U.S. Postmaster unveils new 'Peanuts' stamps at Schulz Museum

The postmaster general of the United States learned Thursday in Santa Rosa it’s tough to share a stage with Snoopy.

A large crowd at the Charles M. Schulz Museum warmly welcomed Postal Service chief Megan Brennan to the unveiling of new postage stamps adorned with scenes from the “Peanuts’” gang’s first TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

But the audience there in the great hall of the Schulz museum near Coddingtown Mall swooned when a performer in a Snoopy suit strolled onto stage to mug, dance, hug and melt hearts, as the beagle has for 65 years.

Brennan, the nation’s first female postmaster general, seemed not to mind playing second fiddle to quite possibly the world’s most adored canine character. She told guests at the stamp dedication ceremony she’s always loved Snoopy and the other “Peanuts” comics-page characters, and as a kid in 1965 she was in place in her family’s living room for their TV debut.

“Almost half of all televisions in America were tuned to ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ that night,” Brennan said. Since that first holiday-season screening, she said, “I have never missed it, and I also have a Charlie Brown Christmas tree that I put up every year.”

The country’s 74th postmaster general said the characters and stories created by the late Charles Schulz, who drew “Peanuts” in Sonoma County from 1958 until his death in 2000, speak to her mostly of the value of friendship. She vowed that the new “Forever” stamps that bear scenes from Schulz’s first holiday special will be on the envelopes of all of her Christmas cards this year.

“I trust they’ll be on yours as well.”

Following the unveiling of the new stamps, Brennan signed autographs on Postal Service day-of-issuance envelopes with other dignitaries, among them Schulz’s widow, Jean Schulz of Santa Rosa, and Lee Mendelson, producer of that first “Peanuts” TV special and all that followed.

Now 82, Mendelson delighted the crowd with recollections of how he, the doodler destined to become history’s foremost comics cartoonist, Hollywood animator Bill Melendez and pianist/composer Vince Guaraldi came to make the half-hour TV show feted by the new stamps.

Mendelson said that in 1965, people at the McCann Erickson advertising agency, the promoters of Coca-Cola, seized the idea to sponsor an animated TV show by Schulz. By then, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip had been featured in a documentary and in a TIME magazine cover story.

Someone high up at McCann Erickson phoned Mendelson and asked if he and Schulz had thought of producing a TV special.

“I lied,” Mendelson told the stamp dedication crowd, “and I told them, ‘Absolutely! We’re working on it.’?” The people at McCann Erickson responded that they were eager to see the script and visuals.

Then Mendelson phoned Schulz in Sonoma County to tell him the big news about the TV special. “What’s that?” the cartoonist asked.

Mendelson replied, “You’re writing it tomorrow.”

The two of them recruited Melendez to transform Schulz’s still drawings to animation and Guaraldi to create the score. The team had only a few months to complete the TV show in time for Christmas.

They wrapped it up, then watched the finished product. Mendelson admits he and Melendez weren’t much impressed with “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Elaborating following his comments on stage, he said, “Bill and I thought it was not very good, that it was a little slow and it missed the mark.”

The people at the CBS network weren’t too hot on it either, Mendelson said. But when they aired it on Dec. 9, 1965, America had a new Christmas tradition, and the Schulz team had a starting point from which to create many more TV specials.

For the past 15 years, ABC has shown “A Charlie Brown Christmas” during the holidays. It always attracts a large audience.

Jean Schulz told those at the stamp ceremony that 50 years ago, her late husband and his new TV partners “couldn’t have known they were creating a classic.”

The cartoonist’s widow is a philanthropist and investor with Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.

Prior to Thursday’s ceremony, people began lining up outside the Schulz Museum for the day-of-issuance stamp sale that began at 8 a.m. The 10 new “Forever” stamps, sold in booklets of 20, also were available Thursday at post offices across the country.

Thursday’s special occasion in Santa Rosa marked the second time that family, friends and fans of “Sparky” Schulz have gathered in his adopted town to celebrate an honor by the U.S. Postal Service.

In May 2001, a well-attended ceremony at the Schulz family’s ice arena unveiled the country’s first “Peanuts” stamp, a 34-center that featured Snoopy piloting his doghouse as the World War I Flying Ace.

Around the world, Schulz’s beloved characters have enlivened postage stamps issued by Portugal, the Cayman Islands and Japan.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 521-5211 and chris.smith@? On Twitter @CJSPD.

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