Casper the Friendly Ghost
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Did you ever see this movie?
Or, perhaps you might know it better from a still image of the film.
At last count, the film has earned nearly $288 million worldwide. That's an unfathomable number for most people—and that's just one film. The entire Casper franchise has countless entries with cartoons, movies, books, video games, toys, costumes, licensing, merchandise, and spin-offs (like Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost); the list goes on and on. But imagine that you came up with, you invented, your own character that made that much money from a single 90-minute movie. Now, imagine that you didn't see any of that money because you sold your character idea off for $175.
The Invention of Casper the Friendly Ghost
Casper made his first animated appearance in 1945, but he was initially formed as an idea for a children's book. In the late 1930s, author Seymour Reit created the character, and cartoon animator Joe Oriolo illustrated it. World War II began, and Seymour Reit went off to serve time in what was known then as the United States Army Air Force, where he was stationed on the West Coast to defend from a Japanese invasion. Later, after D-Day, he served in Europe. While he was away at war, and before the children's book was released, Joe Oriolo sold off the rights to Paramount Pictures' Famous Studios animation division for a whopping $175. Adjusting for inflation, that's about $3,600 in 2022.
The two men continued to work on Casper, with Seymour Reit writing gags for animated shorts and Joe Oriolo providing illustrations before others, such as Warren Kremer, took over.
Harvey Comics & Noveltoons
Harvey Comics, founded in 1941, was an American comic book publisher that brought us all sorts of memorable comics: Hot Stuff the Little Devil, Wendy the Good Little Witch, Richie Rich, and, of course, Casper the Friendly Ghost, along with several dozens of other well-known and loved characters. Harvey Comics worked with Paramount Pictures' Famous Studios to bring many of their characters to life with animation from 1943 until 1967. Sadly, Harvey Comics went defunct in 2002.
You'll never guess who owns all those characters now. Harvey Films! Which is owned by DreamWorks Classics! Wow! DreamWorks Classics is owned by DreamWorks Animation, which is owned by NBCUniversal—which is owned by Comcast. That is...strange.
The Dark & Shocking Backstory of Casper the Friendly Ghost
Have you ever wondered how Casper became a ghost? You may not have heard about it because it kind of puts a slightly different spin on the cute cartoon you're used to seeing. Comics and animations over the years hinted at but never explained the origin. Instead, the creations focused on Casper's adventures and his odd "uncles," the Ghostly Trio.
The first animated cartoon, titled "The Friendly Ghost," and another titled "There's Good Boos Tonight," from 1948, provide some insight into the character just after Casper becomes a ghost. If you're a history buff or vintage cartoon fanatic, you may want to give them a watch. I'll provide a link shortly, but I need to explain something first. You may be forever traumatized if you watch these because they don't make cartoons like they used to.
Trigger Warnings: animal death, attempted suicide, bullying
It's genuinely emotionally gut-wrenching. For the brave: There's Good Boos Tonight & The Friendly Ghost episodes.
Back to Casper's origin story, because of animations like the one above, Harvey Comics eventually released an official version of Casper's backstory, explaining that Casper was born a ghost from his two ghost parents. This was undoubtedly an attempt to remove a bit of the morbidity surrounding child death and a sad and lonely ghost afterlife.
The 1995 film, though, didn't shy away from the morbid origin story. The backstory from the film drops the Harvey Comics explanation entirely in favor of Casper being a dead kid. When he was twelve, he was out sledding and caught pneumonia, eventually succumbing to his illness and choosing to linger in the world of the living as a ghost to be with his grieving father.
I suppose it's up to you to choose which version you believe. However, the 1995 film backstory fits perfectly with how Casper behaves shortly after he becomes a ghost from the 1948 animation. He doesn't realize he's a ghost and tries to make friends but finds it difficult because everyone fears him. Casper eventually attempts suicide. Of course, he fails because he doesn't understand that he's already dead.
Wow. How kid-friendly is that?
Fan Theory: Casper & Richie Rich
If you want to know more, The Simpsons started this conspiracy in 1991. You can learn more about it in Channel Federator's Cartoon Conspiracy series: Are Richie Rich & Casper the SAME person?! | Channel Frederator
Harvey Comics sued the distributor of the film Ghostbusters in 1987 with the claim that the Ghostbusters movie logo looked too similar to a member of the Ghostly Trio, Fatso. The court ruled against Harvey Comics because their copyright was out of date, and there are "limited ways to draw a figure of a cartoon ghost." Interestingly, Dan Aykroyd later appeared as the character Ray Stantz from Ghostbusters in the 1995 film Casper.
Relevant & Related
- Watch more old episodes of Casper right here on his official YouTube Channel: Casper the Ghost
- Mattel made a talking Casper doll in 1961. It's perhaps even more creepy than you might think: Vintage 1961 Commercial for Mattel's Talking Casper the Friendly Ghost, Mattie & Sister Bell Dolls!
- Want to learn even more? Check out Dave Lee Down Under on YouTube: Evolution of CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST - 75 Years Explained | CARTOON EVOLUTION (~30-minute watch)
- In April 2022, Peacock announced it was developing a new live-action horror/adventure series titled Casper. From the article: "Set in high school, Casper is written/executive produced by The Ghost Bride head writer Kai Yu Wu. In it, when a new family arrives in the small town of Eternal Falls, Casper finds himself entangled in a mystery uncovering dark secrets that have been buried for over 100 years."