HILLSBOROUGH (KPIX 5) – Lee Mendelson, the Bay Area producer behind dozens of “Peanuts” specials including the beloved “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and the song “Christmas Time Is Here,” has died.
According to Variety, Mendelson died at his Hillsborough home on Christmas Day after a long battle with cancer. He was 86.
A graduate of San Mateo High School and Stanford University, Mendelson’s career in television began at KPIX 5 in 1961 as a producer of public service announcements. Mendelson won a Peabody award for a documentary about the 1915 San Francisco World’s Fair, before moving on to create his own production company in Burlingame in 1963.
One of Mendelson’s first productions was a documentary about San Francisco Giants slugger Willie Mays. The film paved the way for a collaboration with Peanuts creator Charles Schulz on a documentary about Charlie Brown, but that project was shelved for “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which premiered in 1965.
The success of the Christmas special, which won an Emmy Award, led to 50 animated specials featuring Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, including “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.”
The Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa expressed its condolences in a tweet noting the decades-long collaboration between Mendelson, Schulz and animator Bill Melendez on the Peanuts specials.
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
Over his career, Mendelson won a total of 12 Emmys, six from producing the Peanuts specials. His company also brought comic strip characters Cathy and Garfield the Cat to television with their own specials and series.
Mendelson is survived by his wife, Ploenta, children Glenn, Lynda, Jason and Sean; stepson Ken, and eight grandchildren.