ANIMATION SPIN
February 3, 2015 posted by

Live-Action “Peanuts” on Records

“The spin is in” for a lesser-known 1973 TV cast album based on an even lesser known NBC TV presentation of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

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YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN
New Original TV Cast Album
Based on Charles M. Schulz’ Peanuts
Atlantic Records SD-7252 Stereo (12” 33 rpm)

Album Released in February, 1973. Based the Comic Strip “Peanuts” Comic by Charles M. Schulz for The Hallmark Hall of Fame Special. Album Executive Producer: Joel Dorn. Album Producers: Bob Liftin, Elliot Lawrence. Arranger/Conductor: Elliot Lawrence. Additional Orchestrations: Ralph Burns. Recording Engineer: Bob Liftin. Album Design: Loring Eutemey. Cover Art: Charles M. Schulz. Recorded at Regent Sound Studios, New York. Running Time: 43 minutes.

Cast: Wendell Burton (Charlie Brown); Ruby Persson (Lucy); Barry Livingston (Linus); Mark Montgomery (Schroeder); Noelle Matlovsky (Patty); Bill Hinnant (Snoopy).
Songs: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Snoopy (They Like Me)”, “Schroeder”, “The Kite”, “My Blanket and Me”, “The Book Report”, “The Baseball Game”, “The Doctor is In (Doctor Lucy)”, “Little Known Facts”, “Suppertime”, “Happiness”, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (Reprise)” by Clark Gesner.
Dialogue Segments with Music: “The Red Baron,” “Quick Takes.”

On a crisp winter night in 1973 (42 years ago this Monday), NBC premiered a musical special based on the hit off-Broadway musical adaptation of “Peanuts”, a show that had already become a staple of touring productions and a particular favorite of school and community theaters as it used only six actors, minimal orchestration and hunks of lumber for sets. For many “Peanuts” fans, though, this was the very first chance to see the show.

1973_TV_Cast-250Those approaching it with some background about the show would largely find it an interesting, unique way to enjoy the characters and the music. Some others expecting an animated special or TV movie would be either be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised, as this was a small, unpretentious musical revue of sorts with young adults playing children—or at least, “Peanuts”-style children.

Charlie Brown was played by Wendell Burton, an up-and-comer best known for co-starring with Liza Minnelli in The Sterile Cuckoo (1969). Barry Livingston, best known at the time as Ernie Douglas on My Three Sons, played Linus. And from the original cast — going all the way back to the MGM record album where the musical began — was Bill Hinnant as Snoopy. Burton became a Christian pop singer and Family Channel executive, Livingston is one of today’s busiest character actors (his numerous credits include TV’s Mad Men), but sadly, Bill Hinnant (whose younger brother is actor and voice of Fritz The Cat, Skip Hinnant) was accidentally drowned while filming a TV commercial.

Stage shows are notoriously difficult to film or tape for movies or TV. Stagecraft lends itself to the metaphoric; suggested acceptance of what might not ring true in the more literal expectations of film, and especially on mainstream, wide audience TV. This version of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown faded into obscurity, with no home video release, prompting the assumption that it was not embraced by the public at large. A one-hour animated version was broadcast on CBS in 1985, which is available on DVD, though, unfortunately, not as a cast album.

This album was also never reissued, which seems a shame since it’s as charming an interpretation of the musical as any other currently available. It has its own musical style unlike the other productions, as it was arranged and conducted by Tony Award TV special conductor Elliot Lawrence, an accomplished jazz artist and composer for Broadway, TV and movies, including Network and The French Connection, and even a venerable Peter Pan album called Musical Stories of Hans Christian Andersen: Thumbelina and The Ugly Duckling.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Quick Changes” and “The Book Report”
“Quick Changes” is simply a short group of comic strip gags to provide an idea of what the TV special sounded like (chroma-keyed effects were used as visual transitions between the gags). “The Book Report,” aside from being extremely witty, is not always included on “Good Man” cast albums and is a way to showcase all the actors.


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YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN
Pickwick 33 Records SPC-3069 Stereo (12” 33 rpm)

Album Released in 1967. Based the Comic Strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz. Producer: Joseph Abend. Arranger/Conductor: Maurice “Bugs” Bower. Running Time: 28 minutes.
Cast: Ron Marshall (Charlie Brown); Connie Zimet (Lucy); Jim Campbell (Snoopy); Bill Dean (Linus).
Songs: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Little Known Facts”, “Suppertime”, “My Blanket and Me”, “Charlie Brown’s Kite”, “The Baseball Game”, “Snoopy”, “Schroeder”, “Doctor Lucy”, “Happiness” by Clark Gesner.

Pickwick 70s Reissue

Pickwick 70s Reissue

Even though You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is a perennial theater favorite brimming with likable songs, there aren’t many “studio cast” albums of the score. Historically, the show itself, before it hit the stage, was a studio “demo” of sorts starring Orson Bean as Charlie Brown on MGM Records. Then came the MGM off-Broadway cast album with Gary Burghoff, the TV cast album (above), a studio version on Kid Stuff Records and the most recent Broadway cast with Kristin Chenowith and Roger Bart.

Interestingly, this Pickwick cast version does not imitate the musical arrangements of the off-Broadway cast album, which was the most famous one in 1967, but instead mirrors the Jay Blackton arrangements on the Orson Bean album with a much smaller orchestra.

