You can’t keep a friendly ghost buried for long. With a change in ownership that is taking months to complete, the famous Harvey Comics characters are slowly moving into a new home with New York-based Classic Media, joining former UPA properties Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing.
The Harvey Entertainment Company announced March 8 that it had sold all rights to its TV film library, comic books and brand-name characters (which include Casper, Richie Rich, Baby Huey, Wendy The Witch and The Ghostly Trio) to Classic Media for US$17 million cash in a deal that was expected to close this month.
While company executives couldn’t comment on the record during the closing period, it is generally understood that the transition is totally on track, and Classic is working with existing partners on the properties to keep momentum up.
There has been no shortage of merchandising activity with the classic cartoon characters, thanks to a strategic alliance announced last June with Hearst Entertainment for worldwide merchandise licensing.
Hearst will represent Casper and company at the Licensing Show this month, and Harvey’s merchandising manager Leslie Levine, VP of entertainment licensing at Hearst, is pleased with the Harvey characters’ strength in the marketplace. ‘High-quality products selling through clean, with retailers wanting more. That’s what you want, and we’ve got it.’
One of Hearst’s biggest Harvey character undertakings to date is coming to fruition this month, with the debut of a theatrical production called Casper: The Musical. The Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera will open the show June 5, and then tour the U.S. this summer in cities including Kansas City and Atlanta. Chita Rivera stars as a villainous media celebrity who organizes a televised treasure hunt in a haunted house-the one Casper resides in.
Also on the drawing board for 2001 are a new Wendy’s kids meal promo with Casper and a Sony PlayStation 2 game called Casper Spirit Dimensions, bowing in October.
Levine says that Hearst has exceeded all licensing expectations for the Harvey properties with clever applications of the character line. For example, she says, ‘in the apparel field, a retro line is appealing to a much older audience that grew up with the classic animation.’
The comic books, which kept the characters alive in print for 40 years, are not currently being published, but Levine is anxious to return the classic graphic stories to the bookstores. ‘We are looking at revitalizing the whole publishing category because it has been fairly dormant in recent years,’ she says. ‘There are a few fun things out there. Troll Communications has a Learn-to-Draw volume. We are talking to publishers now about the best approach for revamping the property’s publishing strategy.’
The Harvey characters were originally created in the `40s and `50s by Paramount Pictures for theatrical animated shorts. The film library and character rights were sold to Harvey Comics in 1957.