Bill Melendez, considered a pioneer in animation and best known for bringing the “Peanuts” characters to life, died early Tuesday morning September 2nd at St. John’s hospital in Santa Monica. Doctors say Melendez died “peacefully.” He was 91 years old preparing to celebrate his 92nd birthday in November.
With his trade mark handle bar mustache, Melendez was a phenomenal talent whose unique style and distinct sense of humor inspired a generation.
Melendez began his career at Walt Disney Studios. As a talented young animator he worked on Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, Dumbo and classic “Mickey Mouse” and “Donald Duck” cartoons.
Years later, Melendez expanded his resume when he moved to Warner Bros. to animate other famous cartoons such as “Bugs Bunny,” “Daffy Duck” and “Porky Pig.”
In 1948 Melendez left Warner Bros. and over the next decade and a half he served as a director and producer on more than 1,000 commercials and films for United Productions of America (UPA), Playhouse Pictures and John Sutherland Productions. It was at UPA that Melendez started doing work for New York-based J. Walter Thompson ad agency, whose clients included Ford Motor Co. The car maker expressed interest in using “Peanuts” characters to sell its cars on television. In 1959 Melendez prepared his animation work and showed it to “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz.
A partnership and friendship followed and as a result, Melendez gave the “Peanuts” kids life in more than 63 half-hour specials, five one-hour specials, four feature films and more than 372 commercials. Favorites include “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” “She’s a Good Skate Charlie Brown,” and “You’re a Good Sport Charlie Brown.” In addition to creating the cartoons, Melendez also provided the voices for Snoopy and Woodstock.
Over the years, Melendez also animated “Garfield on the Town,” “Cathy,” “Babar Comes to America,” and “the Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe,” among others.
Melendez, who was the only animator allowed to work with the “Peanuts” characters, won numerous awards and accolades including: 17 Emmy Award nominations and eight Emmy® Award wins, one Oscar® Award nomination, two Peabody Awards, one Clio, three National Cartoonist Society Awards, and more than 150 Advertising Awards.
Under the leadership of his son and other trusted executives, Bill Melendez Productions, Inc., its sister studio Melendez Films in London and Sopwith Productions (Melendezs art distribution unit) will continue to animate, direct and produce features and commercials.
Born Jose Cuautemoc in 1916 in Sonora, Mexico, his family moved to Arizona in 1928 and then to Los Angeles in the early 1930s. Melendez trained at the Chouinard Art Studio (now CalArts) and is a former faculty member of the Cinema Arts Department at USC.
Melendez is survived by his wife of 68 years Helen, two sons Steven Melendez and (Ret.) Navy Rear Admiral Rodrigo Melendez, six grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. A memorial service will take place for family only.
Donations can be made in Bill Melendezs name to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.