Bill Melendez

Bill Melendez

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Bill Melendez (November 15, 1916 – September 2, 2008) was born in Hermosillo, Mexico as Jose Cuauhtemoc. He attended the public schools of Douglas, Arizona and Los Angeles, California (Chouinard Art Institute, now CalArts).  Melendez has worked continuously in film production since he was hired by Walt Disney in 1938. During his tour of duty he worked as an animator on FantasiaPinocchioBambiThe Wind in the WillowsDumbo, and many Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoon shorts. Bill was a prime mover in the Disney strike of 1941.

In 1941 Melendez signed on with Leon Schlesinger Cartoons, which later became Warner Bros. Cartoons, animating some of the most memorable Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig short subjects. In 1948 he went to work for United Productions of America (UPA) to work on such noted shorts  as MadelineGerald McBoing-Boing and numerous television commercials. The next ten years were spent directing industrial films for John Sutherland Productions and over 1,000 television productions for Playhouse Pictures. During this time Melendez won international acclaim at the Cannes, Edinburgh and Venice Film Festivals, plus over 150 commercial awards. Between 1957 and 1961 he won three Art Director’s Medals. Out of 20 winners in the 1960 American TV Commercials Festival in New York, 18 were directed by Bill Melendez.

In other international competition he received an honorable mention in the 1965 Cannes International Advertising Film Festival. Thus began a chain of two dozen major foreign honors from the Edinburgh, London, Annecy, Tours and Venice Festivals, finally bringing home the Venice Cup. This was the first time the United States had ever won the Cup, symbolic of overall excellence, in the festival’s history.

Since founding his own production company, Bill Melendez Productions, Inc., in 1964, Bill’s work has continued to win awards and applause. Alongside his commercial work, in 1964, Bill produced his first television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Despite being forced to bring it in on a short schedule and tight budget, he managed to garner both an Emmy Award (the first of eight) and the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for Outstanding Children/Young People’s program. The show is a classic, having aired on CBS-TV every year since. The stentorian tenor behind Snoopy’s vocalizations, by the way, is the same Bill Melendez drawing Snoopy’s aquiline nose.

In 1967 the Television Academy gave three nominations to Bill Melendez; two for producing the outstanding children’s program for Charlie Brown’s All-Stars and for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Since then he has produced over 75 half-hour Charlie Brown specials, as well as four feature-length motion pictures: A Boy Named Charlie Brown (nominated for an Oscar), Snoopy, Come HomeRace for Your LifeCharlie Brown, and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown. Melendez also has to his credit half-hour specials based on the famous Babar the Elephant books.

In 1970 Melendez opened a studio in London which produces commercials and other projects for international television. The London studio produced the ambitious animated feature film Dick Deadeye, based on the work of Gilbert Sullivan.

In addition to an armload of awards and nominations for his Peanuts work, Bill won an Emmy in 1975 for Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus; and an Emmy (the first awarded in the specific category of Animation) for The LionThe Witch and The Wardrobe, as well as an individual Emmy for authoring that show’s script.

Bill Melendez Productions was the first to animate Jim Davis’ Garfield the Cat, and that first special won an Emmy Award in ’82. In ’87, Bill took on the character Cathy by Cathy Guisewite, and won a Best Animated Special Emmy for that show. Several other Cathy specials have followed, as well as numerous ad campaigns featuring the character. As always, the Peanuts Gang are very visible in commercials and Bill Melendez remains their sole animator, both domestically and internationally. Current campaigns include MetLife, A&W, Chex, Regina, Hallmark, Shell Oil, and numerous European, Asian and Latin American accounts. Notable productions include a special Bill produced in 1990 with the American Cancer Society called Why Charlie Brown, Why? — a sensitive study of what happens when a child gets cancer. In the late 80’s, Melendez produced TV’s first animated mini-series. Designed to teach children about American History, it was titled This is America, Charlie Brown. Recently completed is an updated rendering of Frosty the Snowman, in association with Lorne Michaels and Broadway Video, and starring the voices of Jonathan Winters and John Goodman.

After Bill Melendez died in September 2008, his son, Steven Melendez has taken over directing the studio.

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