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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

THE CHRISTMAS CLASSIC THAT ALMOST WASN'T

A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS

"There will always be a market for innocence."
- Charles Schulz

The only Christmas Tree I have had for the past few years is a reproduction of Charlie Brown's famous Christmas tree.

It is a musical one which I set off when I leave for work each day, 

reminding me to show love to all the lonely souls I might see that day.


On paper, the show's bare-bones script would seem to offer few clues to its enduring popularity. 

Mendelson, its producer, says the show was written in several weeks, 

after Coca-Cola called him just six months before the program aired 

to ask if Schulz could come up with a Peanuts Christmas special.


 Scholars of pop culture say that shining through the program's skeletal plot 

is the quirky and sophisticated genius that fueled the phenomenal popularity of Schulz's work, 

still carried by 2,400 newspapers worldwide even though it's repeating old comic strips.



What makes A Charlie Brown Christmas the "gold standard" 

is that it somehow manages to convey an old-fashioned, overtly religious holiday theme

 that's coupled with Schulz's trademark sardonic, even hip, sense of humor.


While Schulz centers the piece on verses from the Bible, 

laced throughout are biting references to the modern materialism of the Christmas season. 

Lucy complains to Charlie that she never gets wants she really wants.

 "What is it you want?" Charlie asks. 

"Real estate," she answers.


 Parents say the combination of humor and bedrock values is what draws them and their children to the show. 

It does provide a balance, but it's a balance that we as a society seem to have forgotten about.


Yet, when CBS bigwigs saw a rough cut of A Charlie Brown Christmas in November 1965, they hated it.

 "They said it was slow," executive producer Lee Mendelson remembers with a laugh. 

There were concerns that the show was almost defiantly different: 

There was no laugh track,

real children provided the voices, and there was a swinging score by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. 

And Schulz's insistence that his first-ever TV spinoff end with a reading of the Christmas story 

 from the Gospel of Luke by a lisping little boy named Linus was madness all the experts said.

"You can't read from the Bible on network TV!"


Good grief, were they wrong. 

The first broadcast was watched by almost 50% of the nation's viewers!


 "Lee didn't want to use Hollywood kids. He wanted the sound of kids who didn't have training," 

says Sally Dryer, 58, who did the voice of Violet and later was the voice of Lucy.


 The show was also novel in that it used no laugh track, an omnipresent device in animated and live-action comedies of the era.

Schulz strongly believed that his audience could figure out when to laugh.


 Perhaps the most enduring aspect of the show has been its score — 

a piano-driven jazz suite that was absolutely unheard-of for children's programming in 1965.

 The driving tune that the Peanuts children keep dancing to in the special, called Linus and Lucy,

 has become a pop staple that's been recorded countless times in the intervening decades.


 To me, the reason it's endured is because of its simplicity and its very basic honesty to real life.

 Who would have thought this would last 50 years? 


WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE REASON FOR ITS POPULARITY?

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT FROM THE SHOW? 

13 comments:

  1. Hi Roland - wonderful post with a delightful clip - I haven't seen that before. We had cartoons at Christmas to watch and giggle our hearts over ... I love the old ones still.

    I do love the 9 Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge - wonderful music and choristers ... I could listen forever!

    But you've opened my eyes to some information I didn't know ... so a blog post to follow at some stage - hope I can squeeze it in this year.

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. I'm honored that my post might have sparked one from you. Thanks.

      Today we really seem to need a breath of innocence and kind wisdom, right?

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  2. They didn't want him reading from the Bible even back then? Wow. I'm still stunned some group hasn't gotten it banned by now. Never mind that Christmas is celebrating the birth of Christ.

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    1. Even back then in 1965. America is so PC that they believe wrong is right. I just try to enjoy the freedoms we have while we still possess them!

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  3. My favorite part is when Linus reads from the Bible. Although some executives thought the show should be more funny and have less of a message, Charles Schulz had absolute faith in the special, which won a number of awards. I watched it every year when I was growing up.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Me, too. We must stand for something or else we will sink into the mushiness of no values at all. :-(

      Merriest of Christmases!! :-)

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    2. Thank you. I wish you the same.

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  4. Funny that you chose to write about this now - I just rewatched it with my bf over the weekend. He hated it - kept commenting on how depressing it was. I honestly hadn't noticed, but it does mention depression several times and has elements of bullying, violence, negativity, and overall despair that you won't find in most children's specials.

    Overall, I still like it because of the nostalgia aspect. I loved it when I was a kid, and I love when the other children finally see the beauty of Charlie's little tree.

    Of course, Snoopy and Woodstock are highlights too.

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    1. I thought it was good that depression was mentioned since so many suffer from it during the holidays ... and Charlie's affection for the little tree was validated at the end of the special.

      Yes, Snoopy & Woodstock just cannot be beat. :-)

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  5. Interesting. I learned a great deal and agree with you. One of the reasons so much of our "big concept" movies, books, singers has to do with a committee of people wanting the sure thing. With enough publicity, you do get to thinking you like it too.
    I enjoy the radio but it is not lost on me that the playlist is pretty much the same songs over and over. I wish Michael Jackson's songs Billie Jean and Beat It would disappear. No disrespect for his work, I am tired of hearing both of those songs every day, several times a day.
    What we miss with all the packaged programming we get is originality and spirit.

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    1. Stephen King says that if he hears HOTEL CALIFORNIA one more time, he will bay at the moon.

      That is why I like Pandora.com as I can taylor the playlist according to my likes: Enya, Spanish Guitars, Jazz, Celtic tunes, and Epic Soundtracks -- no same old, same old for me. I get to make different "Stations" so that I can switch whenever the mood suits me.

      Yes, originality is pretty much a dead issue from all the pre=packaged entertainment. :-(

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  6. What I like about Charlie Brown - is his interactions with the other characters, and his tolerance of Snoopy. . .

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    1. Snoopy was lucky he got him as an owner, but who owns whom is the question!

      Yes, the Peanuts family is just that ... family, :-)

      Delete