Monday, November 30, 2015

A Charlie Brown Christmas Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

Anyone who knows me knows just how much of a fan I am of Peanuts. I did all sorts of posts about the Peanuts movie on Facebook that a friend asked if I was getting paid by the company to promote the movie. I responded no I’m doing it because I’m a fan.

And I am a huge Huge HUGE fan of the Christmas special. If there was one special to pick that most represented the spirit of Christmas this is the one to pick.

What has become a classic was not thought so at the time.There were all sorts of concerns in the process of creating the show. There was too much religion in it. The voices were of kids instead of professional actors. This was on of the first cartoons that used real kids voices. The incredible success of the show set the trend for the future on that.

Here’s just a little on the problems from a story in USA Today:
Midway through production in 1965, executive producer Lee Mendelson remembers a visit from an ad executive at McCann-Erickson, whose client Coca-Cola commissioned the special. Looking at rough pencil drawings and animation tests with no music, “he said: ‘This isn’t very good. I don’t know what I’m going to tell the agency. If I tell them what I think, they’re going to cancel the show,’ “ Mendelson says. “I said, ‘Well, wait, whoa, this is all very rudimentary. If you believe in Charles Schulz and his characters, you’re just going to have to trust us that this is going to be great.’”

“It never got that far, because they thought that having jazz music on a Christmas show didn’t make much sense,” Mendelson says. “They didn’t like the (voice) actors being kids, and they just didn’t like the show in general. They said: ‘You made a nice try. We’ll put it on the air, obviously, but it just doesn’t work.’"

Here’s a link to another story from USA Today on the 50th anniversary

Way back in 2006 I did a post about the special you can find it here. In it there’s a reprint of a story that USA Today ran the year before on the 40th anniversary of the special.

Here’s a little from that USA Today story that first ran in 2005:
"They said it was slow," executive producer Lee Mendelson remembers with a laugh. There were concerns that the show was almost defiantly different: There was no laugh track, real children provided the voices, and there was a swinging score by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.
Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez fretted about the insistence by Peanuts creator Charles Schulz that his first-ever TV spinoff end with a reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke by a lisping little boy named Linus.

"We told Schulz, 'Look, you can't read from the Bible on network television,' " Mendelson says. "When we finished the show and watched it, Melendez and I looked at each other and I said, 'We've ruined Charlie Brown.' "

Good grief, were they wrong. The first broadcast was watched by almost 50% of the nation's viewers. "When I started reading the reviews, I was absolutely shocked," says Melendez, 89. "They actually liked it!"

Christopher Shea was just 7 when he did the part and credits Melendez's coaching and his mom's doctorate in 17th-century British literature for Linus' lilting eloquence with a Biblical text.
Shea, who now lives in Eureka, Calif., with two daughters, 11 and 16, answers quickly when asked why the special has proved so enduring. "It's the words," he says.
Shea says that for years, in his teens and 20s, he didn't quite understand his soliloquy's impact.
"People kept coming up to me and saying, 'Every time I watch that, I cry,' " he says. "But as I got older, I understood the words more, and I understood the power of what was going on. Now I cry, too."

It’s always amazing the potential what ifs that might have changed what has become a classic and tradition when Christmas Time is Here. I know I will enjoy the special and as always enjoy the show itself.

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