EXCLUSIVE: Q & A With Charlie Brown's Lee Mendelson

CBM's Nate Best quizzes Lee Mendelson, the producer behind Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown which just landed this week on DVD (for the first time ever)! Find out who his favorite character is, how he got involved with Peanuts, Garfield and more after the jump!

Interviews Opinion
For those that don't know, Lee Mendelson has been with the crew of Peanuts/Charlie Brown since the 1960s when he executive produced the very first Charlie Brown TV short, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown hit earlier this week, which afforded me the opportunity to quiz Mendelson and find out how he got involved with not only the animated Peanuts specials, but also Garfield, which many of us grew up watching.  Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown has been remastered and released on DVD for the first time ever and was written by Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz.

Q: Many of us grew up reading and watching Charlie Brown and Garfield, especially when Christmas and Halloween rolled around each year. Were you a Peanuts fan and how did you get involved with those two properties?

A: I was always a fan of Charlie brown in the comics. After I produced my first network speclal about Willie Mays - I was reading the "Peanuts" comic strip about Charlie Brown losing his 600th straight baseball game,  and the thought popped into my mind - hey, we've just done the world's greatest baseball player - Wille Mays - we should now go do the world's worst, Charlie Brown. I called Charles Schulz and we did the documentary and two years later produced "A Charlie brown Christmas".

The same newspaper syndicate that owned "Peanuts" also owned "Garfield".  They asked if we could try and get a show for "Garfield" too. We animated "Garfield" in one of our specials about the great comic strips, and the network liked it and we went on to do 12 prime time network specials and 120 Saturday morning series.

Q: With so many Charlie Brown TV shorts, TV movies and documentaries spanning 50 years, beginning all the way back to 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, did you ever get tired of Snoopy and the gang?

A: I enjoy the characters as much today as I ever have. In fact, we plan to do a network special in december celebrating true 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and I am as excited about that as if it were our very first show.

Q: What challenges did you have to overcome when moving the comic and characters to the small screen? Has it become easier with the new technology over the years, or are there some things that are still difficult to overcome?

A: There were very few challenges bringing the characters to tv. Animator Bill Melendez decided to keep it all simple and just move the characters off the comic strip into animation.  It proved to be a seamless transition. And of course the great scripts by Charles Schulz...the wonderful music of Vince Guaraldi...the great young actors...all made it happen fairly easily once we got started. 

Q: “Race for your life, Charlie Brown” has been released for the first time ever on DVD – What are you most excited for regarding its release and what particular challenges did you face re-mastering the 1977 adventure?

A: I was so excited to see RACE FOR YOUR LIFE in HD. It's so exciting to see the colors even more vivid than the original and the voices and music are so much more clear. It's truly amazing. Charles Schulz and his  family andI and my family actually took a three day raft trip down the rapids of an Oregon river to do research for the movie. And of course it's a movie about one of Mr.Schulz' main themes - overcoming buliness.

Q: Who is your favorite Peanuts character and why? Has it changed over the 50 years you’ve been working with them?

A: My favorite character is Linus. He made sucking your thumb and holding a security blanket ok. I think he's one of the most original fictional characters of all time - blending childish behavior with great wisdom.

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