This Tuesday I bought the new DVD release of It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. For years I've resisted buying a copy, on VHS or DVD, because I've felt that the great Peanuts shows should only be seen once, in the proper season. But the last few years I always seem to miss them; they arrive with so little fanfare and sometimes with such odd scheduling. They've started new re-mastered releases of the DVD's, to be issued slightly before the holidays, and The Great Pumpkin is the first. Among the special features was a short featuring Bill Melendez, the director, and his experience working on the show. I found out two days later that on that very day, Sept. 2, that Bill Melendez had passed away at 91.
He was a remarkable man. Born in Mexico in 1916 (full name Jose Cuauhtemoc Melendez), he worked at the Disney studios from 1938 to 1941, on short cartoons and Bambi, Fantasia, and Dumbo. He left as part of the animator's strike. He then worked at Warners Brothers on Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Daffy Duck cartoons. He worked for UPA on many commercials and on the Gerald McBoing-Boing shorts. It was his work on commercials that led him to work on the Peanuts specials.
It was while animating the Peanuts characters for commercials for the 1959 Ford Falcon that he met Charles Schulz. Together they produced A Charlie Brown Christmas whose unexpected success started an animating empire, producing over 75 half-hour specials, four movies, and a mini-series. Bill Melendez did all the vocalizations for Snoopy and Woodstock.
In 1979 he directed the animated version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
This man's efforts touched so many points of my enthusiasms. All too often you only realize that one of the good one's was still alive when you hear they've passed away. Ninety one years old. It was a good run.