Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Bill Melendez, RIP

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

4 comments:

Larry Levine said...

The loss of Bill Melendez hits us on so many levels. Bill was part of animation history: whether it’s Disney, Warner Bros, UPA, the earliest animated television commercials or the Peanuts holiday specials we have all grown up with–Bill was there (both in creating these classic cartoons & fighting for the rights of his fellow animators).

Bill Melendez was the real deal, a true gentleman in every sense of the word. It’s a great loss to the world of animation & especially, for everyone who had the honor of meeting him.

Rest in peace, Bill.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

After the war, he went to the Bob Clampett unit at Warner Bros.

Actually, it was during the war that Melendez went to work for Clampett at WB, not after the war. Melendez went to WB after the Disney strike in 1941. He worked as an assistant to the great Rod Scribner, and I think Melendez's first animated scene shows up in Falling Hare (1943), but I'm not sure. After the war Melendez animated for WB director Art Davis, after Clampett's departure from the studio. After Davis's unit was disbanded, Melendez worked for director Robert McKimson, before departing Warners for UPA.

Steve Hulett said...

Thanks for the correction. Appreciated.

Bill was always a gent. Always.

Kirk Jusko said...

Bill Melendez's genius is he made the style of animation seem like it was Schulz's idea. It never seemed like it was anybody else but Schulz. Unlike, say, the animated version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. You just know that's Chuck Jones sensibility (not that there's anything wrong with Chuck Jones sensibility. Suess can be improved on, but not Schulz)

Kirk Jusko

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