Halloween Tricks And Audio Treats
10:21 pm
Thu July 14, 2011

'Great Pumpkin' Marks 40 Years on TV

Forty years ago tonight, the Peanuts gang made Halloween history with the first broadcast of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!.

The animated cartoon, featuring Charlie, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Snoopy and of course the Red Baron, was the third "Peanuts" TV special. And it might have been the last, according to producer Lee Mendelson, who remembers CBS executives pressuring the show's creators.

"They said if we can't get another blockbuster, they kept using that word, if we can't get another biggie, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, that can run every year, not just once or twice, then that'll be it."

After the special aired, sympathetic children around the country reportedly sent candy to Charlie Brown -- he'd only gotten rocks in his trick-or-treat bag.

Charlie's voice was animated by the real-life actor Peter Robbins, who now manages real estate in Van Nuys, Calif., with, yes, a dog named Snoopy. Robbins held the part until his voice broke. Since then, other actors have helped Charlie Brown try to kick footballs, fly kites and ponder the meaning of life.

The classic special airs again tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Forty years ago today, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and friends, went trick-or-treating for the first time.

(Soundbite of music, “Peanuts Theme”)

MONTAGNE: The animated Halloween special It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, premiered on this date in 1966.

(Soundbite of TV show “It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”)

PEANUTS CHARACTERS: Trick or treat.

Mr. PETER ROBBINS (Voice Actor): (As Charlie Brown) I got a popcorn bowl.

Unidentified Man (Voice Actor): (As Peanuts Character) I got a fudge ball.

Ms. SALLY DRYER (Voice Actor): (As Lucy) I got a pack of gum.

Unidentified Man #2 (Voice Actor): I got a rock.

MONTAGNE: The show was based on the popular comic strip Peanuts by Charles Schulz. Executives at CBS threatened to take a carving knife to the Great Pumpkin and all future Charlie Brown specials if the show was not a hit. Here's executive producer Lee Mendelson.

Mr. LEE MENDELSON (Executive Producer, Peanuts TV Special): They said, you know, if we can't get another blockbuster, they kept using that word, if we can't gat another biggie like A Charlie Brown Christmas they can run every year, not just once or twice, then that will probably be it. So we were under a lot of pressure.

MONTAGNE: Lee Mendelson not only delivered, he went on to produce 50 Charlie Brown TV shows, movies and videos.

(Soundbite of TV show “It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”)

Mr. ROBBINS (Actor): (As Charlie Brown) You just want me come running up to kick that ball so you can pull it away and see me land flat on my back and kill myself.

LUCY: This time you can trust me.

(Soundbite of running footsteps)

Mr. ROBBINS (Actor): (As Charlie Brown): Ah!

MONTAGNE: The voice of Charlie Brown came from actor Peter Robbins. He was 10 years old back in 1966. Today, he is 50.

Mr. ROBBINS: I'm living in Van Nuys, California. I manage and own several apartment buildings. I'm single and I have a dog named Snoopy.

MONTAGNE: Young Peter Robbins played Charlie Brown in the first five TV specials, then his voice changed and he retired at the ripe old age of 14.

Mr. ROBBINS: Good grief, Linus, we never seen the score and he runs. It's kind of hard to win a baseball game that way. That's a 50-year-old Charlie Brown right there.

MONTAGNE: To see photos of Peter Robbins, then and now, and to see a replay of Charlie Brown's attempt to kick that football, go to npr.org.

(Soundbite of TV show “It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”)

Unidentified Woman (Voice Actor): If anyone I told that I'd be waiting in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night, I'd have said they were crazy. You blockhead.

(Soundbite of music, “Peanuts Theme”)

MONTAGNE: From NPR News, this is MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.