Monday, June 30, 2014

Big Bill Finger weekend: play and dedications

On 6/28/14, I had the honor of seeing the premiere of Fathers of the Dark Knight, which is, I believe, the first play ever about Bill Finger (and the other guy).


Writer/direction Roberto Williams threw the passion of many men into the production, and it showed.

Adding to the special nature of the proceedings: Bill’s granddaughter Athena and great-grandson Ben were in attendance (along with Athena’s mom/Fred’s ex-wife Bonnie). Roberto invited Athena to say a few words before curtain:




What’s more, the venue would have been no stranger to Bill. The play was staged at his alma mater, DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. 


The seats in the auditorium look old enough to date back to the early 1930s. Maybe Bill had once sat in the same seat I did.

The last time I had been at DWC was in 2006; I’d gone there to soak up the atmosphere but mainly to try to find his yearbook photo—this before I knew that, in high school, his name was Milton Finger. (So I didn’t find the photo…on that expedition. But later I did.)

Congrats to Roberto, the spot-on cast, and the hard-working crew on an unprecedented show. When Bill (played by Ezekiel Jackson) says “You don’t call me Bill the Boy Wonder for nothing!” I was, I admit, a few degrees hotter than proud.



The cast with Athena.

 The cast doing the now-ubiquitous “Oscar selfie.” 

 Finger family portrait (Ben, Athena, Ezekiel). 

 Bill and me.

The next day, Athena, Ben, professor/Bill advocate Travis Langley, and I had Brooklyn brunch with Charles Sinclair and his wife Gayle.



After, Charles gave Athena one of only three possessions of Bill’s that he had: a sculpture Bill made of his first wife Portia in an art class in the early 1950s. 


The other two items Charles inherited from Bill: a paperweight (which he gave to me in 2006) and a desk (the one slightly visible behind them in the photo above and more visible here).

Put another way: seven years after I found both Charles and Bill
’s second wife Lyn and six years after I found Athenathe Dynamic Trio to whom I dedicated Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batmanthe three finally met...in twos. 

By chance, the week before the play, I saw Lyn for the first time in six years. The day before the play, Athena met Lyn. The day after the play, Athena met Charles. Lyn and Charles have met but have not seen each other in around 50 years. Given that Lyn and Charles are both over 90 and live in the New York area while Athena lives in Florida, the prospect of getting all three in the same room is slim.

Oh, zooming in on the banner outside DeWitt Clinton:



Change the world indeed.

Visiting Bill Finger’s second wife (age 91)

On 6/18/14, I visited Lyn Simmons, Bill Finger’s second wife, for the first time since 2008.

In 2008, she was herself visiting. She lived in California and was in Connecticut to see her son Steve and her grandchildren. (Ironically, it turned out that Steve and I lived in the same town.)

She has since relocated to the East Coast.

I was happy to spot Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman on her shelf. Can you?


Second chance:


And I was similarly happy to add the world’s second Bill Finger book to her collection, courtesy of its kind author, David Hernando.

Lyn is one of the last surviving people who knew Bill well. For me, part of her legacy is that of a fighter. She remains vitally important—and her mind remains vital, too. But because she is not comfortable sitting up for long, the visit had to be short. I am just glad I had chance to see her at all.

Lyn and me in 2008: 

 

Lyn and me in 2014:

Sunday, June 29, 2014

“Peanuts” interview: Christopher deFaria (Peppermint Patty in Thanksgiving)

Introduction to the Peanuts interview series (including the list of interviewees).


 

How old were you when you portrayed Peppermint Patty in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving?

When was that?

1973.

I was 13. But it was recorded when I was 11.

Where were you living at the time?

San Mateo, on the way to moving to San Francisco.

Were you a Peanuts fan? Had you seen any of the previous animated
Peanuts specials? 

I’d been in a couple of them before. I started as Pig-Pen [in A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)]. I had one line, I think. I think when Lee Mendelson starting making these, he used kids of friends. It was a small family of voices who were working there. None of the big stars ever did other roles.

Did you read
Peanuts?

Sure, who didn’t then? There was a [1978 TV series] called the Fabulous Funnies [which presented animated versions of popular comic strips]. The funnies were so relevant back then.

How were you hired? 

I was friends with the Mendelson family. I have two sisters and my dad had worked with Lee—not in animation, other stuff. One of my other sisters, Gabrielle [credited as Gail], was Peppermint Patty first. I took over and did it for six shows, including the movie [Snoopy, Come Home]. I think my sister went to record one of the shows—the one before, You’re in Love, Charlie Brown, I think—and her voice had changed. I was on a playground and we got a phone call for me to go over to see if this would work.

What other shows had you appeared in? 

I had been an extra in TV shows produced in Northern California. Nothing really big. Small business up there at the time.

Any funny stories from the experience? 

I kept it a secret the entire time. I had a nickname at the time, Kip. Everyone knew me as Kip, so I wanted them to credit me as Chris so people wouldn’t know I was playing a girl. Lee did direct line readings [with the young voice actors]. We’d get through the material that way. Most memorable was the first time we heard the Vince Guaraldi music. Even at that age I knew it was something special.

Was anything hard about the process? 

No. It was so novel. All my dad kept saying is “This is going to pay for college, kid.”

I assume it didn’t?

It did for a fair amount!

Did you record in the same room at the same time as the other actors? 

The only time they did that was for photo shoots. I think there was a famous one for TV Guide. Everyone was really young so the prospect of being in same room with everyone else would be embarrassing. We didn’t really get to know each other. Charlie Brown and Linus were the stars, of course.

You were the star of the Thanksgiving show.

I rocked the Thanksgiving show. (laughs) You’re in Love was the most embarrassing one. [In that one,] Peppermint Patty has a crush on Charlie Brown.

