THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
October 29, 2020 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Halloween is Better with Casper: “The Friendly Ghost” (1945)

I’m sitting down, just now, one project lighter: the final, final versions of Puppetoons 2 is finished for Arnold Leibovit productions. I’ll be on to a few tweaks to a special Tommy Stathes project, then very happily to compositing animation for the titles on Rainbow Parade. We’re updating the galleries for that set with new material that I’m really excited about as well.


But— it’s nearly Halloween, and I’d be careless if we didn’t show at least *one* sort of Halloween cartoon. This is one of my favorites- and the print this week is courtesy of Jerry Beck, or, Jerry and his amazing garage of animation wonders.

I was last out to LA nearly a year ago now, and during the trip our fearless leader in animation archeology was kind enough to enthusiastically pull out some boxes of Famous studios cartoons gathered over the last, well, lifetime. Among these was an Ansco color print of The Friendly Ghost. It’s a pretty rare NTA print of the film – most were just in (now pinkish) Eastman color. This one retained a little more color, but not perfect by any means. We did a scan of it and color corrected a bit for one of the ‘special’ sets, and since it’s Halloween, here it is!

Fleischer animators Joe Oriolo and Seymour Reit created “The Friendly Ghost” as a children’s story in 1939. Joe Oriolo, of course, later co-formed Felix the Cat productions, producing the famous TV cartoon series, along with many other projects. Here’s a nice little article from our own Jim Korkis about Seymour Reit.

Casper’s personality is pretty simple in this first entry, but (arguably) just as so many of the other cartoons Famous was doing in this period, it’s charming and sweet without being too saccharine. I especially like his design here in the first cartoon—it might be the cutest starring character the studio ever produced. His action and poses are simple and charming throughout in a sort of Little Lulu way. Even his attempt at suicide is played as a cute gag, perhaps owing something to Popeye’s similar attempt in For Better or Nurse (1944). Oddly, the gag reinforces the idea that Casper doesn’t understand that being a ghost means he’s actually dead- an idea that could have furthered Casper’s development, but is perhaps a little too morbid even for Famous. The story does, however, manage to pull off something here that rarely happens in any Caspers, or, honestly, any of their cartoons: empathy for a character’s situation.

Casper’s ability to change things going through him or not doesn’t make a lot of sense, but heck- it’s a cartoon. Concentrating no more than a few moments on Casper’s plight would become standard after the first three cartoons, and its one of the things I like best about these first entries. I always wondered what awful thing Casper must have done after the last cartoon ended that now caused him to lose all the friends he had made! Of course, the landlord situation at the end is the stuff of later Casper cartoons to a tee, but works better surrounded by the other story elements to balance out the short. Herman the Mouse makes an un-announced momentary appearance at one point as well. Perhaps my favorite part of the film is Casper wearing his cute school outfit at the end; I sort of wish he had that getup on though whole films, only being naked when necessary. As with many of the Famous shorts, Winston Sharples score is lovely throughout- and I think the title card (presumably by designer Shane Miller) is one of the strongest of any Famous Studio cartoons.

For such a well-known character, it’s hard to believe that a good copy of the first cartoon still isn’t really available. I had heard a story at one point that a beautiful 35mm print was under someone’s bed for a while; I wish I had been doing this Thunderbean stuff at that time! For now, we have this freshly scanned one- a little better copy than most of what I’ve seen on the title.

I like the first three cartoons in the series best, with The Friendly Ghost being my favorite. They’re based on the three stories by Oriolo and Reit. I’d love to find copies of those someday.

Happy Halloween or other spooky time- enjoy these first adventures of Casper courtesy of Famous Studios- and have a good week!

21 Comments

  • You see ‘template’ cartoons scattered throughout Famous’ 1940s output, where a successful one-shot character(s) would be reused again and again, with little or no effort to even tweak the original cartoon’s story. With the Casper efforts, the template really doesn’t get set until the third cartoon, “A Haunting We Will Go” (which is also were Casper starts looking like his standard 1950s-60s model).

    As noted, Nick Tafuri (running the Myron Waldman unit here) and the rest of the crew go for a more sympathetic portrayal of Casper here, so we’re six minutes into the cartoon before the proto-Little Billy character (with sister) show up, so the future standard plot devices take up far less time in the cartoon. The second effort, “There’s Good Boos Tonight”, gets closer to the future template, but the ‘happy ending’ Waldman and the writers give Casper with Ferdie definitely made this one in the NTA package stand out from both the third cartoon and what most people would see on TV, in the Harveytoons package of 1950-59 efforts.

  • It’s weird how the 90s live action movie tripled down on the “he’s a dead child” thing

  • Top marks. Best Casper cartoon. Which special set is this on?

  • That’s a better print of “The Friendly Ghost” than I’ve seen in years, but even so, it’s still “The Friendly Ghost”. I’ve never been a Casper fan. I understand that children need to know that the things they fear aren’t necessarily very scary at all, and in fact might be quite nice when you get acquainted with them; my parents helped me conquer my fear of spiders by reading me books about them. But even as a small child, I found so many gross logical lapses in the Casper cartoons that I couldn’t enjoy them.

    I’m probably not the only person to have drawn the conclusion (it’s pretty inescapable) that Casper is the ghost of a little boy whose short life was one of unremitting loneliness and misery. When I first read about Caspar Hauser, a German boy in the 19th century whose childhood was reputedly spent locked up in a tiny cell devoid of any human contact, Casper the friendly ghost was the first thing that came to mind. But while Hauser’s story inspired at least one novel and a number of poems, all of which made him out to be a saintly figure uncorrupted by worldly vices, it apparently had nothing to do with the cartoon character.

