One of the first things you notice when you enter our Archives is a very large, hand-illustrated Charlie Brown Christmas scene signed by Charles Schulz. I always get questions on why the illustration is there, and the story is a long and interesting one. On Dec. 9, 1965, a television classic was born. The very first A Charlie Brown Christmas aired at 7:30 p.m. on the CBS Network and its affiliates. While the program was an instant success, attracting an estimated 36 million viewers, the program almost never made it on air.
While Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters were well known as a newspaper comic strip, there were fears the characters would not translate to television. Lee Mendleson tells the full story of the classic cartoon in his book, A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition; he and Charles Schulz produced a pilot television program recounting the story of the world’s worst baseball player, Charlie Brown. Unfortunately for the pair, the pilot was rejected by all three of the major networks.
“CONFIRM SALE OF CHARLIE BROWN FOR CHRISTMAS TO
Once the special was commissioned, the real work on the program began. Schulz and Mendelson only had three months to produce the special, animator Bill Melendez had to create more than 30,000 animation cells, and the voices had to be recorded. In a move unusual for the time, Schulz required that the voices of the kids be real kids as opposed to adults voicing the roles. Schulz also announced the show would contain one whole minute of the character Linus reading from the Bible. This was considered highly unusual in an entertainment show, but Schulz prevailed.
The special was an immediate and enduring success. Nearly half of all Americans watching television on Dec. 9 tuned in to see the exploits of Charlie Brown and his friends. The only
The Television Audience Reacts
In a preview of what would happen a few years later when The
I am writing the first fan letter in my 52 years of a rather full life to compliment you on sponsoring the Charlie Brown Christmas television program. I don’t know when any program has delighted as many adults, as well as children, and I am writing to express the hope voiced by many who saw the program that you might be able to sponsor additional Charlie Brown programs …
Grand Rapids, Mich.
To the makers of
We wish to compliment you on the series of “Peanuts” which you sponsored on TV. Your production stands out as refreshing in entertainment as your product. Our sincere thanks to you and Mr. Schulz for bringing to the fore, in his wholesome philosophy, the real spirit of Christmas which is so often obliterated by a false one. It is our hope that “Peanuts” may find a permanent place in the TV realm. May the makers of
Sisters of St. Francis
Belle Vernon, Penn.
I have always loved A Charlie Brown Christmas, and it is a family tradition in our house to watch the program every year. I concur with the good Sisters of St. Francis, and hope that the Peanuts gang will continue to enchant audiences for years to come.
If you are curious about the rejected Charlie Brown Peanuts special, it eventually made it on television, too. Coke also sponsored Good Grief, Charlie Brown, which aired in June 1966.
The digitally remastered 1965 Charlie Brown Christmas aired for its 48th holiday season on Dec. 2, 2013 in the United States at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.