Peppermint Patty vs. Pig-Pen [AKA PP vs. PP]: did you like playing one character more than the other?

I liked Pig-Pen much better. Peppermint Patty had more personality and more lines and they were fun, but Pig-Pen was every little boy’s dream.

What did you think of the finished show? 

I loved it. What I loved most about it is Snoopy. His cooking montage. Isn’t it great to see the patient pacing?

What did your parents think? 

My family was around the business so it seemed kind of natural. My dad was in advertising and they would do advertisements by grabbing the people they knew.

What did your friends think? Or were you able to really keep the secret from them?

Everyone figured it out and they still bug me about it today.

Did any kids give you any [good] grief for voicing a girl?

I had deep fear and embarrassment that I was playing a girl. Never got beat up for it, though.

What did you say when first heard you’d be playing a girl?

I didn’t have a say. I wasn’t an artiste. (laughs) You know how it is when you’re a kid—you just do what is asked of you. Maybe it’s not that way anymore!

Which
Peanuts special you worked on is your favorite, and why?

It’s a Long Summer, Charlie Brown. I got to go rafting and play baseball, which I was good at (in real life). I think I had more scenes with Snoopy. At that age, it’s hard to feel part of [shows like that]. When they’re done, you’re outside of it. You wouldn’t see a rough cut. You’d go record one afternoon and then maybe a year later you’d watch it on TV with everyone else.

Did you stay in touch with anyone else from the cast? 

I did run into some of them at Comic-Con [2008]. In some cases, it was the first time we met other.

Have you had any fun
Peanuts moments since (a reaction when someone you meet discovers you had a role in it, Halloween costume, etc.)? 

When you get older you can trot that cart out when you need it for credibility. It’s not beyond me to gain some credibility in [a business meeting] by letting that slip. There’s no person who wouldn’t smile.

What are you doing these days?

I’m an executive and producer at Warner Bros. I also oversee animation at WB. I did The LEGO Movie—different from the [2015]
Peanuts movie. I’m disappointed that there’s nothing I can do on it—it’s at another studio.

[he asked me what I thought of the trailer]

What has been your career highlight so far? 

I’ve had a very fortunate career. It’s hard [not to name] the most recent thing that worked, Gravity and The LEGO Movie. In some respects those were the culmination of years of work. Gravity marks [a new] intersection of storytelling and technology. LEGO seems like an extension of what I did as a kid with
Peanuts.


Where do you live? 

L.A. area.

If you’re married, what was your future wife’s reaction when she learned you were part of this cultural institution? 

She’s the least impressed of anyone I know. (laughs)
Peanuts wasn’t a great pickup line in bars.

How many kids do you have? What do they think of your
Peanuts connection? 

Three: ages 10, 16, 18. With my oldest son, I waited to see if he would discover
Peanuts on his own. I had collection of softcover books and anthologies from my childhood. He would rummage through my stuff and he found them and read them. When he got toward the end, I told him [my connection]—but he didn’t understand it because he didn’t know there were TV shows. At that time, you couldn’t get the shows on DVD, so we waited till Halloween. He was not impressed. He would say what all kids say—do the voice.” But I never did a voice, I just talked.

What did you think when you first heard from me? 

I thought it was going to be related to the [upcoming] feature film.

Did you ever meet Charles Schulz?

Oh yeah. At his ice rink several times and later in life. He had a workshop and studio up there. He was very casual. He would take most of his meetings sitting down on picnic tables near the ice. He wouldn’t give guidance [to me as a voice actor]—he thought movies and TV shows were someone else’s domain.

Has anyone else ever interviewed about this?

At Comic-Con [2008].

Do you still have any ongoing connection (professionally or personally) to
Peanuts

That’s an interesting question. Only to my children. And I always look at the strip reprints in the morning.

Have you considered putting your 10-year-old daughter in the running to voice Peppermint Patty in the upcoming movie?

(laughs) No. That’s a funny idea.

How do you look back on the experience? 

It was one of those things that I knew I was fortunate to be part of when it was happening. I knew it was neat—even though I was a girl. To be a part of something that is that high quality, that feels like it could be a classic—it’s extraordinary the value that carries.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

“Peanuts” interview: Hilary Momberger (Sally in Thanksgiving)

Introduction to the Peanuts interview series (including the list of interviewees).




How old were you when you portrayed Sally in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving?

I was nearly 10 years old at the time—it was recorded in late 1972 and it aired in 1973.




Where were you living at the time?

I was living in Southern California in the San Fernando Valley in a town called Tarzana.

Were you a Peanuts fan?

After I saw the first show…who wouldn’t become a fan? Just watching the show made you feel like part of the gang. It was about being a kid and life from a smaller person point of view—I identified.

Had you seen any of the previous animated
Peanuts specials?

Yes, the Christmas special. I remember clearly how excited my brothers and sisters and I were when it aired…not so much for the [particular] show as much as being able to watch cartoons at night.

How were you hired?

I was a hired in the Lee Mendelson studio on Sunset Boulevard. I was nearly 6 years old and it was my very first audition. It was so exciting. My mother tried her best to prep me for the audition. I couldn’t read well yet, so on our way to Hollywood my mother and I rehearsed the answers she thought I may be asked over and over. She’d snap her fingers in frustration, making sure I focused, insisting I look her in the eye and speak clearly. As she stressed the importance of being perfect, my mind wandered in a daydream about my pony Chocolate and I riding into Mulholland or we could stop at Carl’s Jr. on Ventura Boulevard on the way home.

We were greeted by a young woman at the front desk. My mother was told that I would be meeting them on my own. I was clenching with excitement the receptionist’s hand as she led me down the black foam padded hallway; I repeated in my mind each answer I had memorized in the car. She opened the last door at the end of the hall and ushered me inside. Sitting in a swizzle chair with a friendly smile was Bill Melendez.

