Man Who Produced First ‘Casper’ Ghost Film Dies

Times Staff Writer

Joseph Oriolo, who liked to lament that he was paid only $175 for his pilot film of “Casper the Friendly Ghost” 40 years ago, is dead.

His family announced Thursday that the 53-year veteran of the comic book and motion picture industries had died Wednesday night after a brief illness.

He was 72 and died in a Hackensack, N.J., hospital near his home.

In 1960 Oriolo resurrected the famous Pat Sullivan character “Felix the Cat” and brought him to television--this time with a magic bag of tricks. Oriolo produced and directed 254 episodes of “Felix” for television in the 1960s and created many of its additional characters, including the angry Professor and his intellectual nephew Poindexter, who tested Felix’s patience on a regular basis.


Oriolo also drew Felix for newspaper comic pages and for comic books, did voices for the “Gulliver’s Travels” cartoons and created “Mighty Hercules,” the first action cartoon in which the characters were designed to look like human beings.

Donald Oriolo told United Press International that his father became a cartoonist in 1932, working as an animator on early Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons and spent a short period with the Walt Disney studios.

Oriolo said his father always singled out Casper, the soft-spoken spook who refused to join his brother ghosts and hobgoblins in frightening children, as his favorite.

“He created Casper the Friendly Ghost in 1944 for my sister, who was afraid of the dark,” the son said.

Over the years several writers have claimed credit for being the inspiration behind Casper, but the first story--"The Friendly Ghost” in 1945--was produced by Oriolo who then sold such characters as Casper, Wendy the Good Little Witch and the villainous Ghostly Trio to Famous Studios, Paramount’s animation department. The cartoons, which were produced through 1960, eventually were sold to television.

Oriolo said that Paramount made “millions of dollars from the series from which I made mere pennies.”

Over the years Oriolo produced and directed more than 1,000 cartoon features. He was awarded the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists’ Golden Award last year.

Donald Oriolo said his father, at the time of his death, was working on his first full-length theatrical film, a revival of “Felix the Cat.”