TV PRO­DUCER

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Front Page - By AN­DREW DAL­TON AP En­ter­tain­ment Writer

Lee Men­del­son, the pro­ducer who changed the face of the hol­i­days when he brought “A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas” to tele­vi­sion in 1965 and wrote the lyrics to its sig­na­ture song, has died.

LOS ANGELES — Lee Men­del­son, the pro­ducer who changed the face of the hol­i­days when he brought “A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas” to tele­vi­sion in 1965 and wrote the lyrics to its sig­na­ture song, “Christ­mas Time Is Here,” died on Christ­mas day, his son said.

Men­del­son, who won a dozen Em­mys in his long ca­reer, died at his home in Hills­bor­ough, Cal­i­for­nia, of con­ges­tive heart fail­ure at age 86 after a long strug­gle with lung cancer, son Ja­son Men­del­son told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Lee Men­del­son headed a team that in­cluded “Peanuts” author Charles Schulz, director Bill Me­len­dez, and pian­ist and com­poser Vince Guaraldi, whose mu­sic for the show, in­clud­ing the open­ing “Christ­mas Time Is Here,” has be­come as much a Christ­mas sta­ple as the show it­self.

Men­del­son told The Cincin­nati En­quirer in 2000 that he was short on time in find­ing a lyri­cist for the song, so he sketched out the six verses him­self in “about 15 min­utes on the back­side of an en­ve­lope.”

He found a choir from a church in his na­tive North­ern Cal­i­for­nia to sing the song that sets the show’s un­for­get­table tone, be­gin­ning with Men­del­son’s words:

“Christ­mas time is here, hap­pi­ness and cheer, fun for all that chil­dren call, their fa­vorite time of year.”

The show won an Emmy and a Peabody Award and has aired on TV an­nu­ally ever since. The team that made it would go on to cre­ate more than 50 net­work spe­cials, four fea­ture films and many other “Peanuts” pro­jects.

Men­del­son also took other comic strips from news­pa­pers to an­i­mated TV, in­clud­ing “Garfield,” for which he pro­duced a dozen tele­vi­sion spe­cials.

His death was first re­ported by The Daily Post of Palo Alto.

Born in San Fran­cisco in 1933, Men­del­son’s fam­ily moved to nearby San Ma­teo when he was a boy, and later to nearby Hills­bor­ough, where he went to high school.

He grad­u­ated from Stan­ford in 1954, served in the Air Force and worked for his fa­ther’s fruit-and-veg­etable com­pany be­fore go­ing into TV for the Bay Area’s KPIX-TV.

In 1963 he started his own pro­duc­tion com­pany and made a doc­u­men­tary on San Fran­cisco Gi­ants leg­end Wil­lie Mays, “A Man Named Mays,” that be­came a hit tele­vi­sion spe­cial on NBC.

Men­del­son liked to say that he de­cided to turn from the world’s great­est base­ball player to the world’s worst: Char­lie Brown.

He and Schulz orig­i­nally worked on a “Peanuts” doc­u­men­tary that proved a hard sell for TV, but mid­way through 1965 a spon­sor asked them if they could cre­ate the first comic strip’s first an­i­mated spe­cial in time for Christ­mas.

Schulz wrote the now-fa­mil­iar story of a de­pressed Char­lie Brown seek­ing the mean­ing of Christ­mas, a school Christ­mas play with in­tractable ac­tors in­clud­ing his dog Snoopy, a limp and un­ap­pre­ci­ated Christ­mas tree, and a recita­tion of the nativity story from his best friend Li­nus.

Men­del­son hired Guaraldi to pro­vide the mu­sic after hear­ing the jazz artist’s song “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” while driv­ing across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Men­del­son said the team showed the spe­cial to ex­ec­u­tives at CBS a week be­fore it was slated to air, and they hated it, with its hy­per-sim­plic­ity, dour tone, bi­b­li­cal themes, lack of laugh track and ac­tual chil­dren’s voices in­stead of adults mim­ick­ing them, as was com­mon.

“I re­ally be­lieved, if it hadn’t been sched­uled for the fol­low­ing week, there’s no way they were gonna

broad­cast that show,” Men­del­son said on a 2004 doc­u­men­tary for the DVD of the spe­cial.

In­stead, it went on to be­come per­haps the big­gest hol­i­day clas­sic in tele­vi­sion.

“It be­came part of every­body’s Christ­mas hol­i­days,” Men­del­son told The Los Angeles Times in 2015. “It was just passed on from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. ... We got this huge ini­tial au­di­ence and never lost them.”

Men­del­son is sur­vived by his wife, Ploenta, his chil­dren Lynda, Glenn, Ja­son and Sean, his step­son Ken and eight grand­chil­dren.

Ja­son Men­del­son via AP

This 2015 photo shows Lee Men­del­son in Hills­bor­ough, Calif. Men­del­son, the pro­ducer who changed the face of the hol­i­days when he brought “A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas” to tele­vi­sion in 1965 died on Christ­mas day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.