Photo courtesy Bill Melendez Productions.
Animator, director, producer and union activist Bill Melendez died yesterday (September 2) at the age of ninety-one.
Melendez was born Jose Cuautemoc in Sonora, Mexico. He attended Chouinard in the early 1930s, and then started as an assistant at Disney in 1938, working on Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, Dumbo and various shorts. He was active in the 1941 Disney strike and never returned as an employee. (I once heard him say: "I'm still on strike against the place!"). In the early fifties, he served a term as president of the Screen Cartoonists Guild.
After the war, he went to the Bob Clampett unit at Warner Bros., then UPA where he worked on the Oscar-winning short "Gerald McBoing-Boing," and did various commercials for Playhouse Pictures and John Sutherland Productions. Through his advertising clients he met Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, and proposed a television special based on the strip.
That special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," led to more than sixty-three half-hour shows, five one-hour specials, four features and almost four hundred commercials. To this day Bill Melendez Productions is the only animation studio ever to have produced animation based on "Peanuts". He was nominated for seventeen Emmys and won eight, along with two Peabody Awards, and was Oscar-nominated for co-writing the score for the feature A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Bill Melendez Productions also produced series and specials based on "Garfield", "Cathy", "Babar the Elephant" and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."
I knew Bill Melendez a little; I always found him to be a terrific host and jovial lunch companion. (My wife thought he was a wonderful guy to work for.)
Melendez is survived by his wife of sixty-eight years Helen, two sons, six grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren. His son, Stephen, will continue to operate Bill Melendez Productions.
Services will be private; donations are welcomed to Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Cards can be sent to the studio and will be forwarded to the family:
Bill Melendez Productions
13400 Riverside Drive, Suite 201
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423