Sunday, September 9, 2012
CASPER…behind the scenes
Casper’s first film appearance was in The Friendly Ghost. Released in 1945 as part of the Paramount Famous Studios Noveltoon series Casper soon became so popular he earned a series of his own. He went on to star in 55 theatrical films for Famous Studios before that series ended in 1959.
Casper, as his fans know, was a gentle ghost with no interest in scaring people. Real ghosts mocked him for his mild manner, and humans were frightened by his translucent appearance. But little children and animals quickly recognized that Casper only wanted to play and make friends.
Casper was unique among Famous Studios characters since he was an original creation and not based on another character (e.g Little Audrey was based on Little Lulu, and Herman and Katnip were similar to Tom and Jerry, etc.).
In fact, there’s an interesting story about Casper’s origins (although a few details are a bit murky). Credit for Casper’s creation goes to both Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo. In 1939 Casper was featured in a children’s book they created together. Apparently Reit wrote the story and Oriolo illustrated the character. The story generated no interest, so while Reit was away serving in the military, Oriolo- who at the time was working for Famous Studios-- sold the character and story to Famous Studios... for two hundred dollars!!! Who could have guessed that this character would eventually inspire a whole supporting cast of ghostly characters, that it would generate over 55 theatrical cartoons, it’s own TV show, that the character would be sold to Harvey Brothers who then put Casper in comic books—and in 1995 Universal Studios would produce a highly successful computer generated Casper film! Neither Reit or Oriolo benefited beyond the initial $200 payment. In fact disagreement developed between the two over their respective roles in Casper’s development.
This last story idea below is by my dad, Seymour Kneitel. As the boss he was always looking for ways to keep costs down-- he's titled this "Chisel angle for a Casper picture." It involves a clever re-use of old footage. Dated Nov. 12, 1956. (Thanks to the comments below from 'J. Lee' who points out this is likely the idea for the film Ghost Writers which was released in 1958- that films on-screen credit for direction is given to Seymour Kneitel, and for writing to Jack Mercer. I would guess that Mercer may have taken this brief premise and expanded it. Staff in those days were very versatile- in additional to writing stories, Jack Mercer was an assistant animator and the voice of Popeye!) Collection: Virginia Mahoney
PS: Seymour Kneitel directed many of the Casper films- next post will be more about some of the people behind the scenes who worked on Casper films.