The legendary producer also wrote the lyrics to the classic song, 'Christmas Time Is Here'.
Lee Mendelson, the longtime executive producer of the many specials for the TV animated series Peanuts, has passed away at the age of 86, reported CNN. The producer passed away at his San Francisco Bay Area home on Christmas Day succumbing to congestive heart failure after a long battle with cancer, his son revealed.
The @schulzmuseum would like to recognize the passing of Lee Mendelson who died on December 25th at the age of 86. Lee Mendelson, Charles M. Schulz, and Bill Melendez (L-R) produced fifty television specials and four animated feature films. [📸: R. Smith Kiliper] pic.twitter.com/y5ue9X8rdi— Charles M. Schulz Museum (@SchulzMuseum) December 27, 2019
Mendelson has also won a dozen Emmys in his long career. He used to head a team that included Peanuts author Charles Schulz, director Bill Melendez and pianist and composer Vince Guaraldi and they all created the opening Christmas Time Is Here, which has gone to become a staple for every household that plays the movie.
Damn. I just found out that Lee Mendelson, the producer of the majority of the Peanuts cartoons, passed away on Christmas. If it weren’t for him being having to make A Charlie Brown Christmas as quickly as possible, we wouldn’t have the iconic characters in animation. R.I.P. pic.twitter.com/eRe2fgqztK— Holly Jolly Eli (@CoppermanEli) December 27, 2019
Back in 2000, Mendelson told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he was short on time in finding a lyricist for the song, so he wrote six verses of the song himself about 15 minutes on the backside of an envelope. Later on, he found a choir from a church in Northern California to sing the song and the song has now gone on to become the show's unforgettable tone.
He helped bring the holidays to life. What a gift he leaves us.— Kristin Karnitz (@KristinKarnitz) December 27, 2019
Love to his family.
RIP Lee Mendelson ❤️ https://t.co/GJKBUtI5Kh
The song begins with Mendelson singing, "Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer, fun for all that children call, their favorite time of year.” Jason Mendelson, Lee Mendelson's son said, "We are very sad to lose our wonderful father, but Lee would have said it was serendipitous to pass on Christmas when the song he wrote with Vince Guaraldi is being heard everywhere and the program he created with Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez is being celebrated around the world. "While it was not a great time for us, it was not a bad time for him to pass."
I’m sad to hear that Lee Mendelson passes away at the age of 86. Along with Bill Melendez, he was responsible for helping bring Peanuts and Garfield into animation and has a huge legacy of award winning animated TV specials. I’ll really miss him. pic.twitter.com/e38smuJGUY— Animated Antic (@Animated_Antic) December 27, 2019
The special first aired on December 9, 1965, and was an immediate critical and commercial hit and since then, it has become a holiday favorite. In 2006, Mendelson revealed that CBS network executives initially did not love it and feared that the program would bomb with the public because of its sad tone and it also includes Bible verses, unusual jazz score and lack of a laugh track. He said, "They said, 'We'll play it once and that will be all. Good try.'"
Mendelson said, "We kind of agreed with the network. One of the animators stood up in the back of the room -- he had had a couple of drinks -- and he said, 'It's going to run for a hundred years,' and then fell down. We all thought he was crazy, but he was more right than we were."
Since then, the special has aired for more than 50 years. Mendelson graduated from Stanford University in 1954 with a degree in English and worked with his father before he joined KPIX-TV in 1961 to pursue a career as a TV producer. He is survived by his wife, Ploenta, his children Glenn, Lynda, Jason, Sean; her stepson Ken; and eight grandchildren.