It was nothing as I imagined—there were no lines to say or any of the questions my mother prepped me for. I didn’t have to act or be anyone but Hilary. He asked me questions about being in school, what classes I like best, [about] recess, about my sisters and brothers, what kind of candy I liked best. He was funny and animated. When we were finished he gave me a soda and said “It was a pleasure to meet you.” I thought “That was fun.” A few days later my mom got the call that I was going to be the next Sally.

What other shows had you appeared in?

The first
Peanuts show I worked on was It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown, which was recorded in 1968 and aired 1969. In 1971, we did Play It Again, Charlie Brown; in 1972, Snoopy, Come Home (which was so much fun) and You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown. In 1973 came There’s No Time for Love, Charlie Brown and finally, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

Any funny stories from the experience?

I would have to say the first time that I met Bill Melendez—I loved seeing him. He was quirky, fun, and light-hearted, with a slight Latin accent. He had the greatest Salvador Dali mustache that he’d allow me to twist when we recorded. In my eyes, he was a cartoon character. He made the experience feel more like play than work…and he gave me as much candy as I wanted. It was a win-win situation.

Was anything hard about the process?

There was actually nothing difficult or taxing about the process. I always looked forward to going and seeing everyone at the studio. It was a very relaxed, playful environment and remains one of the most memorable jobs of my life…so far.

Did you record in the same room at the same time as the other actors?

Unfortunately we didn’t. The only time I recall working as a team was once when we all sang together. Normally we were worked with individually. I think that keeping us separate assured our characters’ individuality, and it was a smart decision on the part of Bill Melendez and Charles Schulz.

If you got to meet Charles Schulz, how was that?

I did and I will never forget it. I was so young that I didn’t know I was supposed to be impressed; I was just happy to meet a new friend to giggle with. Now my mother on the other hand was really excited.

He was a very gentle, soft-spoken, and kind man who could instantly make anyone feel at home. He would ask me lots questions about what I liked to do, my relationship with my siblings, and what games I liked to play. He asked questions in a way that compelled you to open up and tell him more. It was magnificent and a bit indulgent. He had a way of making me feel at ease and a knack for getting me to focus…which was a bit impossible at my age.

I didn’t have to perform, I didn’t have to dance, or sing, or memorize anything like I had expected. I just had to be a kid. So I giggled and laughed a lot. He didn’t require me to be Sally, he to simply required me to be Hilary.

What did you think of the finished show?

It was kind of odd to hear myself as Sally. I was secretly excited and thrilled, but I come from a really large family that liked to tease, and me being a public cartoon character was excellent sibling torture material. In retrospect I can laugh at the banter and appreciate it as an element that cemented our still very-close relationship. Kids at school referred to me as Sally Brown and teased me a lot, too, which toughened me up for my teenage years. I learned to laugh at myself and became really good at dodging verbal bullets.

What did your parents think?

My father didn’t care either way; he was just proud I was just his little girl. My mother on the other hand, she was over the moon—she was more proud of getting me there than I was of being there.

What did your friends think?

The greatest thing about real friends is that they care more about who you are than about what you’ve done. They saw and heard me on television and thought it was cool, but thankfully it wasn’t the reason they loved me.

What were you paid?

I’m sure I was, yet I don’t have a clue how much. Unfortunately I was one of those kids who never saw the money. What I do have are the amazing memories and a gratitude for being a part of a slice of history. That’s priceless.

Which
Peanuts special you worked on is your favorite, and why?

My favorite was Snoopy, Come Home, not only because it was fun to work on but because it was so big—not TV big but motion picture big. There was a real premiere at a real movie theater in Hollywood with a real red carpet and I got to dress up! To this day, out of all the premieres I’ve attended, nothing will ever hold a candle to that event. It was the most memorable and the most surreal.

Did you or your family stay in touch with anyone else from the cast?

We never met as children. Kinda crazy. Occasionally, as I was entering or leaving the studio, I’d see children file in and out; [we would glance] with wonder at one another but never connect. Fortunately, I met a few of the cast members at Comic-Con a few years back [2008] which was a privilege and a thrill. It was like a family reunion of long-lost siblings. We all swapped fond memories and joked about our shared experiences. It was such a warm feeling to finally connect with them in person.

Have you had any fun
Peanuts moments since (a reaction when someone you meet discovers you had a role in it, Halloween costume, etc.)?

As a kid, I really didn’t want to be treated differently. I was pretty shy about being the voice of Sally. Even though most kids in school knew that I was, I didn’t talk about it because I wanted to be like for being Hilary.

I work in the entertainment industry and have for nearly my whole life, and it’s common for people we work with to look each other up on IMDb, so at some point conversation inevitably segues to me having played Sally. They normally ask me to repeat my favorite line from a
Peanuts show. After I say “You blockhead, Charlie Brown,” the [response] is normally the same thing: “Is that the same voice you used?” I’m pretty proud and I embrace how fortunate I’ve been. It’s like people find out I was Sally and our relationship shift from stranger to being a childhood friend.

Did you do any non-
Peanuts voice work/acting after this?

I worked nonstop until I was about 12. I did nearly 40 commercials on camera, modeled for a few clothing catalogs, voiced a character in White Christmas for Hanna-Barbera, and was lucky to be the voices for a few Mattel dolls: Tiny Tears, Hi-Dotti, and Baby Beans. I was even Buddy Greco’s favorite Valentine for two seasons in a row. I had a great run.

I’ve recently re-entered the industry as an on-camera commercial actress and am pursuing voiceover work too. I’ve tried to keep the same attitude I had when I was a kid: enjoy meeting new people and have fun, which seems to be working.




Tell me more about what you are doing these days.

When I was a young adult I shied away from the industry. I wanted to cultivate the fond memories and separate myself from the painful ones. I went to nursing school, worked as an LVN and a drug rehab counselor, then realized that the arts was when my heart lay.

