September 06, 2008

R.I.P. Bill Mekendez

One of the most respected names in animation, Bill Melendez, passed away Tuesday at the age of 91. It was not a surprise to those who knew him — he'd been in poor health for several years now. Here's a brief bio on the legend:


In 1938, Meléndez was hired by Walt Disney to work on animated short films and feature-length films such as Bambi, Fantasia, and Dumbo. While there, he worked to unionize the rank and file animators he was working with. A member of the Screen Cartoonists' Guild, he left as part of the 1941 Disney animators' strike and never returned as an employee.

Warner Brothers

Three years later, he joined Leon Schlesinger's team at the Warner Brothers studios, where, as a member of the Bob Clampett, Art Davis and Robert McKimson units, he animated on a number of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck shorts (as "J.C. Melendez"). UPA put him on their payroll in 1948 to work on many television commercials, as well as the Gerald McBoing-Boing and Madeline shorts.

Bill Meléndez Productions

After a decade at two smaller production houses, Meléndez founded his own production company in 1964. Bill Melendez Productions helped produce the annually broadcast Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas, for which he won an Emmy Award and the George Foster Peabody Award despite having to work on short notice and with a tight budget. Meléndez performed the voice of Snoopy, who normally in the specials does not talk. Melendez was the only animator authorized to work on Charles Schultz's Peanuts characters.

Meléndez went on to do over 75 half-hour Peanuts specials, including the 1989 miniseries This is America, Charlie Brown, as well as four feature-length motion pictures – all with partner Lee Mendelson.

In 1979, he directed a made-for-TV animated version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with Warner Bros. for the Children's Television Workshop.

Amongst the other comic strip characters he animated were Cathy and Garfield, as well as the 1992 special Frosty Returns.

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