Meet Lee Mendelson, The Man Behind Charlie Brown Special! #CBXmas @Snoopy #Giveaway #Partner

 

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    As the holidays have drawn to a close, we all have treasured memories that we will carry with us forever of stolen moments with sweethearts and time well-spent with family and friends.  Although next year’s holidays seem quite far away, we all know how quickly they always creep up on us so many start planning early.  I have many friends who begin to purchase presents well in advance and hide them throughout the house all year long.

    Before the holidays ended, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lee Mendelson, who is the Executive Producer of the legendary Charlie Brown Christmas Special.  I’m sure most of you consider this televised event to be a staple of your family’s holiday season.  I, myself can recall sitting around our family’s television set as a kid and watching the special together.  Being a Peanuts Brand Ambassador has allowed me to get a unique glimpse behind the special and to interview many of the people who contributed to its success.

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Here is what Mr. Mendelson had to say about his involvement in the creation of the televised special:

1. How did the special come about?

To my amazement, When I called Sebastopol, California Charles Schulz’s name was in the phone book; and I called him and told him I was a documentary filmmaker and wanted to do [a film] on Charlie Brown.

And [Schulz] said: “Thanks for the call, but I’m not interested in animation.”

[Before I hung up] I asked him, “…did you happen to see the Willie Mays documentary last month on NBC?” [When he answered in the affirmative] I said, “We did that show…” There was a long pause, I’ll remember that pause for my whole life, then he said, “Well if Willie Mays can trust you with his life I guess I can trust you with mine.” And that’s how we got together. So Willie Mays is responsible for A Charlie Brown Christmas.

So we did the documentary… and we needed some music.

[Vince Guaraldi] was a Charlie Brown fan. He had no money, I had no money. We agreed to a speculation to have him do the music for the documentary [and] about two days later he called… that’s the first time I ever heard Linus and Lucy, which became our theme.”

2. How was Coca-Cola involved?

I got a call from a representative of Coca Cola. “Have you and Mr. Schulz ever thought about doing a Christmas show?” I lied and said, “Oh, all the time.” And they said, “Well it’s Wednesday so if you could shoot us an outline by Monday we might be interested at looking for a Christmas show.”

So Bill Melendez [and Schulz] flew up and we sat down, and in about four hours we came up with the outline for what would become A Charlie Brown Christmas, sent it to Coca Cola, they bought it, and we went ahead and produced the show for the next six months.

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3. How did you and Bill Melendez (the animator) collaborate with Sparky on the script? What were some of your ideas that made it into the storyline (ie, the pathetic Christmas tree)?

The three of us got together. [Schulz] had a done few strips about the school play at Christmas time, so that was going to be the basis of it and he wanted to talk about the commerciality of Christmas and he also said, “We really should tell what Christmas is all about… I think we should have Linus read from the Bible.” At which point, both Bill and I didn’t know quite what to say except to say, “That’s never happened to our knowledge. We don’t think they’ve ever animated stuff from the Bible and Schulz said, “If we don’t do it who will?”

I had read something about Hans Christian Andersen’s little fir tree and said, “Maybe we could do something about a tree that he picks out.”

Bill said, “We should have a dance sequence with all the famous dances from 60s,” which is that famous dance sequence where each animator had his character doing a different dance from the 60s.

4. Ditto for the music. We understand you wrote “Christmastime is Here.” How did that come about?

[The show] was too slow and I couldn’t put my finger on it and I said to Bill, “You know that opening melody when they’re skating is beautiful maybe we could get some songwriters to quickly put some words together and record it… everybody was busy. I don’t know what possessed me, but I took out an envelope.. and I literally wrote the words on that envelope in about ten minutes. It never changed, it was like writing a poem. We got some kids together and they sang it.

Last week we heard that that album passed 50 million in sales in 50 years.

5. Why did you go with children for voice actors? Afterall, this was rather unheard of at the time, wasn’t it?

That was going to be a big gamble because up to that time adults had done kids voices.

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6. What were the initial reactions from CBS to the special?

