A Charlie Brown Christmas
Possibly no TV special in the history of the medium went up against so much opposition and counter-intention as the CBS Christmas classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. When one hears of all the problems, obstacles, and snags A Charlie Brown Christmas encountered during production, one wonders how it ever got made at all.
Written by Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, the original script dealt with the commercialization of the holiday and tried to reveal the true meaning of Christmas. Directed by Bill Melendez and produced by Melendez and his partner Lee Mendelson, the holiday special introduced several other “revolutionary” ingredients into the mix.
Instead of the usual Mel Blanc-type adults-doing-kids voices, the producers decided to actually use real kids. Peter Robbins took on the lead voice of Charlie Brown, Christopher Shea voiced the blanket-toting Linus sand Tracy Stratford did the voice of Charlie Brown’s main nemesis, Lucy. These were the only child cast members with any experience at all. For the entire rest of the cast, A Charlie Brown Christmas was to be their television voiceover debut. (Director Melendez himself voiced the ever-popular Snoopy.) Chris Doran did the voice of the piano-playing Schroeder and Karen Mendelson (Bill’s daughter) voiced Patty (not the now-familiar Peppermint Patti, but the character Patty, one of the four original Peanuts characters, who never really caught on and was phased out in the ’70s).
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Little Kathy Steinberg, who did the voice of Sally, was actually not even old enough to read. Her lines were fed to her aloud, one at a time, and she would merely parrot them back. All the children cast members were uncredited. The suits at CBS were against this casting decision from the word go. They disliked the novel “kids voicing kids” angle and preferred to get seasoned voiceover actors.
Also Melendez and Mendelson had opted to record the show without the customary laugh track. This was also something the boys at CBS hated. They wanted the old reliable laugh track. Otherwise, how would the folks at home know when to laugh? But when approached with the idea, creator Charles Shulz was adamant- no laugh track.
In addition, the anti-commercialization angle was all fine and noble, but there were sponsors to please. In the show’s climatic moment, Linus pontificates on “the true meaning of Christmas” and actually quotes scripture. When Melendez and Mendelson went to writer Schultz and asked him to possibly reconsider the Biblical message…
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