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50th Anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Tonight

50th Anniversary of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" Tonight

It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown is airing tonight in celebration of the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas being played for the first time on December 9th, 1965. Hosted by Kristen Bell, there will be performances by Sarah McLachlan, Boyz II Men, Pentatonix, and Kristin Chenoweth, who not only voices a character in the new Peanuts movie, but was also a Tony Award winner in 1999 playing Sally in the Broadway revival of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.  The new special will be immediately followed by the perennial showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.  

There has been rising interest for collectors of animation from these specials for years, and as someone who is also an animation gallery owner, I’ve seen it first hand.  Many years ago, I’d have access to original production cels and drawings from A Charlie Brown Christmas for fairly reasonable prices, directly from the studio.  At this event, I got my hands on several drawings, but no cels.  Bill Melendez studios famously sold several key set-ups through Sotheby’s in 1991 for over $30,000 each.  The prices shocked those who weren’t in-the-know, as the estimates were 4-6k each! 

This December there is one piece going up for auction, offered through Heritage Auctions at their December 13th-14th sale, and it’s of Charlie Brown and the gang onstage. They expect to reap over $35,000 with this piece, which will surprise no one who knows how hard it is to find these key-set ups. We asked for further information of the piece, given it is one of the first to come from outside the studio, and asked the studio themselves, as well.  They can’t comment, not having seen the piece or the documentation on the art, but I talked to Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage.  He says the piece, which came from a longtime collector, has numbers that correspond to the original production, as well as cels in a multiple set-up they matched by watching the cartoon frame by frame.  We’ll report back after the sale with the auction results, but it looks like someone will get a great moment in animation history!

Peanuts-related events have been happening all this 50th anniversary year.  One such event  was this summer, where there was a gathering of artists, animators, and important figures in the making of the cartoon versions of Charles Schulz’s beloved characters at Bill Melendez Studios, home of all the Peanuts animation specials. I got a chance to be there and interview some of these fun and fascinating talents.  

There were really three people who were the most important in the creation of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and all that came after.  Creator Charles Schulz, or Sparky, as his friends called him, Bill Melendez, animation director who spearheaded interpreting the animated versions from the comic strip, and Lee Mendelson, who produced the projects and made them actually happen. 

Lee Mendelson was not only instrumental in getting the first special aired, sponsored, and promoted 50 years ago, he has been involved all these subsequent years in keeping them popular and adding new classics.  He is also intricately involved in making the show tonight happen.  He talked about it during an interview at the 50th anniversary celebration in Los Angeles this summer, where many of the animators who worked on the specials gathered at Bill Melendez Studios.  Many insiders know Mendelson’s influence and importance, but for those of you who will be watching the specials tonight, here is an interview I did with him at the event:

So don’t forget to grab your blue blanket, and get your frug-dancing shoes on, and tune in tonight to celebrate the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas!

(Leslie Combemale, aka Cinema Siren, is an animation expert and longtime animation and film art gallery owner of ArtInsights outside Washington DC. and film critic for outlets around the world.  You can find her film reviews and interviews at www.cinemasiren.com, on her gallery site www.artinsights.com, and on her Cinema Siren and ArtInsights dedicated youtube channels.)

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