Bill Melendez

This one deserves a special posting.

Bill Melendez has passed away! Such a kind and gentle soul. So full of life and laughter, and such a true talent!

We all expected it, I guess. Last year when I shot his interview at his house it was a struggle for him. I have so many wonderful, cherished memories of that man. And to think, it all started in a little library in the town of Uxbridge outside London. I was 19 and researching a new list of production companies to solicit my proposals for animated TV specials. Bill Melendez Productions came up on a listing in a guide book. Having been a fan of the “peanuts” animated films all my life, entranced by the holiday specials, I knew the name immediately. I marched straight over the studio and discovered Bill’s son, Steve, ran the London office. We connected instantly, and our partnership and Steve’s mentorship was instant. It forever affected the course of my life, and career. The Melendez family taught me a lot.

Steve taught me the business of show business, served as a role model and showed by example how to be a good producer. From Bill I learned not to sweat the small stuff. By his bright eyes and contented manner I learned that a smile was the best approach, and that the nice guy CAN succeed, even in Hollywood.

Maybe it was because  I was introduced to him as a friend of his son that Bill treated me so generously when we first met in Los Angeles years ago. But somehow I doubt it. Bill, it seemed, was gracious to everyone.  A gentleman of the first order. He refused to let you pay for anything, gave of himself freely. He kept a childlike enthusiasm that was contagious!

In his office one day,  he was suddenly struck with bright eyed excitement. “Oh! Look at this!” he said to me, tickled with a smile. He crossed the room and picked up a wood display case.

“I went back to my home town (Hermosillo, Mexico) a while ago and the mayor presented me with this gift.”

Inside the box, surrounded by velvet, was a gold medallion. It was inscribed in Spanish which Bill translated for me. He admired it with the eyes and bright smile of a child at Christmas. And then, of course, he followed that with, “let’s go get some lunch!” Mealtimes were an important event. I learned it well from Steve. The best business is done over a glass of wine or a plate of something scrumptious.

As I listened to the NPR feature remembering Bill’s life, an epiphany struck. They described his partnership with Schulz and Peanuts as “finding his calling in 1965”. It hit me: He was 49 years old in 1965! 

True, he had been working very successfully in animation as a youngster in 1938, but it occurred to me that at age 49 life for Bill took an extraordinary turn that lead him on a tremendous adventures topping everything he’d accomplished up to that point. In retrospect it seemed those 40 years leading up to 1965 merely prepared him for what I see as being the most significant contribution of his life: his work with Charles Schulz. Gives hope  that careers can continue to blossom after 40 years.

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