We took it to CBS and they didn’t like it. The executives thought it was too slow, they didn’t like the kid’s voices, they said “What is jazz doing on a Christmas show?”

They said, “It’s scheduled, but [we’re] afraid this’ll be one and out.”

7. How about the media? Did it get good reviews when it first debuted?

[A CBS executive said] “We got a guy from Time magazine here, but I don’t think we should show it to him.”

I said, “What’ve you got to lose? Show it to him.”

He came out with a glowing review, [saying] that the thing should be run every year.

8. Why do you suppose it was such a huge ratings success when it debuted in 1965?

I swear I don’t have any idea. There were [three] things that helped us: Time magazine reached a huge audience; there were only Three [TV] networks, you only had 3 choices; and TV Guide was kind enough to run a two page or four page spread for us. TV Guide back then had a tremendous impact.

9. And why do you suppose, 50 years later, that it’s still such a hit?

It’s become a generational thing. I think, first of all, it has all the great philosophy of Charles Schulz. The truths, the philosophy, and the Midwest background he had has been so enduring, and continues on to this day.

Certain writers are timeless, he’s timeless.

[Second], there’s an innocence in A Charlie Brown Christmas. There are truths in [it] that are as good today as they were then.

10. Did you think it would be a hit at the time?

We previewed it two weeks before it aired. It looked very slow to Bill and I, and when it was over, Bill and I looked at each other and one of us said to the other, “ Oh God, I think we’ve ruined Charlie Brown.” And one of the animators in the back row, Ed Levitt a famous animator, stood up and said, “You guys are crazy, this is going to run for a hundred years.” And we said to him, “What are you smoking?”

11. What is your favorite scene?

Obviously, Linus reading from the Bible is something that will endure for years and years. The dance scene was fantastic because it captured all the spirit of the 60s and all the dance moves of the 60s.

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12. What does the special mean to you?

I hear every year that this is the one time that families get together and can enjoy something together. I think Tom Hanks said on one of the interview shows that Christmas doesn’t start until A Charlie Brown Christmas comes on.

It’s become such a big tradition over the years, and to be able to bring families together every year, that’s the biggest thrill.

And it allowed us to go on to do every kind of show. We did Charlie Brown shows on cancer, on war, on Arbor Day. The networks never told us what shows to do. We had a creative freedom that was staggering. and to have another 5-6 year contract with ABC, who gets 5-6 years? Nobody, except Charlie Brown.

13. How did Sparky feel about it after it aired?

When the show came on he was thrilled. He was thrilled with the ratings, he was thrilled with the response. He said, “Let’s do some more.” For 38 more years, we did 52 more shows and 4 movies.

It certainly was a privilege to learn more about how this timeless family classic came to fruition.  These interviews just make me love it even more and I hope my own children will continue to pass on the tradition of watching it every year to their own children…

Let’s Discuss:  What is one of your favorite family memories from the Charlie Brown Specials?

GIVEAWAY:

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Our Sponsor is giving away a Charlie Brown and the Pathetic Tree Figurine to one reader of Tough Cookie Mommy!a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: This post is part of a blogging campaign as a Peanuts 50 Years on TV Brand Ambassador. I received a promotional item as a thank you for participating. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

© 2015, Tough Cookie Mommy. All rights reserved.

Comments

  1. kayadeola says:

    To be honest I have never really watched any of the specials,shame really as I am sure I would enjoy. Great interview and give-away good luck to everyone entering.

  2. Robin Rue says:

    This is my second favorite cartoon of all time (the first being It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown). I have such good memories of staying up late to watch this on tv when I was a kid.

  3. Love Charlie Brown. I wish my kids enjoyed it too.

  4. I have great memories of watching the specials with my whole family gathered around the tv.

  5. Tricia Galbraith says:

    I remember always watching it with my two brothers.

  6. Thanks for this wonderful read! I watch Charlie Brown Christmas every year. It’s the best!

  7. I love watching the Charlie Brown holiday specials. I watched them as a kid and I love sharing them with my kids now.

  8. I remember watching the specials every holiday season (starting at Halloween with the Great Pumpkin). That little tree was so sad…

  9. jaimemckee says:

    I love the Christmas special. We also have a few books with the whole story (one has sounds) that my son really loved this year.

