December
11th 2010
My own Christmas special–gone commercial!

Posted under: American history, art, childhood, fluff

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.

9 Comments »

9 Responses to “My own Christmas special–gone commercial!”

  1. Joshua Paddison on 11 Dec 2010 at 11:55 am #

    I didn’t know about this either, but considering how Schulz (no t) merchandized the hell out of the strip, it’s not surprising.

  2. Indyanna on 11 Dec 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    It would be interesting to deconstruct what Schulz/Ford were up to with the chocolate seegars and “everyone.” Drive girls away from the Ford brand? This reminds me of being allowed to buy a pack of chocolate cigarettes, probably also in about 1959, on the way into the old Island Garden to attend a match with a corporate predecessor of the World Wrestling Federation. When the thing inevitably melted in my tiny hand I just threw the whole sticky blob at one of the certified wrestler bad guys of the era, The Sheik, who was working over one of the certified good guys, Haystack(s) Calhoun. This was apparently either not prohibited or possibly even encouraged, I don’t remember. What WAS discouraged was to “tell your mother about this,” so I guess “everyone” always contained a lot of fine print and outright exclusions–many of the gender and/or/and role-based.

  3. Dr. Virago on 11 Dec 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    Not only do I remember the Peanuts/Dolly Madison campaign (as well as the MetLife one), but I also had a brother-in-law who worked for a few years for Internaional Brands at the Emporia, KS, Dolly Madison bakery, and every time I visited my sister and brother-in-law, I got a tour of the factory bakery, got a chocolate pie hot out of the oven, and got to take home *tons* of Peanuts cross-promotion loot. Good times.

  4. Dr. Virago on 11 Dec 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    Er, not International, *Interstate*, and not Brands, but *Bakeries*. *Interstate Bakeries.*

  5. Historiann on 11 Dec 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    Thanks for the spelling correction, Joshua–I’ll fix that.

    Indyanna–did you know they still make candy cigarettes? Not the really good ones like the ones you describe, but just the chalky ones. I’m nostalgic for an old candy lipstick that was soft and chocolate-like, and that I had only once as a four-year old, I think. (Candy lipsticks today are just ripoff Swee-Tart-like sticks. Bleh.)

    Dr. Virago: I’ll just quote Notorious, Ph.D. and say: mmmmm, pies!

  6. Indyanna on 11 Dec 2010 at 2:39 pm #

    I remember the chalky ones too, which had tiny red tips, to represent the lighted part. They wouldn’t have come in as handy at a WWF steel-cage match, I must say, as the chocolate kind. I can’t believe they still make and sell any kind.

  7. Susan on 11 Dec 2010 at 3:34 pm #

    I don’t remember these, but that may be because whenever our TV broke or was stolen, my mother waited quite a while to replace it.

    What I think is so interesting is all the cheering about gas mileage. The Falcon gets 30 miles to the gallon! Who said that concern with mileage was new? Oh, and that it sat 6 people, ’cause you got three in the front seat!

  8. Historiann on 11 Dec 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    Susan–I thought the same thing about the mileage claims. 30 miles to the gallon was pretty damn good in 1961, and it’s better than most vehicles these days! (Although one reason the ’61 Falcon was so good on the mileage was that it didn’t have all of those pesky safety featuers, and could seat as many as a minivan these days b/c of bench seats and no need for seatbelts!)

  9. OlderThanDirt on 12 Dec 2010 at 10:47 am #

    Ah candy cigarettes! I grew up in North Carolina where school children regularly toured the P. Lorillard plant and watched them make and package cigarettes. When the tour was over, every child received a pack of candy cigarettes in the brand packaging. We also toured the Coke bottling plant, but the cigarettes were much more memorable.

    Totally off-topic, but I adored plant tours and feel sorry that children don’t get to go anymore (or at least mine didn’t). It left me with a burning desire to tour anything real.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply