1953 and 1954. In 1954 work began on a 3-D Casper short. The film, BOO MOON, however was only released in "flat" prints. From 1955 through 1958, the series generally offered five to six new Caspers a year. Casper changed graveyards in 1958 when Harvey Publications (who had been publishing Casper comics) bought out the entire film library of Famous. The new company retitled the old Famous shorts to Harveytoons.

The final theatrical year, 1959, offered only four Casper tales, DOING WHAT'S FRIGHT, DOWN TO MIRTH, NOT GHOULTY and CASPER'S BIRTHDAY PARTY. That same year, Casper came to TV!


In 1959, toy manufacturers and cereal producers were looking to animation to sell their product. Mattel developed a series called MATTY'S FUNDAY FUNNIES. The series featured an animated "Matty" Mattel and his sister "Sue Bell" promoting toys in between Harveytoons that consisted of the Casper theatrical shorts as well as Famous' Baby Huey series (about a gigantic duckling, also looking for friends), Herman and Katnip series (an ultra violent battle between mouse and cat) and Little Audrey (about a cute little girl, similar to Little Lulu).

The ABC series debuted in October of 1959 and for the first year ran in the late afternoon on Sundays. In the Fall of 1960 the series shifted over to Friday nights in prime time at 7:30, where it ran for another year. MATTY'S FUNNIES moved to Saturday nights the Fall of 1961. However, the Harveytoons only aired on the series for a few months, for at the beginning of 1962, Mattel decided to begin airing new, made for TV cartoons starring Bob Clampett's BEANY AND CECIL.

The library was re-packaged and debuted back on TV in 1963 as THE NEW CASPER CARTOON SHOW, on Saturday morning. (Another collection called HARVEY CARTOONS went into syndication.) The Saturday morning series featured new cartoons created by Harvey, with some older Famouse theatricals, mostly Modern Madcaps, mixed in. 26 Episodes were produced. The new episodes were directed by Seymour Kneitel and used many of the original Famous Studios crew.

The new cartoons featured many of the popular Harvey Comic characters such as Wendy, the Good Little Witch, Spooky, the Tuff (sic) Little Ghost, and The Ghostly Trio. Titles included RED ROBBING HOOD, in which Casper helps a young king regain his throne. LITTLE LONESOME GHOSTS found Casper helping a lost ghost find his mother. In PROFESSOR'S PROBLEM, Casper proves there is a "man in the moon" by taking a scientist there! The series ran on ABC from 1963 through 1969. At that time, these cartoons were mixed into the syndicated package.

A decade later, Casper returned to Saturday mornings in a new series, CASPER AND THE ANGELS. This Hanna-Barbera series brought Casper into the distant future. The premise found Casper in the year 2179A.D.. Here he assisted two futuristic female law officers ("the Angels") in their fight against crime. The Angels are Maxi, an intelligent young Black woman, and Mini, a tall, thin, redheaded, Caucasian woman who was a bit of an airhead. They worked for the Space Police and solved crimes with the assistance of Casper and another ghost, Hairy Scary. Harry was a large, shaggy ghost with an Ed Wynn inspired voice. He loved to scare people even though he was a bit of a foul-up.

A typical adventure was "The Cat Burglar" where Hairy must disguise himself as a bejeweled woman to lure a thief into the open to be arrested by the Angels. Although Casper was smart in the series, often suggesting a plan, he was passive physically. It was never explained why the Space Police allowed him and Hairy to team with two of their top patrol women. Casper was voiced by Julie McWhirter in the series.

Hanna-Barbera brought Casper back into prime time TV the same year in CASPER'S HALLOWEEN (1979) and CASPER'S FIRST CHRISTMAS (1979). These specials featured a number of original songs as well as Hairy Scary from the Saturday morning series, CASPER AND THE ANGELS.

In HALLOWEEN, Casper befriends a group of orphans, helping them have a fun Halloween in spite of Hairy's rowdy ghost gang. In CHRISTMAS, Casper is determined to stay awake to see Santa. He's hindered by Hairy Scary, who doesn't believe, and helped by a number of classic Hanna-Barbera characters including Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and Snagglepuss. Both specials conclude with Hairy seeing "the light" and assisting in the true spirit of each holiday.

Once again, Casper was laid to rest in the areas of new animation. In 1982, Tom Carter Productions, an animation studio located in Southern California (then currently working on the still unreleased HUCK'S LANDING feature) entered into discussion with Harvey. The youthful, self-made millionaire Carter was set to purchase the rights of the Harvey characters. However, he passed on the deal when it was discovered the film library was still tied up for another 5-7 years. This meant the only way Carter could derive revenue from the Harvey properties would be to go into production on new material. (The Carter studio was closed later that year when allegations arose over an investment venture Carter was involved with.)

