Aaugh! 10 Facts About It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Lee Mendelson hadn’t planned on a career in animation. But when television sponsors saw the filmmaker’s documentary about cartoonist Charles Schulz, they asked if the two could team up to produce a Christmas special based on Schulz’s Peanuts strip. The result, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was seen by roughly half of all households watching television during its premiere on CBS on December 9, 1965.

Mendelson went on to produce other Peanuts primetime specials, but 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown remains one of the most endearing. As you prepare annual sympathy for poor ol' Chuck (“I got a rock”), check out some facts about naked composers, vomiting voice actors, and CBS’s bizarre ultimatum.

1. The future of animated Peanuts specials depended on It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.


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Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez had very high aspirations for A Charlie Brown Christmas. When they screened it prior to its premiere, however, they felt it didn’t live up to its potential—and CBS agreed. The network said it was the last Peanuts special they would buy. But after it delivered huge ratings, CBS executives changed their minds and asked for more. When the two delivered another hit—the baseball-themed Charlie Brown All-Stars—they thought they had earned the network’s confidence.

Instead, CBS told them they needed a special that could run every year, like A Charlie Brown Christmas. If Mendelson couldn’t provide it, they told him they might not pick up an option for a fourth show. Despite Schulz and his collaborators being annoyed by the network's abrasive attitude, they hammered out a story with a seasonal clothesline that could be rerun in perpetuity.

2. The voice of Violet puked after every recording session.

It’s standard practice these days to use adult actors to mimic juvenile cartoon characters: adults are (presumably) better able to take direction and deliver a performance in line with the director’s wishes. But for many Peanuts specials, children were used to voice Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and the rest. Anne Altieri, who portrayed both Violet and Frieda, was so nervous to be part of the show that she threw up every time she was done with a recording session.

3. It was the first time Lucy snatched the football from Charlie Brown.

In animated form, anyway. When Schulz, Mendelson, and Melendez were brainstorming scene ideas for the special, talk turned to the fact that Lucy’s habit of pulling the football away from Charlie Brown had never been seen in animation. They also decided it would be a good time to introduce Snoopy’s World War I Flying Ace. The joke had appeared in the strip, but Mendelson thought it would work even better in motion. He was right: the sequence with Snoopy in a doghouse dogfight is one of the most memorable in the Peanuts animated canon.

4. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is secretly about Santa.

The Great Pumpkin saga was adapted from Schulz’s newspaper strip, where he had conceived it as a metaphor for some of the hope (and disappointment) associated with Saint Nick. Schulz disliked the idea kids heard of a jolly fat man who delivered presents all over the world when he knew many families could only afford one or two gifts for the holidays. “The Great Pumpkin is really kind of a satire on Santa Claus,” he told Mendelson. “When [he] doesn’t come, Linus is crushed.”

5. The music composer was found naked by cops.


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The jazzy scores of the early Peanuts specials were the work of composer Vince Guaraldi. When he was busy putting together “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” for the show, he decided to break for a shower. When he came out, he thought he heard noises outside and went to investigate, naked, and locked himself out in the process. Keyless, Guaraldi tried climbing a ladder to a second-floor window when cops spotted him. “Don’t shoot,” he said. “I’m the Great Pumpkin.” Police, who were many months away from getting the joke, let him back inside.

6. A loose tooth almost ruined It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Kathy Steinberg was only 4 years old when she portrayed Sally for the first time in A Charlie Brown Christmas: her big break came when Mendelson, her neighbor, started work on the specials. While Steinberg had some limitations—like being too young to know how to read a script—things were going well until producers realized she was on the verge of losing a tooth. Fearing a lisp would ruin the voiceover work, they rushed to get her lines done. The day after finishing, the tooth fell out.

7. Kids sent Charlie Brown candy for years.

One of the most poignant moments of any Peanuts cartoon comes when downtrodden Charlie Brown opens his Halloween goodie sack and discovers he’s been given rocks instead of candy. According to Schulz, this so angered viewers that for years his California office was inundated with sacks of treats addressed to the character.

8. The original airings of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown were slightly different.

Production costs for the early Charlie Brown specials were subsidized by television sponsors Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison snack cakes: the brands appear at the beginning and end of the broadcast. The Coke “bug” appeared for several years before getting phased out.

