By GW Thomas
This cartoon has been haunting me though. I have to think "Lonesome Ghosts" was probably the very first piece of media to suggest the idea of "ghost busters" to me. I never saw The Ghost Busters with Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch in 1975. By then I had moved onto Kolchak the Nightstalker. (I was twelve after all!) 1975 was a good time to be a horror kid. My parents would never have let me see The Exorcist or anything like that, but television had Dan Curtis and other TV movie producers creating shows like Gargoyles, Moon of the Wolf, and The Night Strangler. And as long as you weren't allergic to Bradford Dillman, you got some kid-sized scares that worked you up to William Friedkin's The Exorcist and Steven Spielberg's Jaws.
So far, so good. But it doesn't explain everything. The Disney story man could have just had Mickey and friends arrive at the old house late one night, a ploy used in some later Sylvester and Porky Pig cartoons at Warner Brothers. But Friel doesn't do this. He specifically makes them ghostbreakers, the three members of the Ajax Ghost Exterminators. Armed with silly tools like a shotgun, a butterfly net, an axe, and a mouse trap, the three characters enter a house worthy of a Weird Tales cover. Now, Friel may have done all this for the joke of comparing vermin exterminators with ghost exterminators, a trope that would last until the 1980s when Harold Ramis and Dan Ackroyd wrote Ghostbusters, but I wonder if Friel was inspired by something more?
That leaves print stories. Was Dick Friel a horror connoisseur? There is very little information on the man. He worked for the Jefferson Film Corporation in the 1920s, a company that made the Mutt and Jeff cartoons. His only Disney credit is "Lonesome Ghosts." So who knows? The most popular occult detective in 1937 was Jules de Grandin in Weird Tales, but there appears to be no influence on Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. Another was Gees by EC Vivian (under his Jack Mann pseudonym). One of Vivian's influences was the jungle writer Arthur Friel. Friel's stories set in South America - like "The Barragudo" - have a ghostbreaker element. A strange coincidence, but hardly proof of anything. Were Dick and Arthur Friel related? Like ghosts, the threads are tantalizing, but disappear like smoke.
Ultimately, my biggest take away is Goofy's declaring, "I ain't a-scared of no ghosts," which will become Ray Parker Jr's singing "I ain't afraid of no ghosts!" in 1984. In between 1937 and '84 we had Casper the Friendly Ghost in cartoons and comics, who I am sure was inspired in part by "Lonesome Ghosts." The derby-wearing quartet became the Ghostly Trio in time, and Spooky sports some similar head gear. Strangely, the Casper copyright holders tried to sue Columbia for fifty million because of the ghost used in the ghostbusters logo. They lost. Disney never said boo.
GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.