Morning Coffee: “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

DickensI’ve been trying to decide which holiday special/movie is my favorite, but the list is so long. There’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”, in black and white, of course. “A Christmas Carol”, again in black and white, starring Alastair Sim. Also, “White Christmas”, “Holiday Inn”, “A Christmas Story”, “Christmas Vacation”, and who doesn’t love “Christmas With The Kranks” and “Elf”. This doesn’t begin to list them all, but at the top there really is just one for me–“A Charlie Brown Christmas”. No other can melt my heart with just the opening notes like that one can.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted on December 9, 1965. I was in first grade. The Peanuts cartoon strip had been fast-growing in popularity through the 1950s and 1960s when Coca-Cola commissioned Charles M. Schultz to create a half-hour Christmas special. This was a low-budget deal unlike any other project for television. The script was written over weeks and the animation completed in just six short months. Actual children were hired to do the voice-overs and, instead of the standard laugh track of the time, jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi was hired to write the sound-track. This unorthodox approach led the producers and network to predict it would be a disaster. Instead, it achieved high ratings and critical acclaim and would go on to win both an Emmy and a Peabody award. It has broadcast at least once every Christmas season since, the sound-track has sold millions of copies, and if you want to watch it more often, and not just during the holiday season, you can buy the DVD for your personal viewing pleasure.

Charles M. Schultz always knew growing up that he wanted to be a cartoonist. He was born in Minneapolis on November 26, 1922, and lived in St Paul with his German father (a barber) and Norwegian mother. Growing up, Charles was fascinated by cartoons and spent Sundays with his father reading the funnies in the local newspaper. When he was a senior in high school his mother encouraged him to complete a correspondence course in cartoon drawing through the Federal School of Applied Cartooning (now the Art Instruction Schools).

After a stint in the Army during WWII, he returned home to teach art at his alma mater and to publish the occasional single-panel cartoon in The Saturday Evening Post. For three years he had a weekly panel in the St Paul Pioneer Press. His first Peanuts cartoon appeared on October 2, 1950. He was 27 years old and it would be seen in seven newspapers nationwide. By the time he retired in December 1999, his strip would be syndicated in 2,600 newspapers world-wide and he had books published in 25 languages. Charles M Schultz died from complications of colon cancer on February 12, 2000, in Santa Rosa, California.

Charles M. Schultz had a dream. He wanted to be a professional cartoonist. He pursued that dream and look where it got him. I don’t believe there’s a single person in this world who doesn’t know who he is, who doesn’t recognize the characters of Charlie Brown and his little sister Sally, Lucy and Linus VanPelt, Peppermint Patty, Pig Pen, Schroeder, Marcy, and, of course, Snoopy (a/k/a The Red Baron) and his little yellow-feathered side-kick, Woodstock. We can all learn a lesson from him…believe in yourself, work hard, and anything can happen.

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