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14 Blockheaded Facts About A Charlie Brown Christmas

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More than 50 years since its premiere on CBS on December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas remains one of the most beloved holiday specials of all time. Like Charlie Brown himself, the flaws—scratchy voice recordings, rushed animation—have proven endearing. Take a look at some facts behind the show that killed aluminum trees, the struggles to animate Chuck’s round noggin, and why Willie Mays is the unsung hero of Peanuts.

1. CHARLES SCHULZ WASN’T REALLY INTERESTED IN GETTING INTO ANIMATION.

Since the debut of Peanuts in 1955, Schulz and United Press Syndicate, which distributed the strip, had gotten a steady stream of offers to adapt the characters for film and television; the artist was also directly petitioned by young readers, who would write Schulz asking when Snoopy would come to some kind of animated life. His stock reply: “There are some greater things in the world than TV animated cartoons.”

He relented for Ford Motors—he had only ever driven a Ford—and allowed Charlie Brown to appear in a series of commercials for the Ford Falcon in the early 1960s. The spots were animated by Bill Melendez, who earned Schulz’s favor by keeping the art simple and not using the exaggerated movements of the Disney films—Bambi, Dumbo—Melendez had worked on previously.

2. WILLIE MAYS PLAYED A PART IN GETTING IT MADE.

Schulz capitulated to a full-length special based on the professional reputations of his two collaborators. The cartoonist had seen and enjoyed executive producer Lee Mendelson’s documentary on baseball player Willie Mays, A Man Named Mays; when Mendelson proposed a similar project on Schulz and his strip, he agreed—but only if they enlisted Melendez of the Ford commercials. The finished documentary and its brief snippet of animation cemented Schulz's working relationship with the two and led Schulz to agree when Mendelson called him about a Christmas special.

3. CBS AND COCA-COLA ONLY GAVE THEM $76,000 TO PRODUCE IT.

When Coke executives got a look at the Schulz documentary and caught Charlie Brown on the April 1965 cover of Time, they inquired about the possibility of sponsoring an hour-long animated holiday special. Melendez felt the short lead time—only six months—made that impossible. Instead, he proposed a half-hour, but had no idea how much the show should be budgeted for; when he called colleague Bill Hanna (of Hanna-Barbera fame) for advice, Hanna refused to give out any trade secrets. Melendez wound up getting a paltry $76,000 to cover production costs. (It evened out: Schulz, Mendelson, and Melendez wound up earning roughly $5 million total for the special through 2000.)

4. IT WAS GOING TO HAVE A LAUGH TRACK.

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In the ‘60s, it was standard procedure to lay a laugh track over virtually any half-hour comedy, even if the performers were drawn in: The Flintstones was among the series that used a canned “studio audience” to help cue viewers for jokes. When Mendelson told Schulz he didn’t see the Peanuts special being any different, the artist got up and left the room for several minutes before coming in and continuing as if nothing had happened. Mendelson got the hint.

5. SNOOPY’S VOICE IS JUST SPED-UP NONSENSE.

The early Peanuts specials made use of both untrained kids and professional actors: Peter Robbins (Charlie Brown) and Christopher Shea (Linus) were working child performers, while the rest of the cast consisted of "regular" kids coached by Melendez in the studio. When Schulz told Melendez that Snoopy couldn’t have any lines in the show—he’s a dog, and Schulz’s dogs didn’t talk—the animator decided to bark and chuff into a microphone himself, then speed up the recording to give it a more emotive quality.

6. SCHULZ HATED JAZZ.

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The breezy instrumental score by composer Vince Guaraldi would go on to become synonymous with Peanuts animation—but it wasn’t up to Schulz. He left the music decisions to Mendelson, telling a reporter shortly after the special aired that he thought jazz was “awful.”

