Friday, November 13, 2020

A Mini-Lesson on Bill Meléndez



Last month, I shared the new Peanuts playlists that they released in honor of the 70th anniversary of the iconic comic strip. While doing a little research, I was delighted to learn about Bill Meléndez and the amazing impact he had on the animation industry. If you don't know who he is, read on!

Who was Bill Melendez?

Bill Melendez was a Mexican–American animator, voice actor, producer, and director. His real name was José Cuauhtémoc Meléndez and he was born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. His father, who was passionate about Aztec history, named him after the valiant and final Aztec emperor. 

In 1928, José’s family moved to the United States. José loved art and drawing and when he was old enough, he studied art at Chauinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts). 

When he was 22 years old, José sent copies of his drawing to Walt Disney, who turned around and hired him. José began his career as a cartoonist working on big Disney films such as Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi, as well as various Mickey Mouse shorts. But Disney claimed his “ethnic” name was too long for the the credits and had to shorten it. From then on, he was known as “Bill” Melendez.

By 1941, Disney had seen many great successes on screen. Cartoonists, who had been promised pay raises only to have them retracted, became angry, especially after top animator and strike leader Art Babbitt was fired. The next day, they went on strike in the famous 1941 Disney Strike. The U.S. president (FDR) eventually sent a federal mediator to settle things and Disney eventually agreed to the formation of the cartoonists’ union.

But Bill’s relationship with Walt Disney was damaged and not long afterward, he was hired by Warner Brothers Cartoons where he was an animator for the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series. He worked on the characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig, among others.

Bill Melendez & Charles M. Schulz

In 1948, he left to begin producing and directing television commercials (he created thousands of them!) and during this time, he met Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip. The two formed a strong and lasting friendship. Bill was the only person Charles would allow to animate his Peanuts characters for television. In total, he was involved in around 70 TV specials and took the lead after Charles Schulz passed away. Bill was also the voice actor for the Snoopy and Woodstock characters.

Bill founded his own company - Bill Melendez Productions - in 1963. It still exists today and is run by one of his sons, Steven Melendez.

He also animated the 1979 TV special “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” as well as specials for the cartoon strips Garfield and Cathy.

Over his lifetime, Bill received 22 Emmy and 5 Grammy nominations, 8 Emmy Awards, 1 Oscar, and 2 Peabody Awards. 

He died in 2008 at the age of 91.

Video Interview & Photographs

The Television Academy Foundation conducted a four-hour interview with Bill Melendez in 2001. Don't worry! You don't have to watch it all in one sitting! It's been broken up into segments for you to watch on their website. It's excellent. Here's a snippet in which he describes how he came to be the voice actor for Snoopy...


You can also see some great photos on Looney Tunes Wiki.


Printable

In honor of Bill's birthday this Sunday (he would have been 104!), I created this one-page reading passage to share with your students or children. It has most of the information you read above. You can get it for free for a limited time by signing up for my newsletter. If you are already a subscriber, keep an eye out for it in your inbox this coming weekend!

Or you can purchase it directly from my TpT store.

A mini-lesson on Bill Melendez


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