“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” airing on ABC Television Network on Nov. 30, 2015, is being celebrated on its 50th anniversary. The story behind wildly successful animated film, based on the comic strip by cartoonist Charles Schulz, is told on the attached video. The video includes interviews with Executive Producer Lee Mendelson, CBS Programming Executive Fred Silverman, Charles Schulz’s widow Jean Schulz and son Craig Schulz.
Executive Producer Lee Mendelson states, in the video, that the making of Charlie Brown special was a rush project. Mendelson was contacted by Coca-Cola’s ad agency, who asked if he had a holiday special in the works. Mendelson lied when he said “Absolutely,” thinking he would have several weeks to create a proposal. He was surprised when the agency said he had until the following Monday to submit his proposal.
Mendelson contacted Charles Schulz immediately and told him he sold “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” to CBS. Schulz replied, “What in the world is that?” “It’s something you’re going to write tomorrow.”
Charles Schulz was already a famous cartoonist at the time, but his comic strip had never been filmed. It meant that they had to give the Peanuts characters life and sound. Coca-Cola liked the concept that gave them six months to translate the world-famous comic strip to film, which was an incredible challenge.
Mendelson’s soundtrack would be jazzy, music that would appeal to children and adults. He contacted composer Vince Guaraldi, who liked Peanuts, and asked him to write the soundtrack. Guaraldi called back a few weeks later and played the song on the piano over the phone. The song became the now familiar “Linus and Lucy,” which is synonymous with Peanuts.
They decided to use children’s voices for the characters. Some of the children were 8-10 and they could remember their lines. Others were only 4-5 years old and they had to be fed their lines one-half sentence at a time, resulting in a sing-song quality.
Mendelson himself voiced Snoopy. At first it was to fill in the sound, but they decided to keep Mendelson’s Snoopy.
In the midst of the film, Charlie Brown asks “What is the meaning of Christmas?” It is Linus who answers, by reading from the Bible. The decision to read from the Bible was controversial, but Charles Schultz thought it was necessary.
Upon reviewing the finished product they thought they had ruined Charlie Brown, according to CBS Programming Executive Fred Silverman A(11.44 sec. on the video). They thought the film was too slow and didn’t work. The children’s voices were amateurish. It did not not convey what was considered a children’s special at the time.
The special was already in the TV schedule and guides, so they went ahead and aired the program in 1965, thinking it would air once and that would be it. There were only three networks at the time and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was viewed by 50 percent of the households in America, an unheard of ratings record.
“I had some questions to how it would translate to television, but what do I know. You know, compared to Charles Schultz,” said Silverman in the video interview.
The U.S. Postal Service has released Forever Stamps in honor of the 50th anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The stamps, pictured in the attached slideshow, depict the Peanuts characters in various scenes from the film
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is also being featured in the Macy’s Christmas windows and were in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.