7. CHARLIE BROWN’S HEAD WAS A NIGHTMARE TO ANIMATE.

Because Melendez was unwilling to stray from Schulz’s distinctive character designs—which were never intended to be animated—he found himself in a contentious battle with Charlie Brown’s noggin. Its round shape made it difficult to depict Charlie turning around; as with most of the characters, his arms were too tiny to scratch his head. Snoopy, in contrast, was free of a ball-shaped cranium and became the show’s easiest figure to animate.

8. SCHULZ WAS EMBARRASSED BY ONE SCENE.

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Careful (or repeated) viewings of the special reveal a continuity error: in scenes where Charlie Brown is standing near his tree, the branches appear to grow from moment to moment. The goof annoyed Schulz, who blamed the mistake on two animators who didn’t know what the other was doing. 

9. IT ALMOST GOT SCRAPPED BY COKE.

Mendelson recently told USA Today that an executive from McCann-Erikson—the ad agency behind Coke—paid him an impromptu visit while he was midway through production. Without hearing the music or seeing the finished animation, the ad man thought it looked disastrous and cautioned that if he shared his thoughts with Coca-Cola, they’d pull the plug. Mendelson argued that the charm of Schulz’s characters would come through; the exec kept his opinion to himself.

10. CBS HATED IT, TOO.

After toiling on the special for six months, Melendez and Mendelson screened it for CBS executives just three weeks before it was set to air. The mood in the room was less than enthusiastic: the network found it slow and lacking in energy, telling Melendez they weren’t interested in any more specials. To add insult, someone had misspelled Schulz in the credits, adding a “T” to his last name. (Schulz himself thought the whole project was a “disaster” due to the crude animation.)

11. GOOD THING HALF THE COUNTRY WATCHED IT.

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Viewers weren’t nearly as cynical about Charlie Brown’s holiday woes as his corporate benefactors. Preempting a 7:30 p.m. EST episode of The Munsters, A Charlie Brown Christmas pulled a 50 share, meaning half of all households with a television turned on were watching it. (That amounted to roughly 15 million people, behind only Bonanza.) CBS finally acknowledged it was a winner, but not without one of the executives getting in one last dig and telling Mendelson that his “aunt in New Jersey didn’t like it.”

12. IT KILLED ALUMINUM TREE SALES.

Aluminum Christmas trees were marketed beginning in 1958 and enjoyed fairly strong sales by eliminating pesky needles and tree sap. But the annual airings of A Charlie Brown Christmas swayed public thinking: In the special, Charlie Brown refuses to get a fake tree. Viewers began to do the same, and the product was virtually phased out by 1969. The leftovers are now collector’s items.

13. THERE’S A LIVE-ACTION PLAY.

Up until 2013, anyone staging a live-action rendition of A Charlie Brown Christmas for their local school or theater had one thing in common: they were copyright infringers. The official rights to the story and characters weren’t offered until recently. Tams-Witmark fields licensing requests for the play, which includes permission to perform original songs and advertise with the Peanuts characters—Snoopy costume not included.

14. THE VOICE OF CHARLIE BROWN WAS ARRESTED.

Peter Robbins continued voicing Charlie Brown until he turned 13 years old, at which point puberty prohibited him from continuing. In November 2015, the 59-year-old Robbins pleaded guilty to making criminal threats against a mobile home park manager and a sheriff. According to CBS News, the troubled former actor claimed that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder led him to make the threats. He was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison.

Additional Sources:
The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation
Schulz and Peanuts
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition
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15 Solid Facts About The Flintstones
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Pre-dating The Simpsons by almost 30 years, The Flintstones was the first primetime animated show on TV and, until 1997 when The Simpsons stole the crown, The Flintstones aired the most episodes of any animated show in primetime, with 166 episodes between 1960 and 1966. The show was so successful, it established Hanna-Barbera as the largest producer of animated films.

Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their neighbors, Barney and Betty Rubble, live in Bedrock during 10,000 B.C. Fred and Barney work at a quarry, and Betty and Wilma are homemakers who are constantly at odds with their husbands. In the third and fourth seasons, respectively, kids Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm joined the cast.

