It’s a decades-long tradition that many people have grown up with: every December since 1965, CBS has aired Charles Schulz’s beloved A Charlie Brown Christmas on television, and every year, millions of people tune in to watch the half-hour special. The show, the first of many animated Peanuts specials to come, features a downcast Charlie Brown lamenting how commercialized Christmas has become (and that was in 1965…I wonder what he’d say now). “Doesn’t anyone remember the true meaning of Christmas?” he keeps asking. Eventually, Linus gives everyone an overtly religious reminder of the true meaning of Christmas — something Schulz was adamant about including — and Charlie Brown and the gang end the show in true Christmas spirit.
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to produce that iconic Christmas special. Three of the four people who were central to making it so memorable have since died: Charles Schulz passed away in his sleep in 2000, the day before his final Peanuts comic strip ran. Bill Melendez, the animator who brought Schulz’s comics to life (and “voiced” Snoopy) for over four decades, passed away in 2008 at the age of 91; he was the only person Schulz ever authorized to handle Peanuts animations. Vince Guaraldi died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 47, but he composed the music for fifteen Peanuts specials before his death and composed the instant classic, “Linus and Lucy.” As such, producer Lee Mendelson provides most of the stories behind A Charlie Brown Christmas.
It’s a neat little book. Mendelson begins with the story of how he initially reached out to Sparky (Schulz) for a documentary that eventually fell through, but then was approached by Coca Cola to do a Christmas special; the special would have to be ready in six months. He, Schulz, and Melendez became a team and would continue to work together for the rest of their lives. The special was touch-and-go; CBS executives were initially disappointed, but the special shot to the top of the charts and paved the way for future Peanuts specials. Mendelson gives a glowing account of the type of person Sparky was. The middle section of the book includes an interview with Melendez, who was born in Mexico and was able to establish an amazing career in Los Angeles at a time when that was simply unheard of. Following that, Mendelson talks about Guaraldi and discusses how the music was developed. The last half of the book is a reprint of the screenplay for A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Peppering the pages are dozens of photographs, illustrations, images, musical scores, and other various artifacts from the making of the special. It’s a lovely gift to Peanuts fans and would make a great coffee table book during the holiday season.
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition was published in October 2013 by It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.