A Charlie Brown Christmas. In 1963, Lee Mendelson made an hour documentary about cartoonist Charles Schulz which featured about three minutes worth of animation. For two years, he couldn’t sell it. Coca-Coca saw the show and didn’t buy it either but asked if Schulz and Mendelson had an animated Christmas show they could buy.
Mendelson said, “Funny you should ask because we’ve been working on one for months.” That was a Friday and Coca-Cola representatives needed the outline the following Monday. Mendelson quickly phoned Schulz, “We must give them our Christmas show by Monday.”
“What Christmas show?” replied Schulz.
“The one you will write this weekend. I just read in ‘Time’ magazine that you’re a genius. So prove it,” recalled Mendelson. “All day Saturday he wrote and we talked back and forth. On Sunday, I wired an outline to the sponsors.
“Originally, Sparky said there was to be no laugh track. But in 1965, everything had to have a laugh track. Schulz said, ‘Then we don’t do the show’. So we didn’t have a laugh track.
“You only get one shot in this business. If we’d blown that first show, Peanuts would not have come to television. When we finished the production, Bill (animator Bill Melendez) and I thought we’d failed. The head man at the network said the show was just awful. I kind of agreed with him but Schulz and the sponsor loved the show.”
The public agreed. The cost of that first special was roughly $100,000.
(Here’s an excerpt from the 1963 documentary, A Boy Named Charle Brown)
Where Animators Get Their Ideas. In 1934, an Australian admirer of Walt Disney, winemaker Leo Buring, shipped Walt a crate with the gift of two wallabies, a male and a female. By the time they arrived in California, they had given birth to a child. The Disney staff, inspired by the names of the Marx Brothers, named them Leapo (the male), Hoppo (the female) and Poucho (the baby). The wallabies were kept in a pen outside the Story Department. In the animated cartoon, “Mickey’s Kangaroo” (1935), Mickey received a crate from Leo Buring containing a boxing kangaroo and its baby.
The Lemming Condition. Actor Alan Arkin talked to animation producer Nick Bosustow in 1977 about adapting Arkin’s 1976 book “The Lemming Condition” where a young leming named Bubber is always asking questions and weighing consequences so is uneasy about the rest of the lemmings preparing to leap into the sea. (In real life, lemmings do not leap to their death into water.) It was never made.
Musical Geniuses. During a screening of “Fantasia” in the 1960s, when “The Dance of the Hours” segment came on screen, kids in the audience spontaneously started singing the lyrics of the then-popular Allan Sherman parody song, “Hello Muddah! Hello Fadduh!” Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Ron Haver told the “L.A. Times” that they were “little Philistines”.
Teddy Pendergrass Escapes. “My son, Teddy, 6, showed me a marvelous way to totally escape from the reality of this business for an hour. I’ve become a cartoon freak. Animated cartoons are in a world unto themselves. Immersing myself in that world populated by talking mice and ‘wabbits’ is a great way to relax and it has also opened up a new area of communication with Teddy,” commented Teddy Pendergrass in a 1981 interview. Pendergrass was a Rhythm and Blues/Soul Singer who was nominated for a Grammy award five times.
Mickey Mouse Saturday Morning. In 1981, Disney negotiated with CBS to have a Saturday morning television series similar to the “Bugs Bunny Show”. The cartoons were to be censored to meet the current Saturday morning guidelines regarding violence and other matters. Disney even had some of the old black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoons colorized so they could be used in the show.
The Wisdom of Schlesinger. From the Motion Picture Herald, March 30, 1935 under the “Hollywood Scene” column: “The cartoon is ‘just starting to sprout in a manner like that of the motion picture itself in the last 20 years,’ says Leon Schlesinger, who produces ‘Looney Tunes” and ‘Merrie Melodies’ for Warner Brothers. Mr. Schlesinger, who produces thirteen black and white cartoons and thirteen color color animateds each year is definitely switching to the tri-color process for next year’s program. There is also the possibility that he will eliminate the black and white entirely. One-reel operas may also make their debut in animated form from the Schlesinger studios next year. The producer is now working on several ideas, including ‘Carmen’ as his trial horse. He is considering three musical cartoon specials. In addition, he is closing a deal for a well-known comic strip.”
Young Bobby Clampett. Gladys Fleming was the teacher at Hoover High School in Glendale when animation legend Bob Clampett was a student. In 1980, she still remembered her pupil quite clearly. “I’d leave the room for a minute and everyone would be around his desk looking at the cartoons he was doing,” she stated.
Faeries and Giants. Faeries was a half hour CBS animated special in 1981 based on the 1979 book of the same name by Brian Froud and Alan Lee. The King of the Faeries needs a young hunter to track down the King’s shadow before it destroys the kingdom. The new animation studio that made it was MHV and Friends, the same studio that created the Disney-esque animals that followed around actress Lily Tomlin in her fantasy in the movie Nine to Five (1980).
MHV stood for Lee Mishkin (who had been in animation thirty years at that point starting with animation on the 1949 Crusader Rabbit), Fred Hellmich (who spent twenty-four years at Disney working on films like Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty) and Norton Virgien (who had worked on Raggedy Ann and Andy and later co-directed The Rugrats Movie).
It took sixteen months to make Faeries and it included voice work by Hans Conreid and June Foray. MHV and Friends announced that their next special would be called “Giants” but it was never made. Mishkin received two Emmy nominations for co-writing and directing the special. Mishkin is the guy who animated the opening credits to the Adam West “Batman” series in the mid-1960s.