11 Fun Facts About Heathcliff

DiC Entertainment
DiC Entertainment

In 1973, newspapers around the country saw the debut of artist George Gately's Heathcliff, a single-panel comic strip about a mischievous orange tabby who menaces dogs and haunts local fish markets. (And yes, he was named after the character in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.) For nearly half a century, the character has been seen in print, on television, and has spawned a slew of merchandise. Check out some facts about the comics page’s pick of the litter.

1. HE PRE-DATES GARFIELD.

You might assume the enormous success of Garfield, Jim Davis’s long-running strip about a lazy and sardonic orange cat, led to derivative works about sleepy felines. Could be, but Heathcliff isn’t one of them. George Gately’s strip began running in 1973, five years before Davis’s Garfield hit papers.

2. HE WAS BROUGHT BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND.

Though he quickly appeared in 200 papers, Heathcliff’s future was by no means guaranteed early on, and in 1974, the Los Angeles Times decided to drop the strip. More than 900 readers wrote letters of complaint in response, prompting the Times to reinstate the strip just a few weeks later.

3. GATELY WAS INVITED TO CAT CONVENTIONS.

With Heathcliff’s popularity came opportunity for merchandising, animation, and other ancillary ventures. One of the strangest may have been the repeated invitations for Gately to attend cat conventions, where cat owners requested his autograph be addressed to their pet. This sometimes led to questionable solicitations, like when one woman asked for his signature for her cat, Hitler. According to John Gallagher, Gately’s brother, Gately wound up writing “Good luck, Hitler” for the fan.

4. MEL BLANC GAVE HIM A VOICE.

Like Garfield, Heathcliff doesn’t speak in print. But when the character made the move to animation, being a silent hero was off the table. The first Heathcliff series premiered in 1980 and featured the voice of cartoon legend Mel Blanc as the title character. In the second season, he teamed with fellow comic strip star Marmaduke. Another series followed in 1984, as well as an animated feature in 1986.

5. BUNNICULA COST HIM A HALLOWEEN SPECIAL.

The crown jewel of comic strips in animation is the holiday special, with A Charlie Brown Christmas being the gold standard. Done right, the projects can run almost in perpetuity. In the 1980s, Heathcliff very nearly joined the pantheon with a Halloween special that was planned for ABC following an animated adaptation of the vampire-bunny book Bunnicula. During the outline stage, ABC screened the finished Bunnicula special and decided the animation was too rough for primetime. Since Ruby-Spears was handling production for both, Heathcliff got sidelined.

6. GATELY DREW SIMPLE BACKGROUNDS FOR A REASON.

Comic strip artists are constantly under deadline pressure, which is a big reason why you don’t often see elaborate backgrounds. But Gately had a different reason for keeping Heathcliff’s home simple. “I'm very careful to never make the home in my cartoon look too fancy,” he said. “I'm as interested in having the poorest person relate to Heathcliff as I am the richest person."

7. HE MADE GATELY A MILLIONAIRE.

Like Garfield, Heathcliff’s true potential wasn’t relegated to newsprint. By 1982, the cat’s merchandising deals were so profitable that Gately and partners raked in $55 million in licensing revenue.

8. HE ENDORSED KITTY LITTER.

In 1986, Heathcliff broke one of the last remaining taboos of celebrities and opted to endorse a feces-related product. Heathcliff’s Blue Ribbon Cat Litter promised to be “dust-free” and could absorb 1.5 times its weight in liquid. The ad copy got right to the point: “The competition stinks.”

9. ONE NEWSPAPER POLLED READERS ON WHICH COMIC CAT THEY LIKED BETTER. HEATHCLIFF LOST.

In October 1981, New Jersey's Asbury Park Press decided to allot space to one of the leading cat comic strips and asked readers to decide which one it would be. Garfield won, but only by a nose: The lasagna-engorged cat drew 326 votes to Heathcliff’s 324. One reader didn't appear enamored with either choice and opted for a write-in: “Bring us Marmaduke.”

10. HE WAS A NASCAR SPONSOR.

T.J. Bell, driver of the #50 Heathcliff's Cat Litter Ford leads Joe Ruttman, driver of the #4 Open Joist Dodge during the Sam's Town 400 at Texas Motor Speedway June 8, 2007 in Fort Worth, Texas
Chris Graythen, Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway

We’re not entirely sure what to make of the association, but beginning in 2004, Heathcliff was a sponsor for NASCAR driver T.J. Bell. Bell wore a Heathcliff character logo on his racing suit; his Ford F-150 car was dubbed the “No. 50 Heathcliff’s Cat Litter Ford.”

11. THE STRIP IS A FAMILY BUSINESS.

When Gately retired from the strip in 1998 (he died in 2001), Heathcliff continued—thanks in large part to the work of Peter Gallagher, Gately’s nephew, who had been working as Gately’s apprentice since 1994. Still appearing in newspapers across the country, Heathcliff is billed as "the original orange cat."