    The one that really disturbed me was Casper’s second cartoon, “There’s Good Boos Tonight”, in which he makes friends with a young fox who gets shot by hunters. But that’s okay, because in the end the fox’s spirit rises from the grave for more fun and games with his ghostly friend. If it had only occurred to Casper to kill children and animals instead of trying to befriend them, they would be ghosts too, with no reason to be afraid of him; and then they could all be friends for eternity. The other ghosts would be pleased as well for his efforts in recruiting. It would be a win-win for Casper.

    Happy Halloween, and be careful tomorrow night. Do they still call the night before Halloween “Devil’s Night” in Michigan? Do people still burn down abandoned buildings in Detroit on Devil’s Night?

  • We want to see full restorations of all the Casper the Friendly ghost shorts from 1945 to 1963 but with ORIGINAL titles along with the Noveltoons cartoons and Little Audrey ones as well, even Modern Madcaps, Go-Go Toons, and others from Paramount’s Famous Studios with only Original titles, NOT reissue titles from Harvey films or anything, Just the PARAMOUNT logo and original titles for every Paramount Fleischer/Famous cartoon short.

  • I dunno…

    Lil’ Eightball told me there ain’t no such thing as ghosts. And he seemed pretty authoritative about it.

    Thanks for the (comparatively) nice print, Jerry and Steve. Watching this for the first time in many years, it’s striking what a difference a couple generations makes.

    In our current timeline, for better or worse…

    – Children should NOT approach and talk to strangers, metaphysical or otherwise.

    – Banks most certainly DO NOT tear up the mortgage. The MBAs find a legal ghost workaround.

    And there’s your scary Halloween.

  • Oh, indeed, I also want to enjoy full and complete restorations of the Famous/Harvey cartoons, even if we only get the Harveytoons openings instead of original Paramount titles. I wonder how many original Paramount prints exist. Aside from the wonderful “HARVEYTOONS SHOW”, co-produced and compiled by Jerry Beck, they haven’t been on TV intact or in any form at all in way too many years. Oddly enough, I really don’t recall seeing the first three defining CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST cartoons on local TV, so being introduced to them at local animation festivals in the 1980’s was a revelation. I’ve probably said this before on forums like this, but while the East Coast studios’ cartoons were often shown on TV in my area, they are so scarce now that I think the cartoon-loving public would welcome a second look at them if ever fully restored.

  • There’s another kind of “ghost” in this print of “The Friendly Ghost”: TRAVEL Ghost-in the main titles. That’s Cecil (Cecilia) Roy doing the voices of the two kids. The landlord looks a lot like Little Lulu’s nemesis in cartoons like “Bargain Counter Attack” and “Lulu At The Zoo”.Casper later became a lot more like Superman, flying through the air to rescue a kid or little animal in danger. Here is a lot more portly, and more like an ordinary kid. I love the little touches of affection, like where he kisses the cat, just before he sets out with his bindle. Thanks for posting this cartoon, Steve.

  • Too bad the animated short wasn’t restored to this day. Why?

  • VUK – Actually it has been restored. On film. A beautiful answer print sits at the UCLA Archive. I’ve seen it – I actually borrowed it to show at an Asifa meeting years ago. It’s just no one has digitally transferred it. That’s something we need to do.

  • I haven’t seen this one in a long time. I used to buy lots of the Harvey Comics titles in the 60’s. I’m not sure that the cartoonists expected you to think that ghosts were dead people in the cartoons and comics. They were just ghosts. It was a very innocent time!

  • Thanks, Steve and Jerry!

    This one was among Paramount’s batch of “Cartoon Champion” reissues for the 1954-55 release season according to contemporary BoxOffice release charts, so there’s a decent chance a 35mm Technicolor print on safety stock could surface eventually.

  • Somehow I remember both “Cheers” and “The Simpsons” doing gags about Richie Rich being driven to suicide by his hollow, meaningless life of luxury, thereafter becoming Casper who only sought friendship.

  • “There’s Good Boos Tonight” has always been my favorite Casper short BECAUSE it has a more macabre tone than the normally sickly-sweet series (I think it’s also the only time we actually see Casper’s grave in a cartoon).

    Besides, as both the recently-profiled “Lonesome Ghosts” and Tex Avery’s “The Haunted Mouse” illustrate, the fear of ghosts is not necessarily mitigated by being one yourself.

  • “Kids, can you lighten up a little?”

  • Nick Tafuri and Graham Place seem to have been temporarily (wartime?) promoted to director for a few years, and then demoted to animator again when Myron Waldman and Tom Johnson returned.

  • Chuck, I think there’s a memo floating around somewhere that Harvey considered their ghosts to be “born ghosts.” I do know there were a couple of stories with baby ghosts.

    There’s a series of kids’ novels by Louise Arnold called Golden & Grey. Golden is a mortal boy and Grey is a ghost, but it turns out that ghosts in this world are not the spirits of the departed, just unconnected ectoplasm that got mistaken for the recently deceased. Maybe the same is true of Harvey’s Casper.

  • I know one comic story where the Ghostly Trio become little kid ghosts due to a magic calendar.

  • I’m minded of Marv Wolfman and Marie Severin’s “Kaspar the Dead Baby” (Crazy #8, Dec. 1974), which cracked me up as a lad…

    https://johnglenntaylor.blogspot.com/2009/03/kaspar-dead-baby.html

  • Brad, Thanks for the info. It only makes sense that Harvey didn’t want kids to think of Casper as deceased. I think they thought of ghosts as a separate magical human species. Devils seemed to be another group with Hot Stuff.

  • Maybe Comcast, which owns Dreamworks Animation, which owns Classic Media, which owns Paramount/Harvey cartoons could greenlight, at least time to time, the showing of Harveytoons as they were shown before the Harvey label was slapped on.

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