Did you grow up reading “Peanuts” comic strips and watching good ol’ Charlie Brown and Snoopy on television after school? Well, you might not know that the classic “Peanuts” TV specials wouldn’t exist without Mexican immigrant Bill Melendez.

Melendez, who was born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico and moved to Arizona as a child, was an animator, director and producer responsible for bringing the “Peanuts” characters to life on television.

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And while his animation and directing skills gave us 1965 classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and other iconic specials like “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” his work can also be seen in Disney’s “Pinocchio,” “Dumbo,” and more.

As per the New York Times, Melendez was the only animator that “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz allowed to bring his cartoon on screen. While the “Peanuts” comic strip became an American newspaper mainstay in the 1950s, more than a decade later, it was time to take its popularity one step further.

Schulz enlisted Melendez to work on his television specials like 1963’s “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” and the later film, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” While the Mexican animator and director worked until the last years of life on specials like 2006’s “He’s A Bully, Charlie Brown,” the cartoon’s magic was never lost on him.

Melendez recalled to Foundation Interviews the exciting moment he came up with Snoopy flying on a plane. “When Schulz saw that he flipped… He just loved that scene” he explained with a smile. He also remembered the “Peanuts” creator telling him, “Up to now I’ve been limited. I just didn’t know what to do with [Snoopy]. Now I see he can do everything.”

Here’s what to know about iconic animator Bill Melendez’s life — starting with the fact that his real name, José Cuauhtémoc Melendez, paid homage to an Aztec legend.

Melendez was born in Hermosillo, Sonora and immigrated to Arizona as a child

The New York Times published a tribute to Melendez after he died in 2008, detailing the Hollywood icon’s life and career.

As per the obituary, future animator José Cuauhtémoc Melendez was born in 1916 in Hermosillo, Sonora to an army cavalry officer father. His father was a “romantic,” and named him after the last Aztec Emperor, Cuauhtémoc.

Growing up drawing horses and cowboys, Melendez’s family moved to Arizona when he was 12 years old, where he learned English. Moving to Los Angeles some years later, Melendez planned on being an engineer — but amid the Depression, found himself working with lumber.

He described that time to the Archive of American Television, explaining, “My first job, right after school, I just got a job in a lumber yard. And I loved it. Hoisting lumber, oh, it was great.”

However, that stint didn’t last long. Just around a year later, his majestic cartoon skills landed him “a great job at Disney.”

Egged on by friends who told him he was “a very good artist,” Melendez ventured to “a guy out in Hollywood hiring young artists.” That “guy” was none other than Walt Disney, who had recently released 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Melendez eventually went to Disney’s animation studio to “ask for a job, and they gave it to [him].” He recalled not having a portfolio, so Disney executives told him to go home, draw some animations, and return to the studio. Once he did, execs realized Melendez had “no training at all.”

After studying briefly at Chouinard Art Institute, Disney hired Melendez in 1938. There, the Mexican immigrant worked on animating classic films like “Pinocchio,” “Fantasia,” “Dumbo,” and “Bambi.” Yes, all the movies that most probably made up your entire childhood.

According to the New York Times’ report, Melendez initially asked Disney to credit him as “Cuauhtémoc Melendez” for his work. They allegedly said that the name was too wide to fit the screen — and may have insisted on crediting him as “Bill” instead.

Eventually, Melendez left Disney for the Warner Brothers-acquired Leon Schlesinger Productions, animating cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Tweety, Daffy Duck, and more.

By the 1950s, the Mexican animator met “Peanuts” creator Schulz — and the rest was Charlie Brown and Snoopy history.

The animator was the only person Schulz trusted with the “Peanuts” television specials

Melendez and Schulz met sometime in the 1950s while working on a “Peanuts”-themed commercial for Ford.

Outlets describe that meeting as “pivotal.” In fact, it led Schulz to choose Melendez to animate four dozen “Peanuts” television specials, several films, shorts, and commercials.

Melendez, along with his production company Bill Melendez Productions, Inc., worked on a total of 70 classic “Peanuts” on screen animations. This work led him to six Emmy awards, nineteen Emmy nominations, Oscar and Grammy nominations, and even Peabody Awards for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?”

Here is some of Melendez’s animation director work in 1969’s “A Boy Named Charlie Brown”:

The Mexican legend also worked on “Peanuts” specials like 1972’s “You’re (Not) Elected Charlie Brown,” an after-school reruns classic:

Who else remembers “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”? Well, we owe that one to Melendez, too:

Melendez continued to work on the “Peanuts” team for decades, including the There’s No Time For Love, Charlie Brown” television short in the 1970s:

Does your idea of Thanksgiving include having “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” playing in the background while you work on the lechón or pavo? Well, we all have Melendez to thank for that as well:

Melendez covered all the holidays when it came to “Peanuts” specials, also directing “Happy New Year, Charlie Brown” by the mid-1980s:

Are you getting “It Was A Short Summer, Charlie Brown” Sunday morning flashbacks perchance? Yep, Melendez’s work, too:

And yes, of course, the Mexican icon also gave us 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas”— and even Snoopy’s voice

Speaking to Los Angeles Times about bringing the “Peanuts” characters to life on screen, Melendez recalled, “Charlie Brown has a big head, a little body and little feet.”

“Normally, a human takes a step every 16 frames, about two-thirds of a second. But Sparky’s [Schulz’s] characters would look like they were floating at that pace,” he described. “After several experiments, I had them take a step every six frames… It was the only way that worked.”

However, for 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” there were even more issues. Primarily, that the special’s TV network, CBS, thought it would fail. As per American Magazine, even Melendez thought he and his fellow creators had “killed” the special after watching an advanced screening — and no, not in a good way.

After Melendez and the rest of the time worked on “A Charlie Brown Christmas” for six months, the special became a surprising hit. In fact, 45% of TV-owning Americans watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when it aired, and people loved it. This surely confused CBS, which was reportedly worried about the special on account of breaking so many barriers.

As you may remember from the classic Christmas TV movie, it has melancholy jazz everywhere. It has no “fun” laugh tracks and includes religious elements like Linus reading from the Gospel of Luke’s Nativity story. Still, people immediately connected with it.

While “A Charlie Brown Christmas” might have been off-kilter, it worked. The television special ended up winning both a Peabody and Emmy Awards. You can see director Melendez alongside producer Lee Mendelson and “Peanuts” creator Schulz after winning that much-coveted Emmy here:

TikToker Fernanda Cortes described, Melendez “quietly broke barriers in animation for more than half a century.” She added, “his legacy lives on every Christmas.”

One more amazing detail? Melendez actually voiced Snoopy in the Christmas special. He got the genius idea to record a random string of syllables and speed it up — becoming Snoopy’s iconic gibberish:

We can’t wait to tune in this Christmas once again: