Oriolo was a cartoon animator who was born in Union City in 1913. He created the famed Casper the Friendly Ghost character, and directed more than one thousand cartoons, including the first syndicated television series of Felix the Cat.
Born into an Italian immigrant family, with five other siblings, Oriolo adored drawing a child and dreamed of becoming a cartoon animator when he was young. After graduating from Union High School and Cooper Union, Oriolo found a job show-card writing (designing signs using typography) for Sears, and this was his first foray into the arts field.
At the age of 19, in the midst of the great depression in 1932, Oriolo managed to find a job as an animator working in Max Fleischer’s renown studio house as an errand boy. His ambitious drive as well as talent as an illustrator led him to the position of an animator within one year there, where he was paid $10 a week. Oriolo stayed at Fleischer studios for the next 10 years, working as an animator as well as a story man on the popular cartoon series such as Betty Boop, Popeyes and two animated features: Gulliver’s Travels and Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941).
While working for Max Fleischer, Oriolo married his high school sweetheart Dorothy, and had two sons after the relocation of the Fleischer studios to Miami, a daughter Joan and a son, Joseph Jr.
After the purchase of Fleischer Studios by Paramount Pictures in 1942, it was reestablished in New York as Famous Studios, prompting Oriolo’s move back to New Jersey to work as an animator for the newly created studio. It was at Famous Studios that Oriolo met Otto Messmer, the original creator of Felix the Cat, whom Oriolo credits later to helping him develop and hone his creative skills.
In 1939, with author Seymour Reit, Oriolo created the character of Casper the Friendly Ghost for a children’s book, inspired by a cut-out, non-threatening ghost that Oriolo created for his daughter Joan, as she was frightened by stories of goblins and ghosts one Halloween. After the release of a couple children’s books featuring Casper, Oriolo approached the Famous Studio’s general manager Sam Buchwald about the character and sold it to Paramount for $175. Later on, Paramount ended up owning all of the rights to the character which they made millions of dollars off of, “for which I made mere pennies,” Oriolo later said. This was due to the separate contract offered to him by Buchwald after the one-shot deal offered, which was never received by Oriolo, though he attempted to secure the rights to his character, without much success over the years.
Through 1945, Oriolo held the task of animating and contributing to the stories of the full-color Popeye cartoons, but left Famous Studios later in the year to open one of the first commercial television production studios, Joe Oriolo Productions. Oriolo worked as a freelance animator on a variety of industrial and military films, as well as TV commercials, later resurrecting the Felix the Cat character in 1958. Teamed up with William O. Sullivan, nephew of Pat Sullivan, Oriolo and him formed the Felix the Cat Productions, Inc, and created a pilot for the new half-hour cartoon series featuring the famed cartoon character.
Like Otto Messemer, who did not get to benefit financially off of his own created Felix the Cat character, Oriolo did not benefit from his own creation, Casper the Friendly Ghost as Paramount owned the rights to it. In turn, Oriolo realized the potential of his newly resurrected Felix the Cat character, and decided to obtain full rights to the cat, running a subsidiary until Sullivans’ death in 1971, at which time Oriolo found himself the president of Felix the Cat Productions, Inc.
The Felix the Cat television cartoon premiered in 1960, and was produced in full-color featuring an array of characters created by Oriolo. After the success of this animated cartoon, Oriolo also directed, created and produced the popular cartoon Mighty Hercules (1963), detailing adventures with the Greek hero Hercules with his maiden Helen and half-human horse Newton.
In 1967, Oriolo produced a third successful sci-fi adventure cartoon series, Johnny Cypher in Dimension Zero, a futuristic, half-hour series which followed a scientist imbuned with time-travelling powers across the different dimensions. Throughout the 70′s and the 80′s, Oriolo continued producing animated cartoon series, working on Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977), as well as directing television commercials.
In 1984, Oriolo received a Golden Award of recognition by the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists’ Association, working at Oriolo Film Studios on his Felix the Cat feature animated film. Today, the company has been taken over by his son Joseph, producing cartoon strips as well as film strips.