Cartoon vet created 'Peanuts' TV specials

Emmy-winning animator Bill Melendez, who created Peanuts TV specials such as “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” died Tuesday in Santa Monica. He was 91.

The versatile Melendez, known for his trademark handlebar mustache, also provided the voices for Snoopy and Woodstock.

Melendez began his career in 1938 at Walt Disney Studios, working on “Pinocchio,” “Fantasia,” “Bambi,” “Dumbo” and Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons.

He then moved to Warner Bros., where he worked on Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig cartoons.

In 1948 Melendez left Warner Bros. for UPA, where as a director and producer he worked on hundreds of commercials and theatrical shorts and was part of the team that won an animated short Oscar for “Gerald McBoing Boing.” He created numerous award-winning commercial spots for Playhouse Pictures and John Sutherland Prods.

While at UPA, Melendez worked on commercials for the J. Walter Thompson ad agency, whose client included Ford Motor Co. When the automaker expressed interest in using Peanuts characters to sell its cars on television, Melendez showed his work to Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz.

The partnership led to more than 63 half-hour shows, five one-hour specials, four feature films and more than 372 commercials. The specials included “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and “You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown.”

Melendez also animated “Garfield on the Town,” “Cathy,” “Babar Comes to America” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

The only animator allowed to work with the Peanuts characters, Melendez was nominated for 17 Emmys and won eight. He was Oscar nommed for co-writing the score for “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” with Vince Guaraldi and others and received two Peabody awards.

His company, Bill Melendez Prods., will continue to animate, direct and produce features and commercials under the direction of his son Steven.

Melendez was born Jose Cuautemoc in Sonora, Mexico. His family moved to Arizona in 1928 and then to Los Angeles in the early 1930s. Melendez trained at the Chouinard Art Studio (now CalArts) and was a former faculty member of the Cinema Arts Dept. at USC.

Melendez is survived by his wife of 68 years, Helen; two sons; six grandchildren; and 11 great grandchildren.

Donations may be made to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

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