Bill Melendez was born November 15, 1916 in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico as Jose Cuauthemoc Melendez. After attending Los Angeles City College and Chouinard Art Institute, Melendez was hired by Walt Disney in 1938. While with Disney he worked as an animator on such classics as Dumbo, Fantasia, Pinocchio, Bambi, The Wind in the Willows, and many Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons.
Melendez joined Leon Schlesinger/Warner Brothers in 1941 where he animated Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig. After a brief stint in 1948 with United Productions of America, where he worked on such noted shorts as Madeline and Gerald McBoing-Boing, Melendez joined Playhouse Productions. For the next decade he directed and animated thousands of industrial and commercial productions, winning international acclaim at Cannes, Edinburgh and Venice Film Festivals, plus over 150 commercial awards. Between 1957 and 1961 he won three Art Director’s Medals. And, in 1961, 18 of 20 winners at the American TV Commercials Festival were awarded to Bill Melendez.
It was while working on the animation of the very first Charlie Brown commercial for Ford Motor Co. that Melendez met Charles M. Schulz. In 1964 Melendez produced the first Schulz television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas that won both an Emmy and the George Peabody Award as Outstanding Children and Young People’s program. Melendez has been the exclusive animator of Schulz characters ever since, a relationship that has continued to receive critical notice as Peanuts became the longest running series of specials in television history.
Melendez Studios continued to win acclaim during the 70′s and 80′s with numerous awards and nominations including an Emmy in 1975 for Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus, plus two Emmy’s for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Bill Melendez Productions was the first to animate Jim Davis’ Garfield the Cat and Cathy Guisewite’s Cathy…both of which won Emmy’s with their debut programs.
As always, the Peanuts Gang is very visible in commercials and specials, and Melendez remained their sole animator until his death in September of 2008. After the first ever animated mini-series for TV, “This Is America, Charlie Brown”, Melendez Productions worked with the American Cancer Society on “Why, Charlie Brown, Why”, a sensitive, award winning special about a child battling cancer. To read his obituary in the New York Times, click here.