This App Lets You Download Free E-Books, Magazines, Comic Books, and Audiobooks From Your Library

boggy22, iStock via Getty Images
boggy22, iStock via Getty Images

Even if your local library is closed during the novel coronavirus outbreak, you can still use your library card in quarantine. As Thrillist reports, Libby is an app that works with local libraries to give you free access to audiobooks, e-books, comic books, and magazines wherever you are.

Libby, an app from the digital reading company Overdrive, is connected to 90 percent of public libraries in North America. To use the app, just enter the information from your library card and start browsing digital titles available through your local branches. If you don't have a library card yet, some participating libraries will allow you to sign up for a digital card in the app. That way, you don't have to leave home to start reading.

As more people are looking for e-books and audiobooks to pass the time at home, Overdrive has made it possible for multiple users to check out the same title at once. That means as more libraries shift to a 100 percent online loan system for the time being, it will be easier to meet their patrons' needs.

No matter what your current literary mood may be, you should have no trouble finding something to read on Libby. Downloadable titles from the New York Public Library currently available through the app include the e-book of Becoming by Michelle Obama, the e-book of Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, and the audiobook of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. After you download a book, you can send it to your Kindle device, and all items are automatically returned on their due date. Download the free app today to start browsing.

[h/t Thrillist]

How Did Casper the Friendly Ghost Die?

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

The star of dozens of animated shorts and specials, hundreds of comics, and one big-screen feature (which spawned a couple of straight-to-video follow-ups), Casper the Friendly Ghost has enjoyed a great deal of spooky success since he debuted in 1945. An affable spirit, the seemingly pre-adolescent blob of ectoplasm only wants to make friends. Unfortunately, people are consistently wary of his ethereal qualities. In the earliest shorts, he preferred to hang out by himself near a tombstone.

Does the tombstone belong to him? By virtue of being a ghost, doesn’t that mean Casper was once a real, live boy who suffered a tragic fate at a young age?

The Ghost With No Name

When Casper was created back in 1940 by Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo, the question apparently didn’t come up. Reit and Oriolo planned to have Casper—who did not yet have a name—be the star of an illustrated children’s book, with Reit writing and Oriolo illustrating it. They never got the chance. The two, who worked at Fleischer Studios on animated shorts, were both drafted to serve in World War II. When they returned, Fleischer Studios had been purchased by Paramount, renamed Famous Studios, and wanted complete control over the intellectual property of work created by employees. The two sold Casper and other characters for a total of $200 to Paramount.

When Casper made his animated debut in the 1945 Famous Studios short “The Friendly Ghost,” he finally got a name, but no mention was made of his origins. The short references his “brothers and sisters” who enjoy scaring people but offers no other details of his private life.

A second short, 1948’s “There’s Good Boos To-Night,” shows Casper leaning on a tombstone while reading a book, with a “Love Thy Neighbor” sign hanging nearby. The ghosts in the cemetery are referred to as his “neighbors” and appear to rise from their respective resting places when it’s time to go haunting. This would imply Casper is relaxing at his own gravesite, though his name doesn’t appear on the tombstone. If so, it would support the idea he once occupied the land of the living.

As Casper moved into another medium, however, a case began to be made for his existence as something other than human. In 1949, St. John Publishing produced five Casper comics. In 1952, Harvey Comics took over the license. In an effort to expand Casper’s world, Harvey gave him a ghost family, including a mom and three uncles. None of them were named until 1955, when the uncles were dubbed Fatso, Fusso, and Lazo. What wasn’t clear, however, was whether Casper’s relatives were all deceased as well or whether the Casper mythology implies ghosts are simply "born" ghosts.

The Pneumonia Theory

When the Casper feature film starring Christina Ricci was released in 1995, producers apparently thought moviegoers would be confused by a lack of explanation, and so the Casper of that film was portrayed as a boy named Casper McFadden. He was said to have died of pneumonia at the age of 12 after staying out in cold weather for too long playing with a sled he had just received as a gift.

There is one alternative, and slightly darker, theory that was purportedly first floated by The Simpsons. In the 1991 episode “Three Men and a Comic Book,” Bart and Lisa speculate that Casper is the ghost of Richie Rich, another Harvey Comics icon. (The two bear a resemblance.) Lisa believes that his realization of “how hollow the pursuit of money really is” caused Richie to take his own life. Other observers have speculated that perhaps Richie’s parents killed their son for the insurance money.

This is, of course, virtually impossible, as Richie Rich wasn’t created until 1953, 13 years after Reit and Oriolo conceived of Casper.

So what is Casper—former boy or forever ghost? Given his comfort hanging around a tombstone and his pleasant nature preventing him from besmirching the grave of another, it seems likely he was once human. To date, only the 1995 feature has attempted to detail what led him to the afterlife. Considering Casper's appeal as a children's property, that's probably for the best.

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