Akin to other Hanna-Barbera-produced shows like Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones reappeared in many other series and specials throughout the decades, including two live-action theatrical movies and several spinoff series, including 20 episodes of The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show, featuring the kids as teenagers. Nearly a dozen TV specials aired, including The Flintstone Kids’ “Just Say No” Special, a couple of Flintstones holiday specials, and a made-for-TV Jetsons/Flintstones mash-up. Along with all of the shows, The Flintstones launched multi-million dollar merchandising with Fruity Pebbles cereal and Flintstones vitamins. Here are 15 brontosaurus-sized facts about one of the greatest animated families of all time.

1. ORIGINALLY, THE FLINTSTONES WERE THE FLAGSTONES.

Joe Barbera thought about calling the show The Gladstones, then decided on The Flagstones until he realized there was a comic strip with the same name. In 1959, they filmed a 90-second pilot. Daws Butler provided Fred’s gruff voice and June Foray played Betty. Unfortunately for her, the part eventually went to Bea Benaderet. “I was terribly disappointed, and when my agent talked to Joe Barbera, he said they wouldn’t even let me come in and retest for the part or any of the others,” Foray told Hogan’s Alley.

The pilot didn’t air, and the name got changed to The Flintstones. But in 1993, Cartoon Network unearthed the pilot, found in a New York storage warehouse. “It was this mythological sort of thing animators had heard of it, but nobody had actually seen it,” Mike Lazzo, the Cartoon Network’s head of programming, told Entertainment Weekly. “So we sent out teams of researchers to look for it all over. It was like the search for the Holy Grail.” The pilot finally aired on TV in May of 1994.

2. BARNEY AND FRED WERE DRAWN TO RESEMBLE CAVE PEOPLE.

Ed Benedict was one of The Flintstones’s designers. He told Hogan’s Alley that he sketched the characters to look like “cave people wearing long beards, with scraggly, unkempt hair and in slightly distorted, hunched-over shapes.” Barbera didn’t like the designs, so Benedict “straightened them up” and made them more “clean-cut.”

“Barney, as originally designed, had a strap over one shoulder, and when he turned he had a bare shoulder,” Benedict said. “It just didn’t look right, so we had to correct that. I was told they had a pet, so a dinosaur seemed appropriate, and that’s all Dino is: a small dinosaur. I had six spots on Fred’s loincloth and remember exactly that it was reduced to four. I continued to add little things, like the necktie on Fred and the stone necklace that Wilma wears. Joe just continued making very small changes, bit by bit. Joe was going more for a neat, cute look, but not cute for its own sake.”

3. ALAN REED INVENTED “YABBA DABBA DOO.”

Flintstones source WebRockOnline says the origin of Fred’s iconic “Yabba dabba doo” catchphrase came from Alan Reed, who voiced Fred, and reportedly used the line during a recording session. Reed’s mother apparently used to say, “A little dab’ll do ya,” which inspired Reed. “Alan said, ‘Hey, Joe, where it says yahoo, can I say yabba-dabba-doo?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ God knows where he got it, but it was one of those terrific phrases,” Barbera said.

4. THE FLINTSTONES DIDN’T COPY THE HONEYMOONERS.

It’s true that Fred was based on Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners character Ralph Kramden, but Joe Barbera made him different. “So many people say, ‘Did you copy The Honeymooners?’ I said, ‘Well, if you compare The Flintstones to The Honeymooners, that’s the biggest compliment you can give me,” Barbera told Emmy TV Legends, “but The Honeymooners don’t have all the gags that we had in there,” including a Stoneway Piano and the Polarrock Camera.

5. HANNA-BARBERA DID HIRE A FORMER HONEYMOONERS WRITER FOR THE FLINTSTONES.

As Barbera relayed to Emmy TV Legends, he hired a guy who had written for The Honeymooners. “We paid him $3000 and he was terrible,” Barbera recalled. “And the reason being is, he just wrote words. It was all dialogue. He had no visual gags, no nothing. Yak, yak, yak, yak. The Honeymooners had a lot of dialogue, but it was their expressions and [Art] Carney’s attitude that made it work. When you’re doing an animation, you better go beyond that. You can’t just have people making faces at each other. You have to move them.”

