Charlie Brown…one of our generation’s most relate-able blockheads. A kid we can all identify with. The kind you’d like to have as next-door neighbor. Or not…
With friends like his, no wonder he has self-esteem issues! “I know nobody likes me,” we hear him lament at the beginning of Charlie Brown’s Christmas. “Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?”
And with that melancholy opening, an astute cartoonist managed to break through network standards and prove “the suits” dead wrong when they declared his comic strip Christmas special a disaster. They decided to pull it at the last minute, and if TV Guide hadn’t already gone to print for the week of December 9th, 1965, the holiday classic might never have aired at all. But, it did — supposedly “once and that will be it,” according to CBS executives — to the delight of the original 15.4 million viewers, And for five decades now, the Peanuts gang still takes top ranking for its time slot year after year.
It turns out that much of the show’s appeal comes from the very elements that were objected to: the jazz soundtrack, stark character designs and backgrounds, choppy script, Charlie Brown’s existential angst – his fear of everything. It’s the kind of story we love, and it seems that Charles Schulz managed to capture more than hearts back in ’65. He also “captured something essential about the schizophrenia of the American self-image: There’s always something else we need to buy, even as we yearn for something that can never be bought.”
A man of conviction, Shulz never wavered during the production process, and fought hard to preserve the simplicity, authenticity, and innocence of the message. He adamantly refused a laugh track and insisted on casting actual children to voice the characters, some so young they couldn’t even read yet. Only 3 had previous acting experience. It was a brilliant move… and to this day, the sound of Linus’ little voice reciting the Christmas story is one of the sweetest sounds of the season.
I could go on and on…and maybe I will next week. But for now, I think I’ll leave you with thoughts of the sweet sounds of children’s voices, and a reminder from a wise man who knew “there’s always a market for innocence in this country,” and nothing captures innocence quite like the voice of a child.
You’re a good man, Charles Schulz…and generations thank you for the gift you continue to give us each year when a group of adorable children remind us of the real meaning of Christmas.