So I got a degree in graphic art and worked as an artist in a company that made movie advertisements. Long story short, I gravitated back into the industry, took a class for script supervising, and it’s history from there. I have been a script supervisor for feature films, television, and commercials for the last 24 years. I’ve had the good fortune to work on projects like The West Wing, Being John Malkovich, and Fast & Furious 7. It’s been a lot of fun! I love that being behind and in front of the camera are both home to me.

I also write as a hobby and as a very personal form of expression. I’ve recently completed my manuscript
Peanuts to Percocets: Story of a Hollywood Childhood. I’m hoping that the next chapter of my life can be to be an inspiration to young girls and women.

What has been your career highlight so far?

I’ve had an amazing career. Exciting, successful, joyful, sad, painful, interesting, and most certainly colorful. Being given the opportunity of being a world-known cartoon character on
Peanuts…honestly that pretty much tops it. ;)

It definitely opened up eyes to a world in which I can do anything that I make my mind up to do by just being myself. It allowed me to grow up in a culture permeated by imagination, guiding me to see that every day is an opportunity to live any way I want. I learned early that work can be fun even though it is work. And today I bring that same attitude into every job regardless of what it looks like or where it appears to be going. I believe anything is possible and if I think it will change, it usually does.

Where do you live?

I live in Los Angeles. I moved out of state a couple times in my 20s, but I couldn’t stay away! I love California.

If you’re married, what was your future husband’s reaction when he learned you were part of this cultural institution?

I am not married at the moment, but when my boyfriends find out that I was Sally Brown they usually comment that they can “see the resemblance.” If I get sassy or out of line, I blame it on Sally…great “get out of jail” card.

Kids? If so, what do they think of your
Peanuts connection?

I haven’t had any children. My nieces and nephew love it and brag up a storm. They’re proud of their Aunt Hilary. :D

You have one of the most curious last names of anyone I’ve interviewed. What’s the origin of it?

It’s German. A last name that warrants teasing. I’m open to changing it. ;)

What did you think when you first heard from me?

I recently decided to circulate my memoir again in the hopes of getting it published, and a couple days later, your email arrived. I call that not just flattering, but serendipity.

Has anyone else ever interviewed about this? If so, when and for what publication?

I’ve been interviewed for small papers and radio shows yet this interview is stellar. Thank you, Marc.

My pleasure! Do you still have any ongoing connection (professionally or personally) to
Peanuts?

I don’t, but occasionally people will ask for an autograph and I joyfully sign away.

Have you appeared at any fan conventions to sign autographs? If not, would you?

I attended the San Diego Comic-Con few years back with a few other characters [
Peanuts voice actors]. It was so exciting and fun. We answered questions at a panel and signed autographs. I was pleasantly surprised what an impact the Peanuts comics and movies had on people, and still have today. It’s pretty wonderful to be a slice of history.

How do you look back on the experience?

I feel pretty lucky and grateful to be a part of such American history.

Anything you’d like to add?

I hope to publish my memoir
Peanuts to Percocets. It’s a about being a Sally, being a childhood star, and about my journey of reinventing and moving forward, finding happiness regardless of what you do or where you’re from. I had it, lost it, and my character is still standing. I hope to inspire and add to the world in a fiction to a nonfiction way. [In other words], throughout the book, I have a number of Charlie Brown quotes that coincidentally describe feelings and thoughts through my life: “[from] fiction (cartoon) to non-fiction (life).”

Next: Christopher deFaria—Peppermint Patty (Thanksgiving).

Friday, June 27, 2014

“Peanuts” interview: Stephen Shea (Linus in Thanksgiving)

Introduction to the Peanuts interview series (including the list of interviewees).



How old were you when you portrayed Linus in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving?

Think we made it in 1972 so I was 10.


circa 1966

circa 1970

Where were you living at the time?

In the San Fernando Valley in Sherman Oaks. We’d moved from Hollywood.

Were you a Peanuts fan? Had you seen any of the previous animated
Peanuts specials?

Yeah, because my brother Chris was the original Linus. When he started in ‘65, we didn’t have a TV so we would go to our grandmother’s house to watch. I looked forward to it as I guess most people our age did! It was kind of an event.

Did you read the comic strips?

I did but my brothers were more the readers, more sophisticated. But we’d get
Peanuts books, compendiums. I even still have some of those old ones.

When did Chris pass away?

In August it’s four years—2010.

We’ll go back to Chris. How were you hired?

The original voices were cast so well—Charlie Brown’s and Linus’s voices were perfect. Because my brother had done it and because we similar tonal quality, that’s how. I won’t call it nepotism—I’ll call it lineage. (laughs)

What other shows had you appeared in?

Both my older brothers had done a lot of stuff. I was more nervous going into the interviews. I was shyer than they were. I went on interviews, including Disney, but didn’t get a lot of stuff. I did get what I think was the first Welch’s grape jelly commercial ever. It ran for a long, long time—years. I’d done an Adam-12. The nervousness would prevent me from getting parts. With child actors, they’d look at your fingernails. If you bit them, they’d look down on that.

Any funny stories from the recording experience?

There was a particular special and Linus had to scream loudly. I just wasn’t getting it right. The director, Bill Melendez, would say “Do it like this” and it still wouldn’t work. He eventually did a fake choke on me to get me to do it, and I finally did. But it took 25 takes. And then once home, I kept doing the scream, practicing, and did it sufficiently well that my whole family came running to my room to see what was wrong.

Was anything else hard about the recording process?

No. They were super nice and very good with kids. The only hard thing was feeling I let them down at times. But it was fun.

Did you record in the same room at the same time as the other actors?

