Bill Melendez, the animator who gave life to Snoopy, Charlie Brown and numerous other “Peanuts” characters in movies and television specials, died today at the age of 91. Being from Sonoma County, California, I, like many others grew up with the Peanuts gang. Charles Schultz was from Santa Rosa, a neighbor to my hometown of Petaluma. I feel as though a part of me died today as well, with the loss of Bill Melendez.
Credit: AP Photo/Nick Ut
From the Associated Press:
Melendez’s nearly seven decades as a professional animator began in 1938 when he was hired by Walt Disney Studios and worked on Mickey Mouse cartoons and classic animated features such as “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia.”
He went on to animate TV specials such as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and was the voice of Snoopy, who never spoke intelligible words but issued expressive howls, sighs and sobs.
Melendez took part in a strike that led to the unionization of Disney artists in 1941, and later moved to Warner Bros., where he worked on Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck shorts.
Melendez met “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz in 1959 while creating Ford Motor Co. TV commercials featuring Peanuts characters.
The two became friends and Melendez became the only person Schulz authorized to animate his characters.
Melendez founded his own production company in 1964 and with his partner Lee Mendelson went on to produce, direct or animate some 70 “Peanuts” TV specials, four movies and hundreds of commercials.
The first special was 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The show reportedly worried CBS because it broke so much new ground for a cartoon: It lacked a laugh track, used real children as voice actors, had a jazz score and included a scene in which Linus recited lines from the New Testament.
However, the show was a ratings success and has gone on to become a Christmastime perennial.