A Charlie Brown Christmas: An American Staple

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Over the past decades, A Charlie Brown Christmas has grown into an American staple.

A Charlie Brown Christmas has aired every year since its initial broadcast on CBS on December 9, 1965, making itself into an integral part of the Christmas season. Written by Peanut’s creator Charles M. Shulz, and directed by Bill Melendez, Charlie Brown has since been honored with an Emmy and Peabody Award.

The strip Peanuts had become a sensation worldwide, gaining critical acclaim and popularity in the mid-1960s. The popularity allowed Shulz to work with producer Lee Mendelson in creating an unaired documentary about Peanuts Schulz, A Boy Named Charlie Brown. The documentary incorporated animated Peanuts strips and allowed Schulz and Melendez to work together for the first time. Though unaired, A Boy Named Charlie Brown garnered even more popularity and acclaim onto Schulz and would segue two years later into the production of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Written in only a few weeks time, and animated in under six months on tight budgetary restraints, the Christmas special was sponsored and commissioned by the Coca-Cola Company. Shulz’s goal during the entire production process of A Charlie Brown Christmas was to somehow encapsulate within his beloved characters the true meaning of Christmas. It was on this strong principle that all other decisions were made upon. Some of these choices made are the very idiosyncratic qualities that have made this special so endearing.

The decision to track the special under a jazz score by musician Vince Guaraldi was unorthodox and has since come to define the Peanuts. The Vince Guaraldi Trio fused traditional christmas music with the jazz of that era.The soundtrack has since gone triple platinum in the US and was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry for its cultural and historical importance in 2012.

The special disregarded the use of the laugh track, a staple in television at that time. It was not fitting with the reverent solemnity that Shulz wished to convey. There was no need to inform that audience when to laugh, Schulz has been penned as saying when approached with the idea. Child actors were cast as the voices of the Peanuts characters. The reading of the Bible by Linus was important to Shulz, for the intent of the special was to make important the birth of Jesus Christ as the true meaning of Christmas.

 

Cooper Malin | The Broadside

(Contact: cmalin@cocc.edu)

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