No. There are some pictures in books where they’re standing around microphones but generally we’d sit in a recording studio and Bill Melendez would feed us the lines how he wanted. We’d echo it. His studio was in an area called Larchmont, south of Hollywood, and years after as a teenager I would go visit him there.

If you got to meet Charles Schulz, how was that?

I did and he actually directed me in Snoopy, Come Home—he fed me my lines like what Bill Melendez did. As a kid, you didn’t have a sense of it being iconic or important to other people, and certainly not something that would still be important all these years later. I don’t go around telling people “I was the voice of Linus” but occasionally my wife will mention it in the context of something.

Do you remember anything about his character?

He was gentle, soft-spoken, supportive, interested—especially in those days when the adult attitude was often “You’re just a kid.”

What did you think of the finished show?

(laughs) We all had to individually sing “Over the River and Through the Woods,” which I had learned in school. We had to do it a cappella. I could pick out my voice and said “oof.” But the sentiment of the show was good and I liked it.

What did your parents think?

My mom and dad had been split up for some time. My mom was always very proud of her kids doing this. She complimented us and considered it a good story in a good medium with values that she shared. My dad didn’t talk about it that much—I don’t remember him talking specifically about it.

What did your friends think?

A lot of them didn’t know—they never said anything. I went to a small private school—50 people in any given class. You knew people up or down two or three grades.

Given that your brothers had voiced
Peanuts, and given that the school was small, how is that other kids didn’t know?

They didn’t read credits. My brother was four years older. And it was a school with quite a few children of celebrities and even some child actors as well [so maybe it would not stand out].

What were you paid?

Very little by today’s standards. I think I’ve seen social security stuff come through—maybe in 1972 I made $12,000.

Not bad for age 10 and for 1972!

Yeah, but I remember talking to a lifeguard who made $1,000 a month! But being in
Peanuts specials have made money years later, like greeting cards that I get royalties for. When they sell the specials to HBO or something like that, we’ll get a small check. If a $350 check comes in, that’s okay.

A Canadian company has licensed the specials for apps. They gave us the option of using our original voice and paying some small amount or you can say no and they’ll find someone else. And they’ve additionally asked me to narrate two of them—one was the Thanksgiving one!

How do companies like that find you?

They called Mendelson Productions and they know where I am. They found me through the Screen Actors Guild, which still had my mom’s address.

Which
Peanuts special you worked on is your favorite, and why?

I thought I did five but a filmography says I did six. Elected, Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentine’s, It’s a Mystery, and the movie Snoopy, Come Home. But there’s another one online and I don’t remember doing that one. My favorite is probably Thanksgiving. It’s a major holiday.

And you had that moving speech.

I had the speech, which was good.

Did you stay in touch with anyone else from the cast?

I didn’t. I have reconnected a little bit with Peter Robbins, who got into a bit of a mess a couple of years back. Do you know?

I do and I haven’t reached out because of that.

I think it’s passed. He and my brother would talk occasionally before my brother passed away.

Have you had any fun
Peanuts moments since (a reaction when someone you meet discovers you had a role in it, Halloween costume, etc.)?

(laughs) Nothing like that. But it shocks people all the time. My wife Sheila grew up in upstate New York with three channels and the specials were kind of a to-do. She tells more people than I do.

How did you and your wife meet and how did she find out about this?

We lived in the same duplex in Malibu. She with her husband and daughter upstairs and me downstairs; I helped manage the building. At some point along the way she found out about
Peanuts and thought it was pretty cool. In the ensuing years she and her husband split up and I split up with my girlfriend. We were both going to have a BBQ at the same time and we combined them. My dad kind of played Cupid. This was in 1999.

Did you do any non-
Peanuts voice work/acting after this?

No.

I do have an interesting
Peanuts story but it doesn’t involve me. My brother was born in 1958 and he did the Christmas special. Around 1969, he went to a camp called Gold Arrow or something like that. There, he ended up meeting another camper who was about three years older, Danny Sugarman. Turns out Danny was the president of the Doors Fan Club.

He was ahead of his time, in not good ways, and had a fair amount of personal interaction with Jim Morrison. He told Jim of this kid he had met who was the voice of Linus. Jim thought that was really cool—Linus was his favorite character and he said he wanted to meet this guy. Danny called my brother, and through my dad they actually met and went to a Doors concert in Long Beach. My dad got a photography pass and shot all these photos. I have all these unseen photographs. All the people in that bizarre “Jim Morrison meets Linus” have since passed away. I love this connection between
Peanuts and the Doors. I haven’t told that story on record before.

What are you doing these days?

I am a landscape contractor and general contractor, a graduate of UC Berkeley with a degree in Latin American history. After getting out of school, I realized I didn’t want to work inside. I slowly built a business. I design and build landscapes—stone, koi ponds, waterfalls, bridges, park-like areas.

A few years ago, around 2004, I’d advertised in the phone book and HGTV asked me to do two shows. One was called Landscaper’s Challenge.



Why did they pick you out of the phone book?

Where I am, it’s rarer and rarer to find a landscaper like myself who will do the work himself. Also, I speak English and fewer people in the business do, so it allows me to develop a pretty good rapport. They found me in the phone book but they picked me because I was able to convey this.

What has been your career highlight so far?

That’s a great question. I haven’t had my best landscape yet because it’ll probably never happen! But I have lots of jobs where I was happy with how an area was transformed. I’ve always been drawn to the physical aspect of the earth. There are pictures of me at age three covered in mud.

Where do you live?

Thousand Oaks, CA. If you live here, it’s all L.A.

Kids? If so, what do they think of your
Peanuts connection?

My daughter Sage is 22 and is going to be and is very driven to be a schoolteacher. My son Jack is 12. My daughter Shelby is 10 and we home-schooled up till this year. I don’t think Sage really expressed much about it. For my kids, it’s what they know so it’s not overwhelmingly special...but it’s still pretty neat.

