More than 50 years after it first aired, A Charlie Brown Christmas remains one of the most beloved TV specials of the season among people of faith, primarily due to Linus’ bold recitation of the gospel message.
But that famous scene was added to the special over the objections of the producer and the animator, who believed that Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz had crossed a line in wanting Linus to recite the Bible.
The special first aired in 1965.
Producer Lee Mendelson recounted the controversy in author Charles Solomon’s 2012 book, The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation.
“I said, ‘Sparky, this is religion. It just doesn’t go in a cartoon,’” Mendelson said, referencing Schulz’s nickname and the debate over the scene. “He looked at me very coldly and said, ‘Bill, if we don’t do it, who will? We can do it.’ He was right. That’s been the most commented-on little sequences of that show – Linus telling the true meaning of Christmas. But every time I see that scene, I wince. It’s such poor animation, such bad drawing.”
Mendelson later told the Huffington Post, “When [Schulz] said, ‘You know, we’re going to have Linus read from the Bible,’ Bill and I looked at each other and said, ‘Uh oh, that doesn’t sound very good,’ But then Schulz said, ‘Look, if we’re going to do this, we should talk about what Christmas is all about, not just do a cartoon with no particular point of view.’”
Andrew Stanton, who directed Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, called the addition of the scene a bold move. A Charlie Brown Christmas won a Primetime Emmy in 1966 for Outstanding Children's Program.
“They stopped everything: just a single spotlight on a kid standing on stage, saying this long passage,” Stanton told Solomon. “It was very moving because of the stillness, because of everything stopping for the simplicity to it.”
A Charlie Brown Christmas follows Charlie Brown as he fights the holiday’s commercialism and searches for the true meaning of Christmas. In the show’s final moments, Linus takes center stage at a play practice and recites Luke 2:8-14.
“And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” Linus proclaims.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: ©Sony Music Entertainment
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.