  10. Trisha Kilpatrick says:

    I really just remember looking forward to them every year. I remember scouring the TV Guide to see when they were coming on that year.

  11. That is amazing, what a great interview. Charlie Brown is definitely a great childhood memory. x

  12. I have so many memories of growing up reading and being read from an old family copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I also just recently spent Christmas watching Charlie Brown specials with my sister.

  13. Rebecca Williams Parsons says:

    I always remember sitting and waiting for it to come on. Of course we had it figured out by seeing the schedule for the tv listings in the paper.

  14. Elizabeth Ray says:

    We saw it for the first time at my grandparents’ house. They rarely watched TV – it always surprised me to realize that they owned one. They would roll out the TV for the planned show, and when the show was over, put the TV away. But they thought that this sounded like a show of which they would approve, that the grandchildren would like. They were right!

  15. I have always loved how the adults in the cartoons spoke. It still takes me back to my own childhood when that’s basically how adults really sounded!

  16. Oh Charlie Brown. I haven’t seen Charlie Brown in years. I loved it as a kid, I’m not even sure my kids know what Charlie Brown is. I need to introduce them. This is very cool.

  17. I well remember watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special when I was a kid. My sister and I would park ourselves in front of the TV and eat Jiffy Pop popcorn. Now I watch the special with my spouse, who is a huge Snoopy fan.

  18. mena & taty says:

    I have to agree with him and Tom Hanks. My memory really is that when we watched Charlie Brown, mom would get the decorations out!

  19. I love the Charlie Brown Christmas special. I always try to watch it every year! I didn’t know too much about how it had come about though, so it’s neat to read about it!

  20. Jane Thomas says:

    I remember watching it at night in the 80s to this day I still watch it.

  21. Jen (livlaughlove.com) says:

    I love watching Charlie Brown and his little tree. We watch it almost every year. My daughter experienced it for the first time (cognitively as a 3-year-old) this year. The music is so ingrained in my mind as a Christmas tradition. Love it!

  22. I can remember watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special on and around Christmas so many times. I loved Snoopy and Charlie Brown and all the other characters. I loved that it was funny to me as a kid and still funny to me today as an adult but I now love the fact that my kiddos enjoy this wholesome Christmas story. I always enjoyed that they did not shy away from the true meaning of Christmas and my kids get to see that too!

  23. I look forward to watching this special every year. It is such a classic.

  24. Maryann D says:

    My family memories from the Charlie Brown Specials were to look forward to the Christmas or Halloween special with my brother each year when we were young. We could not wait to see them again.

    twinkle at optonline dot net

  25. I vaguely remember watching it with friends children–both they and I were enthralled each time we viewed it.

  26. Lois Alter Mark says:

    This is great! A Charlie Brown Christmas is such a classic, and such a holiday tradition.

  27. Jessica Smith-Ruggiero says:

    One of my favorite memories is watching A Charlie Brown Christmas with my family every year growing up.

  28. Mama to 5 Blessings says:

    My kids LOVE Charlie Brown Christmas as well as all the other Charlie Brown cartoons, What a cute giveaway!

  29. Ann Bacciaglia says:

    I grew up watching The Charlie Brown Christmas Special every year. This is such a great interview.

  30. Debbie Denny says:

    Love Charlie Brown. Awesome interview.

  31. touristmeetstraveler says:

    The Charlie Brown Christmas special has been something very important in my family, everyone in my family has seen it and we love it!

  32. Nicole Ramage says:

    I haven’t watched a Charlie Brown special in so long. I tried last year and my son was turned off by the adults talking. he said it was too weird. The pathetic tree was too sad for him!

  33. Really interesting. I love how they hadn’t planned on doing the Christmas thing – and look how popular it is. Sometimes when people give you ideas, you run with is.

  34. ourfamilyworld says:

    Always been a big fan of Charlie Brown, the Christmas special is such a classic and a joy to watch every year!