My daughter Shelby did some recordings in case the person who voiced Marcie in Thanksgiving (Jim Ahrens, who declined to participate in this series) did not allow use of her voice in the app for the $500 or whatever it was they offered. Shelby knocked it out of the park, so much so that the director thought I’d been working with her on it. She has the same tonal quality as Uncle Chris. But in the end, the Marcie actor did agree so Shelby didn’t get to do it.

What did you think when you first heard from me?

Just figured there was someone out there who wanted a take on an iconic, cultural series. I may be hard to get ahold of at times but am always interested because I feel fortunate to have been involved in it.

How often have you been interviewed about this?

Probably four or five times in the past five years, when someone’s doing a book. Also when Charles Schulz passed away [in 2000].

Do you have any
Peanuts memorabilia?

When I went to Bill Melendez’s office once, he gave me some cels from the Christmas show—Linus and Charlie Brown walking toward the Christmas tree lot—and one from a movie when Snoopy has a mask on.



Have you appeared at any fan conventions to sign autographs? If not, would you?

I’ve never been. My brother Eric was in a lot of things—Batman, Brady Bunch. He was in the original Poseidon Adventure—the kid who led people through the ship. When he grew up, he would not sign autographs, but not because he was being a snob…rather because anyone who was famous as a kid could run the risk of becoming pitiful doing that. I think he didn’t want to gravy-train off something he did so long ago. For a while he wouldn’t do conventions, but he’s since done some.

How do you look back on the experience?

Great. I stand on the shoulder of the original voices. I don’t think anyone had the sound my brother Chris did, especially in the Christmas show. That show [with its religious aspect] wouldn’t be made today, probably. It’s great to have been part of something in American culture that is known as something good.

Tell me about your brother Chris.

I know he felt great fortune to have been doing that, in particular the Christmas show, and in particular the Christmas story [Linus tells]. Charles Schulz was told he couldn’t quote the Bible in a cartoon special and he said “If not us, who?” As my brother grew older and became a husband and a father, I think the religious context of it became even more important to him. Everyone knows Linus’s speech and that meant a lot to him. I hope I’ve done right by him in expressing this.

Anything you’d like to add?

Simple, heartfelt, not corny stories sell. It’s not flashy but people still want to watch them. They’re still relevant if shown to kids who are not already jaded. It is a type of story that has staying power.


Next: Hilary Momberger—Sally (Thanksgiving).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

“Peanuts” interview: Robin Kohn Glazer (Lucy in Thanksgiving)

Introduction to the Peanuts interview series (including the list of interviewees).



How old were you when you portrayed Lucy in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving?

I started with Snoopy, Come Home when I was nine and continued in three other shows until I was 12.



Where were you living at the time?

I was living in Marin County, CA, just north of San Francisco, where the shows were recorded.

Were you a Peanuts fan?

Yes, I loved
Peanuts!  I had a Peanuts pillowcase and loved watching the shows and reading the comics with my dad.

How were you hired? 

I was taking acting classes starting at age four with Magic Circle in Ross, CA, and performed in many children’s plays. When I was eight, and my sister was six, my father, Mortimer Kohn, who worked as an advertising art director in San Francisco and was working with children in commercials, suggested that we get signed up with Ann Brebner Casting Agency in San Francisco.

Not long after that, the producers of the shows were auditioning through Brebner’s for
Peanuts roles for the upcoming feature-length movie Snoopy, Come Home. I was called in to audition for three roles: Lucy, Sally, and Lila (Snoopy’s former owner), and I got the part of Lucy. I heard they called in about 200 kids to audition for the various roles. They told me I got the part because I sounded the most like the original Lucy (I was the third Lucy) and because I looked like Lucy.

What other shows had you appeared in? 

Snoopy, Come Home was my first role. After that I was Lucy in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown, and There’s No Time for Love, Charlie Brown. I also recorded some commercials as Lucy for Weber’s Bread.

Any funny stories from the experience? 

Typically, Bill Melendez, the director, would be in the booth with me and would read my cue line so I could respond. One time, when I wasn’t getting [it] quite right, he said my line and told me to repeat it exactly as he did. He had a slight Spanish accent and I was repeating him literally! Lee Mendelson, the producer, came into the small booth with us and the two of them had a big argument in front of me about how I was supposed to say the line. Ultimately, I did not say it with a Spanish accent.

Was anything hard about the process? 

The process of recording was easy and fun, and I would say that they really made an effort to make us comfortable, not recording more than one or two hours at a time.

Did you record in the same room at the same time as the other actors? 

No, we took turns recording and they spliced it all together. This resulted in the slightly choppy conversational sound of the shows. The only real problem was when they had us all individually sing “Over the River and Through the Woods” for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and then overlaid the voices. The resulting song was a bit more off-key than I think your average children would sing if they sang together.

If you got to meet Charles Schulz, how was that? 

Yes, I had my 10-year-old birthday party at his ice skating rink in Santa Rosa, CA. He came to visit and say hi to my friends and me in the birthday party room when we were having cake. I met him again at a Peanuts reception at the Los Angeles MOMA in 1990, but he was inundated by people, so it wasn’t a really personal connection.

What did you think of the finished show? 

I loved it!

What did your parents think? 

They loved it, too!

What did your friends think? 

They really loved it and still do! I had somewhat of a celebrity status at my small elementary school; I got to miss a few days of school here and there to record. I had mixed feelings about this because sometimes I didn’t want to stand out too much. One summer [at camp], when the kids found out I was Lucy, they all wanted to be my pen pal, and I didn’t feel like they really liked me, just the fact that I was Lucy. When I was in college and law school, my friends would gather in the student lounge to watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with me, and I enjoyed that.

What were you paid? 

I’m not sure exactly, probably about $750 for a recording session. I have received residuals over the years for reruns of the shows, and for a while I got some residuals for the commercials.

