Lee Mendelson, producer of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ dies at 86

News

Lee Mendelson. (Photo by Beck Starr/WireImage)

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Lee Mendelson, the longtime executive producer of numerous specials for the TV animated series “Peanuts,” has died, his family said.

The producer, 86, passed away at his San Francisco Bay Area home on Christmas Day, his son Jason Mendelson told CNN.

He died of congestive heart failure after a long battle with cancer, his son said.

Mendelson, originally from San Francisco, was known for his work in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the first animated special featuring “Peanuts” characters. The producer wrote the lyrics to the special’s song “Christmas Time is Here.”

“We are very sad to lose our wonderful father, but Lee would have said it was serendipitous to pass on Christmas when the song he wrote with Vince Guaraldi is being heard everywhere and the program he created with Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez is being celebrated around the world,” Jason Mendelson told CNN.

“While it was not a great time for us, it was not a bad time for him to pass,” he added.

The special, which first aired on December 9, 1965, was an immediate critical and commercial hit, and it has since become a perennial holiday favorite.

Mendelson said in 2006 that CBS network executives initially did not love it. They feared the program would bomb with the public because of its melancholy tone, Bible verses, unusual jazz score and lack of a laugh track.

“They said, ‘We’ll play it once and that will be all. Good try,’ ” Mendelson told Pop Matters.

He and director Bill Melendez “thought we had ruined Charlie Brown forever when it was done. We kind of agreed with the network. One of the animators stood up in the back of the room — he had had a couple of drinks — and he said, ‘It’s going to run for a hundred years,’ and then fell down. We all thought he was crazy, but he was more right than we were.”

The special has aired for more than 50 years.

Mendelson produced dozens of specials featuring “Peanuts” characters Charlie Brown and Snoopy, specials for the animated series “Cathy,” as well as numerous shows and over 100 episodes of the animated series “Garfield and Friends.”

The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, an institution dedicated to the works of the “Peanuts” creator, tweeted about Mendelson’s passing.

Mendelson graduated from Stanford University in 1954 with a degree in English and served in the Air Force after college. He worked for his father’s produce business before he joined KPIX-TV in 1961 to pursue a career as a TV producer.

He went on to produce several documentaries, including one about San Francisco Giants star Willie Mays.

He is survived by his wife, Ploenta, his children Glenn, Lynda, Jason, Sean; her stepson Ken; and eight grandchildren.

By Nicole Chavez and Sarah Moon, CNN

Trademark and Copyright 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

About FOX 2 News

FOX 2 and KPLR 11 in St. Louis cover the news in Missouri and Illinois. There are over 68 hours of live news and local programming on-air each week. Our website and live video streams operate 24/7. Download our apps for alerts and follow us on social media for updates in your feed.

President Harry Truman said: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” That spirit is alive and well at Fox 2. Our teamwork is on display each and every day.

Our news slogan is: “Coverage You Can Count On.” We quite frankly are too busy to worry about who gets the credit. Our main concern is serving the viewer.

We go where the stories take us. Whether it be Washington, D.C when a Belleville man opened fire during a congressional baseball game practice or to Puerto Rico where local Ameren crews restored power after more than 5 months in the dark.

Coverage You Can Count On means “Waking up your Day” with our top-rated morning show. From 4:00 am-10:00 am we are leading the way with breaking news. But our early morning crew also knows how to have some fun! Our strong commitment to the communities we serve is highlighted with our Friday neighborhood shows.

Our investigative unit consists of three reporters. Elliott Davis focuses on government waste, Chris Hayes is our investigative reporter, and Mike Colombo is our consumer reporter. They work in unison with the news department by sharing resources and ideas.

We continue to cover breaking news aggressively and relied on our seasoned journalists to make a difference with the stories we covered. The shooting of Arnold Police Officer Ryan O’Connor is just one example of that. Jasmine Huda was the only reporter who had exclusive access to the O’Connor family during his amazing rehabilitation in Colorado.

Last, but certainly not least, FOX 2 and KPLR 11 are committed to covering local politics. We host debates among candidates and have the most extensive presidential election coverage. Our commitment to politics isn’t just during an election year. We produce two political shows that air every weekend.

Popular

Latest News

More News