“When the Christmas show was done, and I saw it for the first time in a large theater I turned to my troops and I said ‘My golly, we’ve killed it!’ I thought it was such a poor job, I was so embarrassed. And you know, one of my animators turned to me, a guy by the name of Ed Levin, and he said, ‘Bill, you’re going to find that this is the best picture you’ll ever make.’ “
– Producer Bill Melendez on his initial reaction to the animation work on his thirty minute animated cartoon “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.
The Production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
First broadcast on today’s date in 1965,“A Charlie Brown Christmas” featured characters from the “Peanuts” comic strip of cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s and an original story with which all of it’s creators were very definitely pleased. The high point of the program came with a reading from the gospel of St. Luke by the character of “Linus” in reply to the title character’s anguished question of whether anyone knew “what Christmas is all about?” The scriptural quote was the idea of Schulz himself,
and when questioned whether it was safe to use a biblical quote – in 1965, religion was considered quite a taboo subject by the television networks – Schulz replied “If we don’t do it, who will?” Who would have thought that in today’s “progressive” era, that the mere mention of God, let alone the respectful reading of a Biblical scripture would seem so out of place? The very use of the phrase “Merry Christmas” has come under attack in some quarters. One can only hope that this small little vestige of faith will be left intact. But the cartoonist was also unhappy with the animation work. Producer Lee Mendelson shared their misgivings:
“Well, I must admit I shared Bill’s concern about the show, and I had very little confidence when I took it back to the network in New York. And the two network executives who looked at it REALLY didn’t like it. They thought it was too slow, that the music didn’t work, the thought the animation was too simple, and I really believe that if they hadn’t (already) scheduled it for the next week, there was no way they would have broadcast that show.”
Lee Mendelson (left), Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez accept the Emmy Award in 1966 for best children’s program for “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
“A Charlie Brown Christmas”, Flaws and All, is a Big Hit!
And looking at it today, the viewer who is used to the slick, computerized production values of the very commercials that are broadcast with the show can see the reason for Lee Mendelson’s concerns. By today’s standards, the animation of the film looks pretty amateurish at best. Nevertheless, the show was a huge success, coming in second in the national television ratings for that week, just behind “Bonanza”. It went on to win an “Emmy” award the following spring, and has become such an audience favorite, that it has been broadcast every year since. Over the years, precious bits of the story have been snipped away in order to make room for more commercials. But so far the essential product remains there to remind us all of the true meaning of Christmas, year after year. May God bless the souls of the late Mr. Schulz for his creation of these wonderful characters, and the soul of the late Mr. Guaraldi for his inspired jazz score which plays such an integral role to the film, and may God bless us all this Christmas season!!
Caroline Bolten is Born!!
Also of very key importance to me and her family from this date in history: on today’s date in the year 195?, Caroline Jean Bolten was born to look after her baby brother Brian, who would be born a few years later, and to the joy of her siblings, her parents and to her friends! Happy Birthday Caroline!!
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“A Charlie Brown Christmas” Written and Created by Charles M. Schulz, Produced by Bill Mendelson, 1965.