Did you or your family stay in touch with anyone else from the cast? 

My sister Melanie played Lucy after I did; she was two years younger and our voices were similar. I went to high school with Todd Barbee, who played Charlie Brown when I was Lucy. We’ve seen each other a few times over the years and in 2008 did an interview together with Beth Ashley for the Marin Independent Journal.



Have you had any fun Peanuts moments since (a reaction when someone you meet discovers you had a role in it, Halloween costume, etc.)? 

The most fun I’ve had is when I’ve played the party game Three Truths and a Lie. No one can believe that I was actually Lucy! It has definitely been a wonderful conversation piece over the years.

Did you do any non-
Peanuts voice work/acting after this? 

I continued with acting classes and plays through high school and was also an extra in The Godfather. In 2008, after many years as a lawyer, a mom, and a real estate broker, I was desiring to return to acting. I was offered some royalties by Hallmark to use my original recording of the Lucy-pulling-the-football-away-from-Charlie-Brown scene in an audio card.

I decided to spend these royalties on voiceover classes at Voicetrax in Sausalito and restarted my voiceover career.

I am now represented by Stars Agency in San Francisco and have done a bit of work since then, including five audio books, several commercials, and a museum audio tour. I also work part time as a “standardized patient” with UCSF Medical School, playing a patient for students to practice their people skills.

In addition, I have my own residential real estate brokerage in Marin County and am busy being a mom to a 17-year-old daughter. I also enjoy yoga and dance and have recently gotten into taking improv classes.



What has been your career highlight so far? 

Wow, that’s a tough one. I guess in terms of recognition and longevity, it would probably be the opening scene of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, with the football. Everyone has seen that!

Where do you live? 

In Mill Valley, Marin County, CA.

What was your future husband’s reaction when he learned you were part of this cultural institution? 

He was pretty excited about it. It was something extra I had going for me when he introduced me to his parents!

What does your daughter think of your
Peanuts connection? 

I also have a half-sister who is 22 who I am also close to. She and my daughter both absolutely loved it, and we loved watching the shows together. My half-sister accompanied me to Comic-Con in 2008 when I was on a Peanuts panel and had a wonderful time.



How was your experience at Comic-Con? What was it like to see the other cast members after a long time—in fact, had you ever seen them before? What was it like to meet your fans for (presumably) the first time?

It was really fun. We did an interview on a local TV station, some other interviews individually for the Snoopy’s Reunion video, an autograph signing session, and a panel discussion. We also had a reception where they filmed us talking to each other about the
Peanuts experience. Warner Bros. sponsored the event for the re-release of the videos as digital DVDs.

They put us up at the Hard Rock hotel and we all drove together by limo to the TV station so we had a chance to schmooze and talk about how the experience had influenced our lives and what we are up to now. The autograph signing was enjoyable; it felt a little bit strange to suddenly be a celebrity again after all these years, but once I realized how much joy the shows had brought so many people, it really felt like an honor to be up there signing autographs for a couple of hours.

What did you think when you first heard from me? 

I occasionally get strange fan mail so I was a little skeptical, especially since most of the publicity has come through Lee Mendelson productions. But you seemed legitimate, and since I am continuing to promote my voiceover career, I wanted to pursue this interview.

Do you still have any ongoing connection (professionally or personally) to
Peanuts

Yes, I still get residuals and use the work on my acting resume. It is always a great piece of personal trivia for any conversation.

How do you look back on the experience? 

It was a wonderful experience that I’m glad I’ve had in my life. I never dreamed
Peanuts would [still] be so big 40 years later! It also gave me a perspective that not everyone gains—and from an early age—about celebrities. I never really put people on a pedestal, but rather just admired their skills and talents.

Next: Stephen Shea—Linus (Thanksgiving).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

“Peanuts” interview: Todd Barbee (Charlie Brown in Thanksgiving)

Introduction to the Peanuts interview series (including the list of interviewees).


 
How old were you when you portrayed Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving?

I had just turned 10 years old.



Where were you living at the time?

Mill Valley and Sausalito, California—when those towns were just being discovered by the Summer of Love generation as the groovy place to migrate to from the city.

Were you a Peanuts fan?


Sure. Who wasn’t at that time at that age? Or any age, for that matter. In fact, I had auditioned for another
Peanuts special a couple of years earlier, but didn’t get the part, and had already been in You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown. That was a funny little special that aired during the famous election campaign cycle pitting Richard Nixon against George McGovern. I remember my dad had a campaign pin pinned to the visor in his VW camper bus that said “Lick Dick in ‘72.” That gives you an idea of my parents’ political and social leanings at the time.

How were you hired?

My father, Chuck Barbee, was Lee Mendelson’s director of photography. So Lee had mentioned to Dad that they were having auditions for
Peanuts character voices for upcoming specials. At the time, Lee and Dad were traveling all over the world shooting specials for network television.

What other shows had you appeared in?

I’m credited with playing the voice of Russell, a one-off character running against Lucy for class president, I think, in You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown (1972), Franklin in There’s No Time for Love, Charlie Brown (1973), Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973), Charlie Brown and Schroeder in It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (1974), and Charlie Brown in It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown (1974).

Any funny stories from the experience?

So many, both in the recording studio and in my personal life. One that I remember very clearly is working with Bill Melendez in the recording studio when we were voicing for the Thanksgiving special. Bill would always work with us kids in the sound room that had just a podium, a stool, a script, and a big boom mic. Bill would kind of walk us through each scene with his thick Spanish accent and then would leave the room and watch us through the glass with Lee and the sound engineers.

One time they wanted me to voice that “AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG” when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away. Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate [it as] long [as] they were looking for…so after something like 25 takes, we moved on. I was sweating the whole time. I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take.

Was anything hard about the process?

