A Charlie Brown Christmas is a holiday staple. Most people have watched it, or have at least heard of it since its 1965 premiere. Even now in 2023, the Christmas special is available for subscribers of Apple TV+ – and will be available for everyone, even those who do not subscribe to the service, on two days, December 16th and 17th. But what most people don’t know is that the director of the famed special – Bill Melendez – is from our communities.
In fact, Bill Melendez’s name wasn’t even Bill. His first name was José Cuauhtémoc Melendez, but like a lot of people from our communities have done before, and many still feel the need to do to this day, Melendez dropped the first name for an easier, shorter name. That’s how Bill was born.
Melendez, who had previously helped animate the 1940’s Fantasia and Pinocchio, famously impressed Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz thanks to a commercial for the Ford Falcon. The rest, as they say, is history. Schulz went on to insist he direct the TV special and Melendez would not disappoint.
The TV special centers around Charlie Brown’s distaste for the commercialism of Christmas and features the voices of Peter Robbins, Christopher Shea, Kathy Steinberg, Tracy Stratford, and Bill Melendez himself as Snoopy. It debuted on CBS on December 9, 1965, to record audiences. It is estimated 15 million people watched the special – around half the television sets existing at the time in the U.S..
A Charlie Brown Christmas went on to win a Peabody and an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming the following year.
Melendez’s history with Peanuts wouldn’t end there. He would go on to direct other Peanuts animated specials, including Charlie Brown’s All Stars! in 1966, He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown in 1968, and A Boy Named Charlie Brown in 1969.
In 2015 Animation historian and Chair of the USC Animation Program, Tom Sito sat down to speak with Melendez. Watch the conversation below: