Back in 1965, the world first fell in love with the most pathetic little wilted evergreen tree and a stage-full of children dancing like they were possessed by the festive spirit in A Charlie Brown Christmas. While more than 15 million people watched Charlie, Snoopy and the gang search for the meaning of Christmas during its debut and though the story has been a beloved part of the holidays in the decades since, “When it was all finished, we thought we’d ruined Charlie Brown,” said producer Lee Mendelson while talking with The Huffington Post.
Though the film focuses on “the true meaning of Christmas,” the project originally came about when an advertising group contacted Mendelson (who had previously worked with the comic’s creator, Charles Schulz, on a documentary about the artist) to see if Schulz had any interest in making a Christmas special which Coca-Cola would sponsor.
Mendelson admits, “I frankly just lied and said, ‘Oh, yes, we’ve talked about it quite a bit.’” With that…
“I hung up the phone, stared at the phone for a few minutes, then I picked it up and called Mr. Schulz and I said, ‘I think I just sold “A Charlie Brown Christmas,”’” explained Mendelson. “And he said, ‘What in the world is that?’ And I said, ‘It’s something you’re going to write tomorrow.’ And again, there was another 10-second pause and he said, ‘OK, come on up, we can do it.’”
And they did. But at the time, they thought they had created a disaster for more than one reason.
There was actually a hefty list of initial criticisms:
- Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez thought the pace was too slow.
- Mendelson and Melendez thought the inclusion of religion (Linus reading from the Bible) wouldn’t go over well.
- Schulz “vehemently opposed” Mendelson’s laugh track suggestion.
- The execs at CBS thought the jazz music was a bad choice.
- The CBS folks also thought the kids were using words that were too big.
Thankfully for them — and for us — their worries were unfounded. Though the story was only aired, according to Mendelson, because the execs said, “Well, we’ll put it on the air, not much we can do about it. It’s in TV Guide, we’ll put it on, it’s not going to hurt anything.” Certainly didn’t. In fact, it’s done a heck of a lotta good over the years and continues to be as beloved as ever.
(h/t Huffington Post; photos via CBS/NBC, Giphy)