Lee Mendelson, guiding light of TV’s ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ Dead at 86


Lee Mendelson pictured in 2015.
(Image Group L.A./Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

Lee Mendelson, c producer who guided “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to television, where it became an instant holiday classic in 1965 and has since delighted tens of millions of viewers, has died. He was 86.

Mendelson died Wednesday at his Bay Area home in Hillsborough, Calif., of lung cancer and congestive heart failure, according to his son Jason Mendelson. The family had gathered at his home to celebrate Christmas.

“It is a terrible feeling … but as he would have put it, it was serendipitous to go on Christmas Day — a day when the song that he wrote was playing every 10 minutes on radio stations,” Jason Mendelson told The Times. Lee Mendelson also wrote the lyrics to the iconic song “Christmastime Is Here,” which became the special’s signature song.

Mendelson, according to his son, often told his family that serendipity nudged him toward “Peanuts.” Without his efforts, Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy and the rest of the “Peanuts” gang might never have endured all these years on the small screen.

The San Francisco native worked at the Bay Area TV station KPIX-TV, then produced film documentaries before persuading a skeptical cartoonist, Charles M. Schulz, to adapt his beloved characters for television.

Before meeting Mendelson, the publicity-shy Schulz had spurned numerous TV offers to capitalize on his newspaper comic strip. Schulz initially gave Mendelson the brushoff too, Mendelson recalled in a 2015 interview with The Times.

Mendelson said he pitched a movie about Schulz’s life and the creation of the “Peanuts” comic strip. At the end of the conversation, Mendelson added that he had made a documentary about Willie Mays, the baseball great whom Schulz loved. That show had become a hit on NBC. There was a pause.

“Well,” said Schulz, who died in 2000 at age 77, “if Willie Mays can trust you with his life, maybe I can trust you with mine.”



  1. Thanks to PSR, Mendelson ,and Schulz. In 1965 I was 12 . The Peanuts cartoon gangs Christmas Special was fun in 65 and has played in our home each and every Christmas. Its right behind Allistair Sims version of The Christmas Carol.
    For the cartoon the music is iconic. Linus reciting the Gospel is the centerpiece of the cartoon. Good for Sxhulz for insisting it be part of the cartoon. Good for all of the advertisers that have attached their product to this cartoon.
    Sadly I doubt that in this day and age Charlie Browns Christmas would be a non starter.
    Merry Christmas


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