Good grief! Another holiday is here this week!
Sometimes I feel like holidays exist purely to mark the passing of time; a time stamp, if you will, of another milestone screaming by on this crazy journey we call life. It feels like just yesterday I was curled in my grandmother's lap, clutching my Woodstock security blanket and nodding off to a Charlie Brown Christmas between sips of warm chocolate milk. Charlie Brown (and friends) have been a part of family memories and traditions as far back as my own parent's childhoods, and it wouldn't be a holiday season without them. Of course, the beloved characters have also worked themselves into our everyday lives as well- I have quite the collection of Snoopy accessories, including one of my favorites, a doghouse piggy bank I stash away quarters and loose change in for a rainy day out.
Interview With Lee Mendelson, December 5, 2014
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.”
[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.
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.
What was the initial reaction by CBS to this 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.”
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.
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.
What Daughter Says: While the kids may laugh at the 'old school' animation, the messages and characters still resonate with our family today.
One Momma Told Me reader will win A Charlie Brown Christmas Hallmark Keepsake Statue.A Charlie Brown Christmas