HILLSBOROUGH, CA—Lee Mendelson, the TV producer behind “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” died at the age of 86 in his San Francisco Bay Area home on Wednesday, December 25.
Mendelson was born Leland Maurice Mendelson on March 24, 1933 in San Francisco. He graduated from Stanford University in 1954 and served in the Air Force before working at a San Francisco TV station.
He convinced Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz to give the green light to the holiday special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, which has been broadcast every year since 1965. He was able to convince the idea via his love for baseball. In 1963, Mendelson produced a documentary about San Francisco Giants star Willie Mays, titled “A Man Named Mays.”
He pitched an idea to Schulz about creating a story on Charlie Brown as the worst baseball player, since Willie Mays was considered one of the best baseball players. Mays was Schulz’s favorite ballplayer. The result was, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” but it never aired on television.
In addition to “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Mendelson produced live-action documentaries and animated programs featuring cartoon characters from “Garfield,” “Cathy” and “Mother Goose and Grimm.” He won several Emmy Awards, including one in 2016 for “It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown!”
Mendelson suffered from lung cancer and congestive heart failure, which contributed to his death. He is survived by his wife of 16 years, Ploenta Inthapruksa, two children from his first marriage, his sons from his second marriage, a stepson, and eight grandchildren.