The above story was something that really stuck with me. In my personal life, I grew very tired of having adults and other kids in my school constantly ask me about being Charlie Brown. I learned some powerful, early lessons about the stranger side of people and fame at an early age.

Did you record in the same room at the same time as the other actors?

No, we all recorded separately. We also read the scripts blind—we didn’t study the scripts prior to going in to Coast Recording Studio in San Francisco.

If you got to meet Charles Schulz, how was that?

Since my father was working so much with Lee and Sparky, on network specials and other projects, I had the opportunity to meet him on many occasions. I remember him as a very kind and gentle man.

What did you think of the finished show?

Well, it was a very big deal! TV Guide had a corner on the market at that time, and seeing my name printed in
TV Guide made everyone around me go bananas—teachers, press, kids, adults…everybody…just thought I was some big movie star or something. But I remember feeling like it was not nearly as big a thing as everyone was making it out to be. I got to the point where I just wanted to be a normal kid without all the constant attention.

What did your parents think?

Dad and Mom were very much part of that Summer of Love counterculture generation. I was being raised as a long-haired hippie boy. They were proud of me, but they never really made a big deal out of it. They were more focused on their own counterculture activities. And Dad was working nonstop with Lee.

My grandmother, on the other hand—and just about every other adult in my life—made me out to be a superstar! In the final scene in the Thanksgiving special, all the
Peanuts gang is singing “Over the Woods and Through the Hill to Grandmother’s House We Go” and the very last line—and it really is funny—is Charlie Brown saying, “But wait, my grandmother lives in a condominium.” That slayed my Grandma and she had every TV Guide clipping and anything else she could get her hands on plastered all over the place.

One time she made me get up in front of her Christian Mega Church up in Santa Rosa (at what is now the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts) and speak to the congregation of like 1,000 people! To her, me being Charlie Brown was as big as it gets.

What did your friends think?

Big deal. I was like a movie star at school for a few years.

What were you paid?

They worked out a deal to pay us pretty well up front, in 1972 dollars, but it was a payout number and we had to give up any residuals or royalties forever after. I’ve always felt that wasn’t the fairest way to handle that. But at the time it was a significant amount of money.

Which
Peanuts special you worked on is your favorite, and why?

Well, the Thanksgiving show is really one of the three big classics that everyone remembers, along with Christmas and the Great Pumpkin. I’m happy to have played Charlie Brown in such an iconic classic.

Did you or your family stay in touch with anyone else from the cast?

Robin Kohn, who played Lucy in the Thanksgiving show. We actually went to high school together. We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.

Have you had any fun
Peanuts moments since (a reaction when someone you meet discovers you had a role in it, Halloween costume, etc.)?

It’s never-ending. Since the show plays every year, the recognition continues to this day. When people first find out they are amazed!

Did you do any non-
Peanuts voice work/acting after this?

During that time, I had an agent named Ann Brebner. She is now 90 years old and still very active in the business, I believe. I did a dog food commercial voicing Charlie Brown talking to Snoopy, for Alpo or something, and had a potentially interesting career ahead of me. I had a good kid look and there were multiple opportunities on the horizon.

But not long after I voiced the last show I went to my parents and told them that I really wasn’t interested in pursuing that direction in my life. All the constant attention had made me feel uncomfortable, and mostly I wanted to ride my skateboard with my best friend Troy and build forts and get dirty. So I kind of bowed out of the business at about age 12.

What are you doing these days?

I’m a freelance creative director with a number of interesting clients in the Bay Area. I shoot video, write scripts, am involved in planning and development, and am raising my 8-year-old daughter Madeleine with her stepmom.



What has been your career highlight so far?

In terms of work, perhaps being a part of the team that helped design the staging and concept development for the Rolling Stones Bridges to Babylon World Tour…although, and I mean this very sincerely, raising my beautiful daughter is by far the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

Where do you live?

We live in a beautiful little home in San Anslemo, California with spectacular views of Mount Tamalpais in central Marin. It’s kind of a sacred mountain to me as I spent my youth playing on it, so I feel very fortunate to live here.

If you’re married, what was your future wife’s reaction when she learned you were part of this cultural institution?

Divorced and now with my partner Jennifer for the past seven years. Both my former wife and Jennifer, like everyone, thinks that part of my life is very cool.

What does Madeleine think of your
Peanuts connection?

She loves to tell her school and classmates that Dad is Charlie Brown. Every Thanksgiving, her friends and their parents turn on the show and then it’s chattered about for days at school.

What did you think when you first heard from me?

Cool, man!

Has anyone else ever interviewed about this? If so, when and for what publication?

There have been many interviews over the years. San Francisco Chronicle, Marin Independent Journal, etc. I also have a nice video interview in the special features of the special Warner Bros. (I think?) three-DVD set (Christmas, Halloween, and Thanksgiving specials) released several years ago. I gave that interview up at the
Peanuts museum in Santa Rosa. Jean Schulz still runs that place.

2008

Do you still have any ongoing connection (professionally or personally) to Peanuts?

Well, like I said, since Dad and Lee worked together for so many years, they have a cool relationship to this day. I know the Mendelson family and recently went to Lee’s 80th birthday party at the Tonga Room at the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel. That was a great event and there was a big turnout of people involved with Lee over the years, including Jean. We really had a great time and Lee and Jean are very warm and fun to be around.

Have you appeared at any fan conventions to sign autographs? If not, would you?

I missed the big Comic-Con thing a few years back, which I was invited to attend. I helped open up Snoopyland at Knott’s Berry Farm about 20 years ago. Other than that, not so much. Sure, I’d consider going to a fan convention if it didn’t interfere with my work.

How do you look back on the experience?

A very cool part of my life. It’s nice to be 51 years old and still remembered for this iconic part of American history.


Next: Robin Kohn Glazer—Lucy (Thanksgiving).
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