Bill Melendez, considered a pioneer in animation and best known for bringing the PEANUTS characters to life, died early Tuesday morning September 2 at St. John's hospital in Santa Monica, California. He was 91.
With his trade mark handle bar mustache, Melendez was a talent whose unique style and distinct sense of humor inspired a generation.
Melendez began his career at Walt Disney Studios. As a 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 cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig.
In 1948 Melendez left Warner Bros. and over the next 15 years 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, garnered 17 Emmy Award nominations and eight Emmy wins, an Oscar 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 (Melendez's 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 Melendez's name to Children's Hospital Los Angeles.