Seven Facts You May Not Know About ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired 51 years ago in 1965, with 15 million people tuning in to view it and has continued to remain required Christmas viewing ever since. But there are a lot of things you probably didn’t know about A Charlie Brown Christmas, such as the fact that it very nearly never aired on television to begin with.

Huffington Post reports that according to Lee Mendelson, A Charlie Brown Christmas almost didn’t see the light of day and CBS execs and others thought the show would be an unmitigated disaster.

“When it was all finished, we thought we’d ruined Charlie Brown. If you go back and look over the years, very, very few comic strips ever went beyond one network special. They’d get one shot and be gone.”

So cynical were those involved with A Charlie Brown Christmas, especially the network, that most thought it would be an abject failure. Mendelson recalls that one of the animators disagreed.

“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.”

'A Charlie Brown Christmas' window at Macy's in New York on November 20, 2015.
‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ window at Macy’s in New York on November 20, 2015. [Image by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images]

Most of the voice actors that ended up on A Charlie Brown Christmas were local neighborhood kids. Even though Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Linus were all child actors as they were considered the stars of the show, the rest of the Peanuts gang came from the Southern California neighborhood that Bill Melendez lived in.

As the voice actors were so young, however, many of them weren’t able to read scripts. This was a bit of a shock to the production crew that was working on this Peanuts show. Even Christopher Shea, who performed as Linus, was unable to read the script. Bill Melendez discovered a way to work around this little problem by reciting everything line by line for the children.

With Vince Guaraldi providing the much-loved soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, you might be surprised to learn that Charles Schulz actually loathed jazz music. Schulz even told a reporter that he thought jazz was “awful” just two months after this special had aired on television. But despite Schulz’s dislike for jazz, he was really rather fond of Guaraldi’s music on his specials.

With laugh tracks standard features of comedies during the time of this cartoon, Charles Schulz was adamant that he did not want one in A Charlie Brown Christmas. In Schulz’s biography, Lee Mendelson tells the story of how during a meeting Charles told the production team that they should allow “the people at home to enjoy the show at their own speed, in their own way.” Schulz ended his decree by exiting the room after this, in order to truly make his point.

Remember Linus’s speech about the true meaning of Christmas? This was almost cut too. That may sound surprising, especially as Charles Schulz was a devoutly Christian man, but there was a disagreement between Schulz and Lee Mendelson on this. After the script had been completed, Mendelson noted that Linus’s famous speech from the New Testament was one minute in length. He was worried that something overtly religious might scare away potential viewers as he countered that this show was meant for entertainment purposes. However, many people will agree that A Charlie Brown Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without Linus’s poignant speech onstage and will be happy that it survived the final cut.

'A Charlie Brown Christmas' animator Bill Melendez on February 18, 2000 in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, CA.
‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ animator Bill Melendez on February 18, 2000 in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, CA. [Image by NICK UT/AP Images]

You may have noticed that Snoopy appears in a lot of the action scenes. As it turns out, this is purely because Snoopy was the easiest of all the characters to animate. It was because the Peanuts gang had such large heads that it was difficult to animate for fast-paced sequences, so Snoopy was used the most in the scenes that had more action.

Whatever initial doubts executives may have had over A Charlie Brown Christmas, it is now the second-longest running Christmas special of all time, right after Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

You can watch A Charlie Brown Christmas on ABC on Thursday, December 22 at 8 p.m.

[Featured Image by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images]