6. THE FLINTSTONES HELPED SELL CIGARETTES.

In the 1960s, Winston cigarettes sponsored The Flintstones. At the end of the show, Fred and Barney would be animated to smoke the cigarettes. In one black-and-white spot, Barney and Fred avoid yard work. “Let’s take a Winston break,” Barney says, as he and Fred light up. Wilma and Betty catch them in the act and throw yard equipment at them, and Fred says the tagline, “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.”

The smoking was short-lived: Enacted in 1970, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act required stricter health warnings on cigarette packs, and it also banned cigarette ads on TV and radio. Later on, The Flintstones started shilling the healthier Welch’s grape juice.

7. PEBBLES WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A BABY BOY.

In 1962, during the show’s third season, the producers decided Fred and Wilma should have a child. Barbera told Emmy TV Legends the plan was for their child to be a boy, until Ideal Toy Company (the company that created the Rubik’s Cube and Betsy Wetsy) changed his mind. One day, Barbera received a call from the guy in charge of Flintstones merchandising. “He said, ‘Hey, I hear you’re having a baby on the show.’ I said, ‘Yeah,’” Barbera said. “He said, ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ ‘What else, a boy. A chip off the old rock.’ He says, ‘That’s too bad. I have the ideal toy. If it was a girl, we could’ve made a hell of a deal.’ I said, ‘It’s is a girl.’” They sold three million dolls within the first couple of months.

8. MEL BLANC KEPT VOICING BARNEY DESPITE A HORRIBLE CAR ACCIDENT.

The Man of a Thousand Voices portrayed Barney Rubble, even following a devastating head-on car collision in 1961. Blanc didn’t let a 70-day hospital stay deter him too much, and when he got out of the hospital, the cast and crew came to his home to record episodes. Blanc recounted the experience in his book, That’s Not All Folks, writing: “Tangles of wires were scattered all over the floor, and chairs and microphones were arranged around my hospital bed.”

The cast gathered around Blanc, and the producers talked to him through a built-in speaker. “Every couple of hours Joe would ask if I was too tired to carry on, but I insisted on completing the show,” Blanc wrote, saying that they recorded about 40 episodes in that manner. “Thankfully, by September, my doctors allowed me to sit up a bit, elevated by way of a pulley-cable system, to a semi-sitting position. It was no more than a few inches difference, but as I laughingly told my colleagues, ‘How nice is it to be able to look at your faces instead of at the damned ceiling.’”

9. THE VOICE OF WILMA THINKS SHE AND FRED “REALLY LOVED EACH OTHER.”

Jean Vander Pyl supplied the voice of Wilma Flintstone from the show’s beginning to the day she died, in 1999. Though Wilma and Fred argued a lot, they did have a rock-solid relationship. “I loved the bum,” Pyl told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. “Sure, Fred was a yahoo and I got mad at him all the time. But we really loved each other. Our romance was one of the things that made us so popular. We were real.”

Pyl also voiced Rosie the Robot and Mrs. Spacely on The Jetsons, but it’s Wilma who made her famous. “I know I’m going to get killed for saying this, but Wilma had a great ‘housewife whine’ to her voice,” Pyl said. “She commanded enough authority to run the house but kept an equal amount of warmth. Wilma is a communicator and a lot of women relate to that, at least I know I do. I think there’s a lot of me in Wilma, and even though she’s just a cartoon, I think my voice is one of the things that made her so human.”

