Christmas 2019 is not only the last Christmas season of the decade but it has also been a season filled with loss.
On December 25, “Peanuts” animated series producer Lee Mendelson died at his Hillsborough, California home as a result of congestive heart failure due to lung cancer. He was 86 at the time of his death.
In 1965 a new animated Christmas special debuted with a lovable collection of comic strip characters brought to life thanks to the work of cartoonist Charles Schultz, director Bill Melendez, composer Vince Guaraldi, and producer Lee Mendelson. Mendelson would go on to produce many more of the Peanuts animated specials and earn himself numerous Emmy Awards in the process.
It was Mendelson who put words to the classic Christmas song “Christmas Time is Here” sung by Linus and the gang in the show “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Mendelson said that he created the lyrics for the song in about 15 minutes and wrote them on the back of en envelope.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” kicked off more than a legacy of animated programs loved by adults and children alike, the show went on to win an Emmy Award and a Peabody Award. The program was the first time children were used to portray the roles of cartoon children; including at one time or another his own children.
But Charlie Brown and his friends were not the only comic strip characters that Mendelson brought to life; he brought Garfield the big orange tabby to life; as well as, Cathy.
Lee Maurice Mendelson was born on March 24, 1933 in San Francisco, California. After graduating from Stanford University in 1954, he served time in the United States Air Force and worked in his father’s fruit and vegetable company before beginning his work in television.
Mendelson’s first solo project out of his own production company was a documentary on San Francisco Giants legend Willie Mays in 1963. He went on to produce documentaries on Paul Newman, Gene Kelly, Joanne Woodward, Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, Flip Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, Muhammad Ali and Carl Reiner.
Mendelson himself even voiced a character in one of the 50 Peanuts productions when in an uncredited role he voiced a hat seller in “A Charlie Brown Celebration”.
Along with “Christmas Time is Here”; Mendelson has penned music for the short “Bottle Rocket” and “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story”.
Besides the 50 Peanuts specials and films; Mendelson has produced numerous other projects including “The Fabulous Shorts”, “The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant”, “Children’s Letters to God”, “It Couldn’t Be Done”, “Hot Dog”, “The Unexplained”, “Babar Comes to America”, “From Yellowstone to Tomorrow”, “Travels with Flip”, “The Fantastic Funnies”, “Here Comes Garfield”, “Garfield on the Town”, “The Romance of Betty Boop”, “Cathy”, “Cathy’s Last Resort”, “Cathy’s Valentine”, “Mother Goose and Grimm”, and 64 episodes of “Garfield and Friends”.
Mendelson is survived by his second wife Ploenta; children Lynda, Glenn, Jason, and Sean; stepson Ken; and eight grandchildren.
feature photo credit: By Lam1075 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64635774