14 Fun Facts About A Charlie Brown Christmas

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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, Charles Schulz and United Press Syndicate (which distributed the comic 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.

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.

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.

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.

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
.

Captain Marvel's Goose the Cat Funko Pop! Toy Delivers Cuteness (and Spoilers)

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

Why pay Robert Downey Jr. $50 million to appear in an Avengers movie when you can just hire a cat and get the same buzz? Marvel Studios accountants must be debating this very issue now that Captain Marvel's supporting feline Goose has become the hit film's breakout star. Naturally, she has now been bestowed with an honor in line with her status: She's been immortalized as a Funko Pop! figure. Lots of them, actually.

The Funko Goose vinyl collectible, now available for $8.45, features her distinctive markings along with a “Goose” name tag. The now-famous cat joins a line of several other Captain Marvel Funko Pop! releases, including Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, and a 1990s-era Nick Fury.

But in this case, going down the Funko rabbit hole carries some risks for Captain Marvel fans. /Film reports that two of Funko's pending Goose releases may spoil some key revelations in the film. So you’re better off sticking with a classic Goose until you’ve seen the movie.

If you’re curious about the kind of cat wrangling that went on behind the scenes in the movie, you might be surprised to learn that there are actually three ways Goose performs onscreen. The production used an orange tabby named Reggie to portray Goose, with stand-ins Archie, Gonzo, and Rizzo filling in occasionally to perform specific tricks or to relieve a fatigued Reggie. There was also a CGI Goose and a cat puppet that the filmmakers used in scenes where actress Brie Larson needed to interact with her furry friend—because while Carol Danvers may love cats, Larson herself is allergic to them.

Explore Funko's whole Captain Marvel line on Amazon.

[h/t /Film]

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

New Avengers: Endgame Theory Predicts That Four of the Original Heroes Will Die

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios broke the internet last week when they dropped a brand-new trailer for the upcoming Avengers: Endgame.

Unlike the first trailer, which was released in December, this one gave fans much more insight into how the Avengers will attempt to defeat Thanos and restore balance to the world. And since the trailer provided these extra details, there's been even more fan speculation over the past several days about what the new footage could mean for some of our favorite superheroes. And according to at least one fan, the situation could be bleak for some of the original Avengers, as Comicbook.com reports.

After noticing something peculiar in the trailer, Redditor TheRealBrandini97 took to the social media platform to share their prediction that four major deaths could be upon us:

"[T]here was a theory going around that only two of the original six Avengers will survive at the end of Endgame. If you listen to the new trailer, you'll notice four of the original Avengers say the line, 'Whatever it takes.' The four that say this are Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye/Ronin, and lastly Iron Man. Could these be the four original members that sacrifice their lives to save everyone?"

Citing behind-the-scenes reports, the user mentions that Chris Evans is likely leaving the role of Steve Rogers, and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man is likely about to see his last days as well.

As for the two other heroes, the theory states, "The Russo Brothers said Hawkeye would have a big arc in Avengers: Endgame that all Hawkeye fans would enjoy (what bigger arc than laying down your life, to bring your family and half of all life back?) And as for Black Widow, her movie is guaranteed to be a prequel now."

It's also mentioned that the Russo Brothers said 2016's Captain America: Civil War would play a fundamental part in Endgame.

"The four Avengers that repeated ['Whatever it takes'] in the new trailer happen to all [be featured] in Civil War while the other two original Avengers (Thor and Hulk), [who] didn't repeat the phrase, are not in Civil War," the Redditor adds.

Of all the theories out there right now, this one definitely has some legs. The repetition of "whatever it takes" definitely did stand out in the trailer, so maybe Marvel was hinting at this being the last hurrah for Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Black Widow.

We'll find out for sure when Avengers: Endgame arrives in theaters on April 26, 2019.

[h/t: Comicbook.com]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER