Peanuts animator dies
mchawk | September 4, 2008 at 12:30 amby
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Most famous as the animator of the Charlie Brown cartoons, he had worked in the business for some 70 years, producing a host of memorable and much-loved works.
Beginning his career in 1938 at the Walt Disney Studios, he worked on such classics as Pinocchio, Bambi and Fantasia. He moved to Warner Bros in the early '40's, where he worked with the likes of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. The 50's found him animating and directing more than 1,000 commercials. But it was in the late 50's that he met his muse.
Melendez met "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz in 1959 while creating Ford Motor Co. TV commercials featuring Peanuts characters. The two became friends and Melendez became the only person Schulz authorized to animate his characters.
Melendez founded his own production company in 1964 and with his partner Lee Mendelson went on to produce, direct or animate some 70 "Peanuts" TV specials, four movies and hundreds of commercials.
The first special was 1965's "A Charlie Brown Christmas." The show reportedly worried CBS because it broke so much new ground for a cartoon: It lacked a laugh track, used real children as voice actors, had a jazz score and included a scene in which Linus recited lines from the New Testament.
However, the show was a ratings success and has gone on to become a Christmastime perennial.
Melendez created Emmy-winning specials based on the cartoon characters Cathy and Garfield, and was involved in animated versions of the Babar the elephant books and the C.S. Lewis book, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."
He also was co-nominee for an Academy Award in 1971 for the music for "A Boy Named Charlie Brown."
In all, his productions earned some 19 Emmy nominations, including six awards.
Melendez is survived by his wife of 68 years, Helen; two sons, Steven Melendez and (Ret.) Navy Rear Admiral Rodrigo Melendez; six grandchildren; and 11 great grandchildren. A memorial service will take place for family only.
Donations can be made in Melendez's name to Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
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