10. ACCORDING TO HARVEY KORMAN, THE GREAT GAZOO IS WORTH MONEY.

The actor provided the voice of the “superior and arrogant and elite” Great Gazoo, a green alien, for 13 episodes, from 1964 to 1966. Korman told Emmy TV Legends that he didn’t realize how popular—and lucrative—the character was until he attended conventions. “Some years back, I traveled for Hanna-Barbera,” Korman said. “They had these huge conventions and seminars where collectors collect cels, and the cels with The Great Gazoo on it are worth lots of money. Collectors on eBay and stuff want my autograph.”

11. IT TOOK NINE YEARS (AND 32 WRITERS) TO BRING THE LIVE-ACTION FLINTSTONES MOVIE TO THE BIG SCREEN.

Even though the 1994 film grossed $341,631,208 at the worldwide box office, the film was in development hell for years. According to an article in Entertainment Weekly, producers Keith Barish and Joel Silver commissioned Steven E. de Souza to write a script for a Flintstones movie in 1985. Steven Spielberg, who had directed John Goodman in Always, recommended Goodman for the role of Fred. In 1993, eight writers wrote a new draft of the script, but only three writers were credited. Richard Donner was once attached to direct but Brian Levant took over (he also directed the sequel, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas).

The plot of the final film centers around a work scheme and kidnapping, but an earlier version had a Grapes of Wrath-like plot. “I don’t even remember it that well, but Fred and Barney leave their town during a terrible depression and go across the country, or whatever that damn prehistoric thing is, looking for jobs,” Mitch Markowitz, one of the earlier writers, said. “They wind up in trailer parks trying to keep their families together. They exhibit moments of heroism and poignancy.”

12. THE FLINTSTONES ARE COMIC BOOK HEROES. 

'The Flintstones' comic book from DC Comics
DC Comics

On 2016, DC Comics turned America’s favorite modern Stone Age family into comic book heroes with The Flintstones #1. The summary reads, “Welcome to Bedrock, where Paleolithic humans head to dinner for a taste of artisanal mammoth after shopping at Neandertall & Big Men’s Clothing … Join Fred and Barney as Mister Slate sends them on a mission to show some Neanderthals a night on the town in hopes of luring them into this new system called ‘working for a living’—in Slate’s Quarry, of course.”

13. THE FLINTSTONES AND WRESTLING CAME TOGETHER IN 2015.

In 2015, The Flintstones and WWE: Stone Age SmackDown was released direct-to-DVD. It features Fred and Barney hanging around with animated versions of wrestling stars like John Cena (John Cenastone), Rey Mysterio Jr. (Rey Mysteriopal), and Daniel Bryan (Daniel Byrock). “We recorded it at SummerSlam 2013,” Bryan told IGN. “The weird thing that happens when you go from kind of being a nobody to being in a new type of position is that all these crazy things happen to you. Like, ‘Wow, I’m a toy.’ And now ‘Wow, I’m a Flintstone.’ It’s really strange to see yourself animated like that, with the little caveman outfit and those feet. It’s borderline surreal.”

14. FRED AND WILMA WERE ONE OF THE FIRST TELEVISION COUPLES TO SLEEP IN THE SAME BED.

It seems strange now that married couples weren't allowed to share a bed on American television, but watch enough old TV shows and you'll see that, indeed, husbands and wives usually slept in separate beds. While many sources claim that Fred and Wilma were the very first couple to share a bed on American television, that title actually belongs to Mary Kay and Johnny, a sitcom that ran from 1947 to 1950. Still, Fred and Wilma were one of the first—and definitely the first animated couple. Pretty progressive for a Stone Age family.

15. A NEW FLINTSTONES PROJECT HAS BEEN IN THE WORKS FOR A FEW YEARS.

The Flintstones last appeared on TV in 2001’s The Flintstones: On the Rocks. In 2011, it was reported that Seth MacFarlane wrote an animated Flintstones TV pilot for Fox, which they rejected. Gilmore Girls’ Dan Palladino and Family Guy’s Kara Vallow were supposed to produce the show. Earlier this month, MacFarlane finally said that he was giving up on the project. In 2014, Warner Bros. revived the idea of a theatrical animated Flintstones movie, the first since the box office failure of 2000’s The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. Chris Henchy was scheduled to write the script, with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay executive producing. Since then, the project has been quiet.

