Saturday, December 28, 2019

Lee Mendelson and Sue Lyon Pass On

Lee Mendelson

Lee Mendelson, best know as the producer of the many Peanuts television specials, died on December 25 2019 at the age of 86. The cause was lung cancer.
Lee Mendelson was born on March 24 1933 in San Francisco, California. He grew up San Mateo. He attended Stanford University. Following graduation he served for three years in the United States Air Force. After his service he worked for his father as a vegetable grower and shipper. In 1961 he went to work KPIX in San Francisco, producing public service announcements for the station. It was a serendipitous discover of footage from the 1915 San Francisco World Fair that led to the production of his first documentary, The Innocent Fair (1962). In 1963 he left KPIX to found his own production company and produced a documentary about baseball player Willie Mays, A Man Named Mays (1963). It was following A Man Named Mays that he approached Charles Schulz, creator of the comic strip Peanuts, about producing a documentary on the cartoonist and the comic strip. Mr. Schulz agreed, leading to the documentary  A Boy Named Charlie Brown. To provide animation for the documentary he recruited animator Bill Melendez, who had animated the Peanuts gang for a series of commercials for Ford Motor Company.

While Lee Mendelson was unable to sell his documentary on Charles Schulz, he was approached by John Allen, an account executive with the McCann Erickson Agency, with a proposal of an animated Peanuts special to be sponsored by McCann Erickson's client Coca-Cola for the Christmas season. This led to the classic television special A Charlie Brown Christmas. A Charlie Brown Christmas proved so successful that it would lead to over thirty more Peanuts television specials, all of them produced by Lee Mendelson.

In addition to the many Peanuts television specials, Lee Mendelson also produced the Peanuts feature films A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), Snoopy Come Home (1972), Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977), and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!) (1980).  He also produced the Saturday morning TV series The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show and the mini-series This is America, Charlie Brown.

Lee Mendelson produced other projects beyond the Penauts specials. He produced the TV specials The Fabulous Shorts (1968), The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant (1968), Children's Letters to God (1969), Babar Comes to America (1971), Travels with Flip (1975),  Here Comes Garfield (1982), Garfield on the Town (1983), Cathy (1987), Cathy's Last Resort (1988), and Cathy's Valentine (1989). He also produced the TV documentaries It Couldn't Be Done (1970), The Unexplained (1970), From Yellowstone to Tomorrow (1972), The Fantastic Funnies (1980), and Movie Blockbusters: The 15 Greatest Hits of All Time (1983). 

There can be no doubt that Lee Mendelson had an enormous impact on American popular culture. With Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez he created some of the most successful television specials of all time. What is more, the Peanuts specials have had a lasting impact, inspiring many young filmmakers, musicians, and other artists. What Mr. Mendelson started as a documentary led to numerous televisions specials whose influence are still being felt to this day.

Sue Lyon

Sue Lyon, best known for playing the title character in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, died on December 26 2019 at the age of 73. No cause of death was given, but reportedly she had been in declining health for some time.
Sue Lyon was born Suellyn Lyon on July 10 1946 in Davenport, Iowa. Her father died before she was a year old. Her mother moved the family to Dallas not long afterwards. Three years later they moved to Los Angeles. When she was 13 she began working a catalogue model. She also appeared in small parts on television. She made her television debut in an episode of The Loretta Young Show in 1959. She also guest starred on an episode of Dennis the Menace in 1960. 

Sue Lyon beat out 800 other actresses to land the role of Lolita (1962). Even with concessions made to the Production Code, Lolita proved to be a controversial film. It also launched Sue Lyon on her career. In the Sixties she appeared in the films The Night of the Iguana (1964), 7 Women (1966), The Flim-Flam Man (1967), Tony Rome (1967), and Four Rode Out (1969). In 1969 she appeared in a television adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace. She also appeared in the TV movie But I Don't Want to Get Married! and guest starred on the TV series The Virginian.

In the Seventies Miss Lyon appeared in the movies Evel Knieval (1971), Una gota de sangre para morir amando (1973), Tarot (1973), Crash! (1976), End of the World (1977), The Astral Factor (1978), Towing (1978), and Alligator (1980). She guest starred on the TV shows Storefront Lawyers; Night Gallery; Love, American Style; Police Story; and Fantasy Island. She also appeared in the TV movies Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1977) and Don't Push, I'll Charge When I'm Ready (1977). 

Chances are very good that Sue Lyon will always be remembered for her star-making turn in Lolita. There is very good reason for that, as she excelled in the role. That having been said, she had other notable roles in her career. She was Charlotte Goodall in Night of the Iguana, Emma Clarke in 7 Women, and Diana Pines in Tony Rome. While she would increasingly find herself cast in secondary roles in the Seventies, her career in the Sixties remains impressive.

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