Friday, December 12, 2014

An interview with legendary producer of A Charlie Brown Christmas special, Mr. Lee Mendelson #Giveaway #Snoopy #CBXMAS

I grew up watching, a Charlie Brown Christmas special.  Year after year, right around Christmas I would look forward to seeing this beloved special. From my favorite characters, to the iconic music, when I saw this special on TV I knew it was the holidays.  I love being able to share this special with my daughter each year, she seems to love A Charlie Brown Christmas as much as I do.  Are your family fan’s as well? Do you have a family tradition to watch the show together each year?  The special is celebrating its 50th anniversary and it is as popular as ever. 

My family and I are huge fans of the special, and since this is the 50th year of the special I see that many others all over the world love the special as well.   I was very fortunate to be able to chat with the legendary producer of the special, Mr. Lee Mendelson.
"Lee Mendelson is a third generation San Franciscan, born March 24 , 1933 . He graduated from Stanford in 1954 and served as a navigator in the United States Air Force from 1955 to 1957 . He was a writer - producer - director at KPIX TV in San Francisco from 1961 to 1963 , where his series on the history of California won a coveted Peabody Award . Opening Lee Mendelson Productions in 1963, his first network hit was A MAN NAMED MAYS, starring Willie Mays on NBC TV. In 1965 he produced “ A Charlie Brown Christmas ” which won an Emmy and a Peabody ."

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.

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.
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.
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 was amazing chatting with one of the key players in the making of my all time favorite Christmas classic, he seemed like such a down to earth guy who loved being a part of  A Charlie Brown Christmas special.

One of Susan’s Disney Family readers will win a “Find The Christmas Spirit-Charlie Brown With Tree Figurine” from  Jim Shore a $40.00 ARV! Would you like to win?  Please let me know what you love about the A Charlie Brown Christmas special? Do you have a favorite scene, or character? I love so many scenes if I had to pick one, I would have to go with Linus’s speech scene. What do you love about this iconic special?  There are also other ways to enter, please enter below. 

Watch it:
Be sure to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas special this year, the Holiday Classic will air on ABC on Dec. 16th 8:30 pm est.

Win it:
One winner will win a  “Find The Christmas Spirit-Charlie Brown With Tree Figurine” from  Jim Shore a $40.00 ARV

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: The reviews and or opinions on this blog are my own opinions . I received a Jim Shore figurine for this post. No monitory compensation was received. I was not required to write a positive review. Your experience may differ. The opinions I have expressed are my own I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsement and Testimonials in Advertising .


Anonymous said...

Love Charlie Brown! Linda W

Unknown said...

I'm 54 years old and it's just a part of my childhood that I still enjoy. Christmas isn't official until I watch Charlie Brown.

VickieC said...

my husband never misses the special ,he will tape it if he has to work so he can watch it,,its his favorite to watch each year


I love when they all sing around Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.

Linda said...

I love Charlie, we watch him every year, it's a tradition!

mscoffee77 said...

My favorite part is Linus' speech about the true meaning of Christmas.

Leela said...

I love when they sing.

Candie L said...

I love that the message still rings true today. Thank you


Unknown said...

I love when Linus wraps his blanket around the tree and they all start to sing. It just warms my heart.

Stacy said...

I love the tree.

Anonymous said...

I heart the kids' dancing on the stage during the "Linus & Lucy" music segment!

Romeo said...

I love that it reminds me of my childhood when I was in 2 recitals of Peanuts, One being Ballet and other in middle school. Being I was the only boy in ballet you can imagine that of the opportunity; I am honored to have done so.... It helped get me more athletic for the Tae Kwon Doe & Judo I was taking at the same time!

Melissa Shirley said...

I love the special because it brings me back to my childhood. I do not think I ever missed the special. I just watched it the other night on TV!

Unknown said...

i just love charlie brown so many lessons learned when i was a kid

Unknown said...

I love Snoopy when he dances!

Unknown said...

I love it all because it is clean , fun and entertaining and my grandkids love it.

Kathy P said...

I love that it is a great show that is padded on to every generation

Melanie Montgomery said...

There is always a lesson learned

Unknown said...

I love when they make the pitiful tree beautiful.

Karen said...

I love that it is a good family show/cartoon, no matter your age, everyone enjoys it.

Anonymous said...

we all love a charlie brown christmas!

Unknown said...

I've always loved the tree. And I love the singing.

Roxann said...

I love the message that it gives.

Buddy Garrett said...

I like the music and the dance scene.

Unknown said...

I like the story

Vikki Billings said...

I have been watching Charlie Brown specials since I was a little girl, I am 47 and I still watch it. It brings back memories of my family sitting around the television during the holidays. My favorite part is Linus's speech about the true meaning of Christmas. I love Linus!!

Unknown said...

I love the part that Linus really tells Charlie Brown the meaning of Christmas. I like when they all go to Charlie Brown too.

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Disclosure: The reviews and or opinions on this blog are my own opinions, . No compensation was received. All opinions are my own. This is a unofficial fan site that is not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company or Disney theme parks.