Musical Director Maurice “Bugs” Bower was responsible for many of the titles in the Pickwick budget catalog in the 60’s and 70’s, from pop knockoffs to children’s scores. Similarly, singer/vocal arranger Ron Marshall and singer/actress Connie Zimet, who play Charlie Brown and Lucy, were staples of New York studio albums for adults and kids.

As a performer or ensemble singer, Marshall appeared on TV variety shows with Dick Clark, Ed Sullivan and many others, but his voice is most recognizable on commercials and as an uncredited singer on records. He spoke and sang for Hallelujah Jones in the Rankin/Bass special The Easter Bunny is Comin’ to Town. But most enduring of all has to be his touching, masterful performance of the lovely “I Believe in Santa Claus” as Iggy’s father in The Year Without a Santa Claus, also for Rankin/Bass.

South Floridians knew Connie Zimet’s voice for years as the spokesperson for the Burdines chain of department stores, but kids grew up hearing her on dozens of Pickwick and Golden Records, like “Captain Kangaroo Tells Just So Stories”, “The Further Adventures of the Wizard of Oz” and “Songs from Doctor Dolittle.” She recalled the Charlie Brown album as one of her favorites.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Doctor Lucy”
If these two voices sound familiar, they probably are, as both Ron Marshall and Connie Zimet were two of the most in-demand voice-over actor/singers throughout the baby boom era, especially for TV viewers on the East coast. If you have access to the Orson Bean Charlie Brown album, you will notice the similarity in musical direction.

11 Comments

  • I saw the 1973 special when it was originally broadcast. My parents had gone out for the evening, leaving my grandmother to take care of myself and my younger brother. We all sat down to watch this special. After about half an hour, both my brother and my grandmother got extremely bored with it and went to do other things. I was a diehard Peanuts fan even at that young age, and I watched it through to the end. However, I couldn’t help thinking that if it couldn’t hold the attention of my family, it probably didn’t hold the attention of very many others. I suspect the numbers of viewers dwindled drastically during the broadcast. Even I had to admit it tended to drag a bit, and breaking it up with commercials really didn’t help at all. Some judicious trimming would have helped, and running it commercial-free would have probably kept more people tuned in. (Hallmark sometimes did run their specials commercial-free, as I recall.)

    The Pickwick album was my first introduction to the Peanuts characters on a record. My parents knew nothing about the musical “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and got the album for me simply because they knew I liked the Peanuts characters. Of course, later we got to know the musical when it was performed locally. I loved the album when I first heard it, and it became a favorite to be played over and over.

    The album cover is fascinating, with its representation of the various objects associated with Charlie Brown and friends as a still life. It impressed me when I was little, and it continues to impress me now–a very clever piece of artwork.

  • Yeah, Ron Marshall does a beautiful job singing “I Believe in Santa Claus.” He also did a good job with “Doctor Lucy.”

  • Where does the info come from that Bill Hinnant drowned while filming a commercial? Everything I can find states that he was on vacation.

    • I was told this by actor Jack Wakefield, who played Alan Sturdy on the “Head of the Family” pilot that became “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” I don’t know why he would make it up, but that is what he said. Maybe it was a vacation rather than a commercial. I’m sorry actually to put such a sad thing in an otherwise upbeat post.

  • There is a very rare version of the Off Broadway cast album that was recorded live. It was almost instantly withdrawn and replaced with a more conventional album recorded in a studio. It had a nearly identical black, white and orange cover.

  • I once owned the version with Gary Burghoff (as Charlie Brown) and Reva Rose (as Lucy). I wish I could recall the rest of the cast, but I knew these two from TV programs. Reva Rose had starred in a comedy called “TEMPERATURE’S RISING” with Joan Van Ark, and of course we know what Gary has done. This is a wonderful post; thanks for sharing.

    • The original production’s Linus was Bob Balaban, best known now as for his performances in the films of Christopher Guest and Wes Anderson. He was also Laughlin, François Truffaut’s translator/cartographer in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

  • I saw it when it was off-broadway waaaaaaaaayt back in the 1960s.

  • I do own a copy of that NBC/Hallmark LP myself.

    A clip of Bill Hinnant’s performance of “Suppertime” seen in the special was used 17 years later in a hour long special celebrating 40 years of the Peanuts strip. This special was released on VHS from Paramount Home Video but that’s all they ever did with this ’73 special past it’s original airing.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYLZfVrPQTM

  • Pretty sure Burton was in the San Francisco production I saw as a kid. Very small, intimate show; felt like it’d be very amenable to television.
    Also recall the “Snoopy and the Red Baron” album by the Royal Guardsmen, which if memory serves had their Snoopy hit (and follow-ups, including a Christmas version) along with non-Peanuts numbers.
    Apropos of nothing, Rankin Bass did a Saturday Superstar Movie of “The Red Baron”; totally unrelated to Snoopy and Peanuts but capitalizing just a bit by making all the characters dogs.

  • The Atlantic soundtrack to You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown was a $1.99 staple cutout LP soon after the showing.I got one for the kids,but sadly,didn’t get a backup copy for my collection.Just about every copy I’ve come across in used bins is as trashed as most Chipmunk LPs.The sparse black and white drawing as well as credits deserving to be on the back,not the front,did not help sales.Atlantic was known for some pretty nice LPcovers,even pre-Led Zepplin days.Why on the cheap here?
    I wonder if Hallmark has any rights to this.Just think,at the time of broadcast,here was a Hall Of Fame special ,perfectly timed for Valentine’s Day sales,featuring what was their biggest selling property at the time-Peanuts greeting cards.And someone dropped the ball.A shame because its not such a bad little show.Its just needs a little love…

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