  35. Lara Ruiz says:

    I played Sally in 1st grade. I was hooked on Peanuts from then on! My favorite family memoties are actually getting to sit as a family and watch and it was always before bedtime so we were snuggled up with Dad and Mom. I introduced my kids to the same tradition and we historicallyrics watched Peanuts holiday movies together year round unti…nope they still watch as adults. Thank you for a wonderful interview.

  36. Katherine Bartlett says:

    I’ve always loved Peanuts and I’m Jewish!

  37. What a great interview and giveaway. “Peanuts” was always a huge staple in my family growing up not only when I was a child but also with my own children. I recently had my grandchildren and I am looking forward to the day when I can share it with them.

  38. Chrystal M. says:

    That was an awesome interview! I have always admired Charles Schulz and Peanuts/Charlie Brown brings back happy memories for me.

  39. Melissa Smith says:

    I’ve always loved Charlie Brown & the Peanuts & this interview actually made me love it all the more! Thanks for the great giveaway too! 🙂

  40. themommyfiles says:

    I didn’t realize that Coca Cola had anything to do with Charlie Brown and the Peanuts Gang. Sounds like a really great interview.

  41. What a great interview! The dance scene is my favorite, too. My family watches this special every year. Congrats on being a Peanuts Brand Ambassador, btw!

  42. I grew up watching Charlie Brown! Only I used to watch it in French lol It was nice reading this interview. I have to get this movie so that my son can enjoy A Charlie Brown Christmas!

  43. paulaschuck says:

    I love love love the Charlie Brown Christmas special. It never gets old for me. Too funny that CBS didn’t like it at first!

  44. I love the Great Pumpkin. I watch it every year. we have a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree I bought a couple years ago. We always put it by the TV.

  45. Motivating Mommy says:

    I love charlie brown. There is a Charles Schulz’s museum in California I wish I would have gotten to visit while I lived in Santa Rosa, CA.

  46. My girls love Charlie Brown special. However, I think we missed watching it during the holidays.

  47. one of my favorite cartoons, brings back good memories, I used to see it with my brothers during special holidays.

  48. Jessica B. says:

    I love all the Charlie Brown Specials. I really like when they pick out the Christmas tree and dance around it. Reminds me how special it is for my family to decorate our tree.

  49. Altusbecky says:

    We always sit down as family and watch the specials…and with the kids in school and sports family time is a precious commodity to us

  50. Joni Dolniak says:

    My favorite memories were when the Charlie Brown specials were on my mom would make all us kids homemade warm chocolate pudding.

  51. Leslie Rathbun says:

    I loved the Charlie Brown Holloween Special- The Great Pumpkin. I watched it every year.

  52. Mine is just the tradition of being able to sit down and watch the specials for most holidays!

  53. Eugenia Hall says:

    My Mom and I used to stand up and do the Snoopy Dance during the dance sequence at the play practice. It mortified my Dad, which made it all the better.

  54. Laurie Murley says:

    i love their christmas specials, their my favorite as a kid and as a adult

  55. Melissa Smith says:

    My brothers and I actually went looking for the Great Pumpkin one Halloween.. lol

  56. jandsfox_143 says:

    It was tradition to watch all the Charlie Brown specials when we were young and now my kids enjoy them every year!!

  57. Laurie Emerson says:

    Every year my grandmother would make a big bowl of popcorn and cherry kool-aid. We would then snuggle down in her couch and watch the special together.

  58. mail4rosey says:

    We used to get excited when the TV special was advertised. Seeing the show made it really feel like it was Christmas season. I loved it as a kid did, and my kids love it now too. 🙂

  59. Michelle Kristin Galante says:

    I love sitting down and watching Lucy, she reminds me so much of my sister. My sister hates that comparison but it’s so accurate. She lives on the other side of the country so it’s nice to be reminded of her feisty attutude.

  60. My school did their Christmas skit on the Charlie Brown Christmas story. They did amazing. Thank you

  61. I just love the time I used to watch with my mom and we would both laugh.

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