Thursday, December 9 was the 45th anniversary of the Charlie Brown Christmas special. The Washington Postpublished a fascinating interview with Emmy-winning producer Lee Mendelson in which he details the making of the special with Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz and composer Vince Guaraldi. In the course of the story, I learned this fascinating detail:
Mendelson also credits part of the power of the scene to child voice actor Christopher Shea, whose tone of wise innocence, the producer says, fits the moment perfectly.
Several years earlier, young voice actors were cast as “Peanuts” characters for a Ford commercial — this at a time when adult actors were typically cast to voice animated children. “They were 6 or 7 years old when they made the commercial,” Mendelson says of the “Peanuts” actors, “and now they were 10 or 11. But they were still the best voices.” (Melendez, meantime, was drafted to voice the sounds of Snoopy, which were speeded up by 10 times the rate at which they were recorded.)
I agree that Shea’s voice was perfect for Linus, who embodies the adult sensibilities of the Peanuts gang as well as ambivalence about joining the world of the grownups: he alternately counsels Charlie Brown and quotes the Gospel of Luke from memory, then clutches his blue blanket and sucks his thumb. (Sadly, IMDB reports that Shea died this summer at the rather young age of 52.) Every time I see the Charlie Brown Christmas special, I marvel at Schulz’s courage in portraying children as troubled or even depressed at all, let alone suffering from a Christmas-induced depression.
Anyhoo–I did a little research on the world wide non-peer reviewed YouTubes into those old Peanuts kids commercials for Ford, and here’s what I came up with. There are several advertisements for the Ford Falcon made in the early 1960s–here’s one from 1961 which sounds a lot like a younger version of the Linus and Pigpen voice actors in the Christmas special:
And another from 1964, which definitely sounds like the Charlie Brown and Linus voice actors used in the 1965 special:
Now, here’s one from 1959 that they can never show on TV again! (They turn out to be chocolate cigars, but I don’t think cartoon characters today are allowed to do this!) Notice how “everyone” doesn’t include Lucy:
These commercials were way before my time, but I well remember the Dolly Madison snack cakes that were always advertised by Peanuts characters in the 1970s, and the Met Life commercials Schulz collaborated on in the 1980s and beyond. So, I’m not exactly surprised that the Peanuts gang both denounced the commercialism of Christmas in-between commercial breaks in which they starred. I just never knew about the years-long advertising campaign for the Ford Falcon.