9. CBS got a little salty about losing the rights to the special.

After spending decades at CBS, the rights to three holiday Peanuts installments went up for grabs in 2000. Though CBS could make the first offer, it was ABC who made the winning bid. Privately, CBS executives were not at all pleased about the business decision to take the football away. “It's a shame that a few more dollars meant more to them than years of tradition and loyalty," one network employee anonymously told Variety.

10. Some scholars thought the Great Pumpkin was real.


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A real myth, at any rate. Talking to the Schenectady Gazette in 1968, Schulz said that since the special began airing two years earlier, he had received a number of letters from academics wondering where the Great Pumpkin story had originated. “A number of professional scholars have written me about the origination of the legend,” he said. “They insist it must be based on something.” Schulz suggested they broach the topic with Linus instead.

This article originally ran in 2015.

The Ark From Raiders of the Lost Ark Just Showed Up on Antiques Roadshow

John Rhys-Davies and Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
John Rhys-Davies and Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
Lucasfilm, Ltd.

For any memorabilia collector looking to mimic Indiana Jones’ search for the Ark of the Covenant in 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, they’re largely out of luck. The screen-used ark in the movie, which was said to contain the Ten Commandments and was pursued by both Indy and Nazis in the film, is safe and sound in storage at Skywalker Ranch.

But someone has a prototype, and it just showed up on the PBS series Antiques Roadshow.

A segment filmed at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California, saw a man arrive with what he claims is an early version of the ark prop that was brought home by his father, a pyrotechnician who worked at Industrial Light and Magic, the George Lucas company that did the effects for Raiders of the Lost Ark. The prop, which was made primarily of glued-together picture frames, was used to house the family blankets rather than any religious iconography.

Appraiser James Supp believes the prototype could sell for anywhere between $80,000 to $120,000, though he didn’t rule out a sale price of $250,000 at auction.

Indiana Jones collectors have previously spared little expense in chasing memorabilia from the franchise. One of the many fedoras worn by Harrison Ford sold for $425,000 in 2018. A whip used by Ford in the first three films sold for $35,000 in 1999.

Ford, 77, is still involved in a fifth Indiana Jones film set for release in 2021, though Steven Spielberg is no longer directing it. Ford vs. Ferrari director James Mangold is reportedly in discussions to take his place.

[h/t MovieWeb]

Think You’ve Got What It Takes to Be the Next Jeopardy! GOAT? You Can Now Take the Test Whenever You Want

You might want to brush up on colorful terms before taking the Jeopardy! Anytime Test.
You might want to brush up on colorful terms before taking the Jeopardy! Anytime Test.
Jeopardy!, YouTube

Up until now, qualifying to compete on Jeopardy! wasn’t just about acing the entrance exam—it was also about being available to take the test in the first place, since Jeopardy! usually only offers it at specific times once or twice a year. Earlier this month, however, the classic trivia game show released the Jeopardy! Anytime Test, a version you can take whenever it fits your schedule.

The format hasn’t changed at all; you still have 15 seconds to answer each of the 50 questions, and your answers should not be typed in question form. Although you can complete the test at any time, you can’t complete it multiple times in a short period—just like the original test, you’re only allowed to take an Anytime Test once a year. Having said that, if you took the regular test when it was available in January, you are eligible to submit the Anytime Test, too. According to the website, Jeopardy! will use whichever score is higher.

In other words, rather than replacing the regularly scheduled tests, the Jeopardy! creators are giving you one extra chance to qualify per year. This round of the Anytime Test closes in late April 2020, and they’ll presumably release another one sometime soon after that for anyone who didn’t catch the first round.

If you begin the Anytime Test and aren’t able to finish it, your answers won’t be saved, but you will be able to start fresh later with a new set of questions. You should probably try to avoid letting that happen more than once—Jeopardy! warns that participants “are only allowed a limited number of attempts,” yet doesn’t specify what that number is.

For those of you who would like a little practice before you try your hand at the test, you can study nearly 400,000 past Jeopardy! clues in the J! Archive.

For everyone else, register for the Anytime Test here.

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