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