DON ORIOLO is an enthusiastic man of many talents. Many know him as CEO of Felix the Cat Productions, Inc., others know him through his triumphs in the recording, film and animation industries. He is a gifted artist, musician, writer and business man. He plays many instruments, especially the guitar. He has written a ton of great songs, he’s produced hit records and groups, has owned and operated several record labels and he’s run some of the top music publishing companies on the planet. His driven creativity has brought him success in many branches of the entertainment industry for over 40 years. His experiences around the world and tales of people he’s met are legion. He’s never at a loss for being able to recall a story at the mention of a name or place or event. A business meeting with Don is never dull and a shared meal is a treat, sure to include many recollections and anecdotes.
Throughout his career, Don’s varied interests have brought him successfully through most facets of music and art…he gets his hands into a little bit of everything and quickly learns and conquers. His crowning accomplishment is that of being the “keeper-of-the-flame” of the Felix the Cat universe including the handling of all Felix merchandising, artwork, media and comic book publishing since the Felix torch was passed on to him by his father, Joe Oriolo. Joe Oriolo was a famous animator at the Fleischer Studios in the 1930s and 1940s, working on the cartoon series of Popeye, Superman and Betty Boop. Joe also created Casper the Friendly Ghost and produced all of the Felix the Cat cartoons of the 1950s and 1960s. Joe created decades-worth of Felix newspaper strips and comic books. Joe Oriolo is best known for creating the modern Magic Bag-carrying Felix the Cat that we know today. As a young boy, Don Oriolo also enjoyed drawing and painting, being brought up in an “animated” household. His father nurtured his interest and talent. During this time, Don was blessed with a second mentor, his father’s dear friend, Winston Sharples. Win was the composer of such famous cartoon theme songs as Popeye the Sailor Man, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Little Lulu and the Felix the Cat TV theme song. Win encouraged Don’s piano and guitar playing, his songwriting and taught him the art of musical arrangement. Later, as an accomplished studio musician, composer, arranger and producer, Don worked with such groups as The Chimes, The Paragons, The Cupids, Jimmy Charles, Doctor Hook, Gloria Gaynor, Arthur Prysock and Moms Mabley, to name a few.
Don Oriolo was a music publishing executive for decades. He ran several important music publishing companies including Robert Stigwood’s publishing company, Twentieth Century Fox, April Blackwood Music – CBS/Sony Records, Chappell/Intersong Music, Elvis Presley’s Gladys Music and Hill and Range Music. As head of these companies, Don administered the publishing of the works by the Bee Gees, Eric Clapton, Donna Summer, Casablanca Records, and Gamble and Huff’s legendary “Mighty Three” catalog. Some of Don’s accomplishments as a music publishing executive include:
- Discovering and signing both Meatloaf and Jim Steinman.
- Contributing extensively to the Broadway smash, The Wiz.
- Being named “Country Music Publisher of the Year” for two years in a row while heading Intersong Music.
- Signing hit songs such as Funky Town and Déjà Vu.
- Executive producing and writing four songs for Gummy Bear albums, whose videos to date have received over four billion views on YouTube!
Don’s publishing companies have received ASCAP and BMI awards, as well as numerous gold and platinum records. Don’s companies own such hit songs as “Supernatural Thing”, “This Time I’ll be Sweeter”, and “Touch Me All Night Long”, to mention a few. Don’s record label, Personal Records had over 28 records on the charts in a three-year period. With Don Oriolo as co-executive producer, Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam with Full Force sold millions of records. Don has contributed musically to several of the shows of Sid and Marty Krofft, Nightmare on Elm Street-Part Two, and Miami Vice. A recent album that Don co-wrote and produced for Gloria Gaynor went platinum in France and hit the Top Ten in Italy and Spain. Don Oriolo wrote the first song recorded by Jon Bon Jovi. It was a Star Wars recording called “R2 D2, We Wish You a Merry Christmas!” Don released the movie, Felix the Cat Saves Christmas, which he wrote, produced and directed. Don has a new 52-episode Felix cartoon series in the works as well as a feature film titled, Felix the Cat’s Monster Madness. Don’s longtime producing relationship with Gloria Gaynor continues with a recently recorded Christmas CD. Don wrote most of the songs on this holiday album as well as a special song that Gloria performed and recorded for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. One of Don’s pet projects is producing a series of 13 seven-minute short animated films called Gugu, Danger Dawg. (myspace.com/gugudangerdawg) As CEO of the Felix the Cat companies, Don oversees the worldwide licensing and merchandising of the Felix the Cat universe of characters. He is publisher, editor-in-chief, and contributes to the writing and artwork of Felix Comics, the company that creates the Felix the Cat comic books. Don’s many successes in film, television and animation include:
- Felix the Cat Saves Christmas. Writer, producer and musical score.
- Felix the Cat, the Movie ~ feature film. Writer and producer, music and songs.
- The Adventures of Professor Beethoven ~ HBO. Writer and producer.
- The Twisted Tales of Felix ~ CBS TV. Executive Producer, wrote and performed the theme song.
- Baby Felix for~ NHK in Japan. Creator, writer, style guide, character creation and theme song.
- The Squishees ~ feature film. Writer and producer, music score.
- Felix’s Musical Journey with Hello Kitty ~for Sanrio. Writer and producer.
- Felix the Cat Gameboy game ~ Nintendo. Concept, storyline and character design. He won the “Best New Nintendo Game of the Year” award!
- Campfire Stories ~ live-action film. Writer and producer. Starred Jamie Lynn Sigler (of The Sopranos) and David Johannsen. It was the number one rental of independent films at Blockbuster Video in the first year of its release!
- Coconut Fred on Fruit Salad Island ~ WB Network. Co-creator. Twice Emmy-nominated Saturday-morning cartoon smash.
After the success of the four Felix the Cat guitars he designed for The Martin Guitar Company, Don decided to start his own guitar company, Oriolo Guitars. Don designed well over 100 unique guitar models of all shapes and sizes and then set up his own network of factories to build them! Following the premiere of the revolutionary Oriolo Guitar models at the musical instrument manufacturers’ showcase event, the NAMM Convention, Oriolo Guitars was awarded “Best in Show”. Learn all about them by joining the Oriolo Guitars Facebook page!
Though Don has considered himself an artist since childhood, painting on a daily basis is a fairly recent addition to his life brought on by the sudden loss of both his brother and sister. During this dark time, painting and creating art with family friend Felix the Cat as his muse was a natural catharsis to help him cope and survive. He vowed to paint at least one painting per day in their honor. In 2014, his book Felix the Cat Paintings was published by IDW Publishing under the Imprint of Yoe Books. You can learn a lot about Don by examining the mountain of paintings he has produced throughout his career. They’re filled with his brand of humor, pathos and compassion, as well as his love for life and animals, color and fun.
Join Don at these sites. You can find his latest recording, Earthlings Unite, on iTunes.