A Charlie Brown Christmas will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC, with a celebratory special, It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown, preempting the treasured A Charlie Brown Christmas animated classic.
Kristen Bell will be hosting the Charlie Brown Christmas 50th festivities with live performances by Kristen Chenoweth, Matthew Morrison, Sarah McLachlan, Boyz II Men, Pentatonix, David Benoit, and The All-American Boys Chorus.
But 50 years ago, in the months, weeks and days before being broadcast nationally and capturing the collective hearts of hundreds of thousands of Americans from multiple generations, A Charlie Brown Christmas looked about as likely to be a smashing success as Charlie Brown kicking a football with Lucy as holder, reports USA Today.
In fact, when the producers of A Charlie Brown Christmas presented the final production to CBS brass, the network executives reportedly thought it stunk, perhaps even worse than the Peanuts gang’s Pigpen.
For one thing, the CBS execs didn’t get why A Charlie Brown Christmas had jazz piano music for its musical soundtrack, remembers executive producer, Lee Mendelson. “(T)hey thought that having jazz music on a Christmas show didn’t make much sense. They didn’t like the (voice) actors being kids, and they just didn’t like the show in general. They said: ‘You made a nice try. We’ll put it on the air, obviously, but it just doesn’t work.'”
But any misgivings were quickly put to rest when A Charlie Brown Christmas did its TV magic during that 1965 Christmas season, and all these years later remains among holiday special royalty as the second longest running Christmas special in TV history, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, with its 1964 debut, having a year on A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Among the objections and other issues that CBS executives thought would doom A Charlie Brown Christmas to failure was Linus quoting from the New Testament while explaining the true meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown, the pivotal and profound soliloquy made by Linus almost failing to make the final cut of the show, reports the Orange County Register.
But it was Charlie Brown and Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz, who insisted on keeping Linus’s Christmas speech, despite any objections, Schulz also standing firm on other elements of A Charlie Brown Christmas that would ultimately contribute to the show’s ongoing success, including authentic voices of children, Vincent Guaraldi’s holiday jazz score, and not using a laugh track.
As for the insistence on using the actual voices of children, Schulz felt that doing so would add to an overall feeling of realism to A Charlie Brown Christmas. And being that Charlie Brown’s Peanuts gang are young – sometimes really young – kids, garnering their age-appropriate voices proved a challenge from the outset.
For instance, the part of Sally, Charlie Brown’s little sister, was played by 4-year-old Kathy Steinberg, who didn’t have a handle on reading so was given her lines a syllable at a time, sound editors later patching Sally’s part together to turn one of many Charlie Brown Christmas potential disasters into an endearing piece of Holiday Americana.
Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy musical soundtrack that the CBS execs just didn’t get, is another element those execs frowned upon that would prove to be nothing less than enduring holiday magic.
But in the mid-1960’s, animated programs like A Charlie Brown Christmas were thought to be made solely for children. Though this notion would be crushed when A Charlie Brown Christmas garnered praise from young and old alike, as well as critics who gave the Christmas special a Peabody Award, at the time CBS executives felt that the loud and crazy sound effects typical of other cartoons would be better suited than holiday jazz numbers.
But through another insistence of Schulz, Guaraldi’s jazzy holiday tunes, including the long-time hit Linus and Lucy, accompanied Charlie Brown in his search for the meaning of Christmas, the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack taking on a life of its own to become the Christmas classic it is today.
Another beef between the genius that is Charles Schulz and the network executives at CBS was whether or not a laugh track should be included in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, another hallmark of animated shows at the time.
But Charles Schulz wanted none of it, his biography describing how the Peanuts creator made his feelings clear on the subject during a Charlie Brown Christmas production staff meeting, telling those present to “let the people at home enjoy the show at their own speed, in their own way.”
And during any viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas this season, fans will hear that there is no laugh track, except perhaps the one they provide themselves.
[Images via Shutterstock, videos via YouTube]