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15 Surprising Celebrities Who Voiced Characters on SpongeBob SquarePants
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by Jenny Morrill

There are some voices in SpongeBob SquarePants that are instantly recognizable—SpongeBob's shrill laugh, Squidward's nasal complaining, Mr. Krabs's pirate-esque demands for yet more money. Occasionally, though, a voice pops up that's familiar in a different way.

If you ever watched an episode of SpongeBob and found yourself thinking “Hey, isn't that ... ?,” you probably weren't imagining things. The show is littered with guest voices from all walks of life, and here are 15 of the most memorable.

1. JOHNNY DEPP

In the season six episode "SpongeBob vs The Big One," Depp plays Jack Kahuna Laguna, a surf guru attempting to teach SpongeBob and his friends some of his surf moves. This episode also features a cameo by The Monkees's Davy Jones as himself.

3. MARK HAMILL

The Star Wars actor appears in the episode "Night Light" as The Moth, an arch enemy of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy.

3. DAVID BOWIE

SpongeBob SquarePants
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The late rock legend starred in the made-for-TV feature length special Atlantis SquarePantis as Lord Royal Highness, ruler of Atlantis who becomes annoyed with SpongeBob when he accidentally pops the world's oldest bubble.

4. VICTORIA BECKHAM

The former Spice Girl makes an appearance in the season six episode "The Clash Of Triton," as Queen Amphitrite. Well, of course she was going to be playing royalty.

5. CHRISTOPHER GUEST

The Spinal Tap legend plays Stanley S. SquarePants, SpongeBob's accident-prone cousin, in the season five episode of the same name. But Guest isn't the only member of Spinal Tap to have a guest role on the show...

6. MICHAEL MCKEAN

In the season nine episode "License To Milkshake," SpongeBob discovers his milkshake license has expired, so he must go back to the Milkshake Academy and relearn his skill under the tutelage of Captain Frosty Mug, voiced by McKean.

7. IAN MCSHANE

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Star of Lovejoy to some, star of Deadwood to others. In the season six episode "Dear Vikings," McShane plays Gordon, leader of a group of Vikings from whom SpongeBob wants to learn about Viking history.

8. MARION ROSS

Better known as ultimate TV mom Marion Cunningham from Happy Days, Ross had a recurring role on the show between 2010 and 2011 as Grandma SquarePants.

9. GENE SIMMONS

Yes, that Gene Simmons: Gene Simmons from KISS. In the season five episode "20,000 Patties Under The Sea," Simmons plays a sea monster who has been asleep for the last 79 years, only to be woken up by ... you guessed it: SpongeBob and Patrick.

10. JOHNNY KNOXVILLE

The Jackass star appears in the season nine episode "Extreme Spots," in which SpongeBob and Patrick attempt to join a stunt team called The Drastic Radicals. Knoxville plays Johnny Krill, one of the lead stunt performers in the team.

11. PAT MORITA

Most fondly remembered as Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid movies, Pat Morita definitely can't be accused of playing against type in SpongeBob. In the season four episode "Karate Island," he plays a self-styled karate guru who will stop at nothing to sell timeshares to SpongeBob.

12. AND 13. ADAM WEST AND BURT WARD

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In the season seven episode "Back To The Past," the original Batman and Robin star as a young version of their SpongeBob counterparts, Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy, whose adult selves are voiced by Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway.

14. RAY LIOTTA

By no means the only A-list actor to appear on SpongeBob, the Goodfellas star appears in the season five special "WhoBob WhatPants" (also known as "Whatever Happened to SpongeBob?") as leader of the street gang the Bubble Poppin' Boys.

15. PANTERA

Scary rock metal guys Pantera have a song featured in the season two episode "Prehibernation Week." The song accompanies a montage of Sandy and SpongeBob taking part in the most dangerous activities they can think of.

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