Suspended Animation # 222
In 1990, writer and historian Robin Synder started self-publishing a monthly fanzine entitled The Comics!. One of its purposes was to record the first-hand oral history of those creative people who worked in the comic book industry. For over twenty years the fanzine presented correspondence, recollections, articles and essays by comic legends including Alex Toth, Steve Ditko, Craig Flessel and so many more.
The following excerpt from writer Seymour Reit appeared in a 1992 issue to refute a previous article that referred to him creating the character of Casper, the Friendly Ghost under the direction of Joe Oriolo.
All rights to Casper, who went on to become one of the most recognizable cartoon characters in the world, were sold to Famous Studios at Paramount by Oriolo in the 1940s for $200. The resulting Noveltoon cartoon, directed by Isadore Sparber and entitled The Friendly Ghost was released through Paramount in 1945.
When the live action/animation film Casper, produced by Steven Spielberg, came out in 1995, Mr. Reit remarked: ”All I have is some nice memories and a little nostalgic sadness that I am not part of the movie. My career went on in all sorts of interesting, fun ways. I’m not mourning or grieving over what I might have lost with Casper. It was fun. I did the story. It has a lot of cachet.”
Reit passed away in November 2001 at the age of 83 having written over eighty children’s books and many for adults including the true story The Day They Stole the Mona Lisa. He wrote over 60 pieces for MAD magazine beginning in the late 1950s. He was born on Armistice Day in 1918, and given the middle name “Victory”.
Although today, he is now acknowledged as the writer who co-created Casper, for many years he had to battle to affirm that claim.
Reit: “Way, way back in 1939 after graduating N.Y.U. (believe it or not, Class of ’38!) I went to Miami to take a job as an inker at Fleischer Studios. The big project at that time was our feature length animated film Gulliver’s Travels (1939). I worked on Gulliver, also on film shorts of Popeye and (I vaguely remember) a few Betty Boops, which were rapidly phasing out. I went from inking to do artwork. (I believe it was called “in-betweening”) and from there to the story department.At the time, Fleischer paid a few bucks for Popeye jokes submitted speculatively by the staff. People also tried their hands at writing short stories for use in the series called Fabletoons. One weekend I wrote a three to four page story I titled “Casper the Friendly Ghost”. The story was mine – every last word. Shortly after I gave it to Joe Oriolo who wanted to develop the visuals and perhaps peddle it either to the studio or to a children’s book publisher.
“By that point Gulliver was finished, the studio was in hock to Paramount Pictures and many of the 600 artists (including me) started drifting north again, out of jobs. For a little while I worked at Eisner & Iger drawing comics pages.
“Then along came Pearl Harbor and WWII. Am proud to say that I went into the army in a camouflage unit; later went to OCS and wound up in Europe on the staff of the Commanding General of the 9th Air Force, Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg.
“In this job (thanks to my art background) I worked on maps, photo presentations, charts and various graphic reports which went to Eisenhower at SHAEF. (Pretty heady stuff for a sheltered young kid!) I came out of the Air Force after VE Day with a Captaincy and a decoration. Back to the real world!
“In the interim, Joe had created the Casper drawing and sold both story and cartoon concept to Fleischer’s. The first film used my story almost word-for-word as a voice-over. We did end up working on a children’s book together on another subject entirely, but the Casper series was based on a definite collaboration between my script and Joe’s artwork – and that is precisely how it happened.
“Joe and I worked together subsequently but over the years he may have forgotten or overlooked the true origins of our lovely little character. Nevertheless, he was a good artist and a top animation director, and did a lot toward making the Casper series successful. I also, by the way, worked on many subsequent Casper stories, contributing gags, dialogue, etc.
“For years, Casper was strictly a movie house short subject (along with two features, a newsreel, and free dishes). Later picked up by TV, the little ghost went on to fame – though by then neither Joe nor I had any financial stake in it.
“As to my comics career (to shorten this lengthy tome), through the great Sheldon Mayer at D.C., I began writing (to be more accurate, stick-figuring) a variety of comic book stories. I never had much success with the super-hero types – my ‘forte’ was humor and pudgy bunnies. Perhaps my longest stint was writing for Archie Comics, first under the editorship of Harry Shorten and later Richard Goldwater.
“In those years – mainly the 1950s – we created many new Archie titles – some still in use. I remember starting Life With Archie, Archie’s Madhouse and Archie’s Joke Book. Harry and Richard had terrific artists working for them – I recall Bob Montana and Sam Schwartz (whose fine work has been unfortunately neglected).
“During my comics period, I also worked on Mighty Mouse (Archer St. John, I believe), Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, I Love Lucy and at Christmas Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Also fitted in an occasional Little Lulu and Tubby – those were the most fun of all!
“During this time (1969), I also started ghost-writing Harry Shorten’s successful syndicated print cartoon, There Oughta Be A Law. For about eight years I wrote “Law” under Harry’s guidance, and the artwork was done by Warren Whipple.
“I “graduated” to MAD magazine and became one of their regular contributors during what I like to think of as MAD’s ‘golden’ years.
“Also in the late Sixties, I (very tentatively) wrote my first children’s book (for Golden Press). Since then I’ve written books fairly exclusively. It’s been a productive, busy and very rewarding career.”