Bill Meléndez, the Mexican-born American animator who is best known for directing nearly all of the Peanuts television specials, died Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica. He was 91.
Meléndez began his career at Walt Disney Studios drawing Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck shorts before moving on to such feature films as Bambi, Fantasia and Dumbo. From 1941 to 1951, he worked for the legendary Warner Brothers animation studio where he helped create cartoons for directors Robert Clampett and Robert McKimson.
In 1951, Meléndez went to work for UPA where he animated dozens of television commercials as well as numerous Gerald McBoing-Boing and Madeline shorts. Saul Bass called upon Meléndez to help animate the opening credit scene for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (one of two things I find funny about this particular movie):
While at UPA, Meléndez started doing work for the New York-based J. Walter Thompson ad agency. One of their major clients was the Ford Motor Company, who were interested in "hiring" the Peanuts gang as commercial pitchmen. In 1959, Meléndez put together a demo reel, presented it to Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz, and Charlie Brown & Linus began selling Fords. Many other products would follow suit.
In 1964, Bill Meléndez Productions was formed and became the only animator Charles M. Schultz permitted to work with his beloved Peanuts characters. Along with producing partner Lee Mendelson, the duo worked on over 75 Peanuts TV specials.
The first project Meléndez, Mendelson, and Schultz worked on was "A Charlie Brown Christmas". The production was done on the cheap, the animation was choppy, and with the exception of the actors who voiced Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) and Lucy (Tracy Stratford), none of the children had any experience doing voice work.
The special was an immediate critical and ratings hit. Despite the fact Meléndez was embarrassed to see the show repeated every year with all its problems, Schultz vetoed his idea of "fixing" the program years later. Wise choice, fellas.
Thanks for the lasting legacy Bill. We dedicate this clip to your memory: