Stories From the Making of “It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown”
The television special “It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” has been a special part of celebrating Halloween since it first debuted in 1966. It tells the story of a special belief held by a member of the Peanuts gang named Linus. He waits for The Great Pumpkin to rise out of the pumpkin patch on Halloween night. According to Linus, the Great Pumpkin will only rise out of the pumpkin patch that is considered the most sincere.
When it first aired in 1966, “It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” was an extremely popular television special. The television program has been aired during every Halloween season since then. Many believe this show helped secure the Peanuts gang as a legend in television history.
The first time the Great Pumpkin was mentioned happened in a 1959 Peanuts comic strip. He was described by Linus. During this time, there were also comic strips with Linus suggesting he and his friends join together and walk around singing pumpkin carols. Two of the comic strips in October and November of 1961 referenced the Great Pumpkin being spotted in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Texas. Charles Schultz stated his main motivation for creating the Great Pumpkin was the humor associated with having one of his Peanuts characters get mixed up with seeing similarities between Christmas and Halloween.
After the comic strips featuring the Great Pumpkin were published, Charles Schultz received complaint letters from fans. Some of them complained the Great Pumpkin was sacrilegious as well as ridiculous. They suggested he stop mentioning him in the Peanuts comic strips. Schultz responded that he felt that believing in Santa Claus was sacrilegious as well as ridiculous. This was also one of his inspirations when it came to creating the Great Pumpkin.
After “It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” aired for the first time in 1966, it touched children all over the United States. Linus and Sally not going trick-or-treating with their friends and missing their opportunity to get candy upset many children. The Charlie Brown character only being given rocks when trick-or-treating also made them want to do something about it. A few days after the show was on television, children from around the country started mailing gifts and candy to CBS. They were all addressed to Charlie Brown, Linus, and Sally. The boy who provided the voice of Charlie Brown was 10 years old. When he went trick-or-treating that year, pranksters decided to give him rocks. It appears he also got some candy as well.
Snoopy the Flying Ace
Charles Schultz was inspired by his son Monte to have his Snoopy character be a World War I flying ace. Monte enjoyed building model airplanes. His favorite was World War I aircraft. One day Monte went into his father's studio. He suggested his father make Snoopy be an imaginary fighter pilot in constant pursuit of the feared pilot the Red Baron. Initially, Schultz wasn't really open to the idea. Over time, he tried it and then liked it. Charles Schultz eventually worked Snoopy into being an imaginary World War I flying ace in his Peanuts comic strip. The idea became very popular. In the show “It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown,” Snoopy flies his doghouse against the Red Baron and is shot down behind enemy lines. The flying ace alter ego of Snoopy even became popular with NASA astronauts. The Apollo 10 crew took a painting of Snoopy as the flying ace into space with them. They nicknamed their lunar module for the mission Snoopy. They called their command module Charlie Brown.
Sally and a Loose Tooth
The children hired to provide voices for the characters in “It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown,” did well, but having children do voices came with some special challenges. One of the youngest actresses provided the voice for Sally. During the taping, she almost had to be replaced. When the production was coming near the end, and finishing the recording sessions was about to happen, the girl’s mother contacted the producers. She explained her daughter has a very loose tooth. If she lost it, there could be a gap in her teeth that might result in her daughter speaking with a lisp. It could also cause her to sound different from how she sounded with the dialogue that had already been recorded. A decision was made to bring the girl to the studio immediately and have her finish recording her lines. When this was done, the girl's tooth came out as she was speaking her last line for the production.
The cast for “It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown,” was almost identical to the cast for “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Since the Christmas special was such a success, they wanted to try and keep the cast together as long as possible. The show's producers realized they would have to get new cast members every two years. This is when a child's voice changes as they grow. The actress who did the voice of Lucy in the Christmas special had to be replaced shortly before work on “It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” started. Her voice had simply changed too much.
It Had to be A Blockbuster
The producers of the show were told by network executive that if it wasn't a blockbuster, it was likely no other Peanuts specials would be funded in the future. Luckily, “It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” was just as successful as “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Approximately half of those viewing television on the October night in 1966 when it debuted were watching the Peanuts Halloween special. This level of success resulted in the show's producers being given the green light to do more Peanuts specials.
When the television shows based on the characters from the Peanuts comic strip were created, the goal was to not have any noticeable changes from what was portrayed in the comic strip. In the animated television specials, Snoopy didn't have a voice except for a high-pitched groaning sound. They tried to hire an actor to do the voice, but couldn't find one that seemed to fit. The voice was ultimately provided by one of the show's producers, Bill Melendez. He also was the voice for Snoopy's friend Woodstock in other television specials.
The first broadcast of “It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” occurred on October 27, 1966. CBS then ran the show annually until 2000. ABC picked it up and has run it annually ever since then. It was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1966. On September 2, 2008, the program was released on home video by Warner studios. In 2006, a book was published titled It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic. The book includes the entire script, interviews with the children who provided the voices and more. Most agree “It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” is a Halloween classic that will entertain children for many generations into the future.