By 1989 most of the film rights were free and a 25-year old Jeffrey Montgomery acquired Harvey Publications. Montgomery set up Harvey Entertainment in Southern California. The new owner immediately set out to step up publication of the successful Harvey characters and begin production on a number of products featuring the characters which included not only Casper, but also Hot Stuff, the Little Devil, Richie Rich, the Richest Kid in the World, Little Dot and Buzzy the Funny Crow. Future plans for the Friendly ghost include a feature film in development, release of his shorts on videotape and in syndication and a possible new TV series.


In the original cartoon series, Casper had no continuing co- stars. However in his popular series of comic books, he appeared with such regulars as Wendy, the Good Little Witch, Spooky, the Tuff (sic) Little Ghost, Nightmare (a ghostly horse), The Ghostly Trio and others. Some of these characters found their way into animation when Harvey produced a new series of shorts for Saturday morning in the early Sixties. In particular, the Ghostly Trio acted like three adult uncles who were disgusted by Casper's lack of interest in scaring people. (Later, Harvey sued the producers of the GHOSTBUSTERS film claiming Fatso, one of the Ghostly trio, was being used in the famous movie logo. Harvey lost.)


Casper proved one of the most popular merchandised characters to come from Famous. He was found on books, records, and toys of all kinds. Due to his exposure on MATTY'S FUNDAY FUNNIES in the early Sixties, he was used for dozens of Mattel toys, including a talking doll. (You'd pull the string and Casper would say "Booooooo," "Won't you be my friend," and other lines.)

For awhile in the Seventies, Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey featured "Casper's Ghostland" with Casper, Wendy, Nightmare and the Ghostly Trio. One ride was Wendy's Cups and Saucers.

Casper has been very popular as a mascot for the Cub Scouts and the American Dental Association. Sometimes he combined both roles as in the special comic book "The Friendly Cub Scout Casper, His Den and Their Dentist Fight the Tooth Demons" produced in 1974 for the ADA. In it, Casper enters the nightmare of cub scout Charlie to defeat tooth demons with a giant toothbrush, tube of flouride toothpaste and dental floss.

He was an honorary astronaut who flew to the moon painted on the outside of Apollo 16. In 1988 Casper rose again via a giant Casper balloon. It debuted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival Grand Parade in Ohio. The 55 foot long balloon was made available for other events.

For Harvey comics, Casper has been a continual superstar. Casper appeared in comics since 1949 when CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST debuted from St. John. By the sixth issue, Harvey had taken over the line and Casper continued to appear not only in this title but in dozens of others including CASPER'S GHOSTLAND, CASPER T.V. SHOW, CASPER AND NIGHTMARE, CASPER AND SPOOKY, CASPER DIGEST and many others. He also guest starred in other Harvey titles. Casper remained in comics as long as Harvey was publishing them through the Eighties. Now he is appearing in a new line via Harvey Entertainment.


Casper has lasted almost half a century, and shows no signs of diminishing in popularity. His cartoons are highly repetitious. His personality isn't brash, hyper or sly. Yet in spite of all this, Casper is a well remembered and well loved character. There isn't a ghost of chance he will ever truly disappear


"Anybody else who says they created Casper the Ghost I should hold them for libel for it." - Joe Oriolo, creator

"I developed the character and gave it to Sam (Buchwald) and he says, 'I'd like to give you a token amount of $175." - Joe Oriolo, creator

"Here was an appealing cartoon with story, animation, speed and charm, with a wee character about which a whole series of cartoons could easily be made." - Un-named newspaper reviewer commenting on the then newly released CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST (1945)

"Sam Buchwald copyrighted the character when the first film was produced, without informing Oriolo of his intentions." - Shamus Culhane, animator-director at Fleischer/Famous

"With the Casper series you never knew what picture you were working on because they were all exactly the same." - Lee Mishkin, animator at Famous

"Harvey's greatest period of success lies just ahead because generations of parents and children alike continue to be drawn to the nonviolent worlds of Casper, Richie Rich and other classic Harvey characters." - Jeffrey Montgomery, new owner of Casper

"He created Casper the Friendly Ghost in 1944 for my sister, who was afraid of the dark." - Donald Oriolo, son of Joseph Oriolo

"He always says 'hello' and he's really glad to meet-cha. Wherever he may go, he's kind to ev'ry living creature." - Casper theme song, lyrics by Mack David