Good grief! Optimistic Linus waits 40 years for the 'Great Pumpkin'

The show's as much of a Halloween tradition as candy corn and soaped windows.
You'd think that selling "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" to CBS back in 1966 would have been as easy as selling ... well, pumpkins on Halloween.
Or Charlie Brown at any time.
Not so, animator Bill Melendez recalls.
"We didn't know whether the network would buy it," Melendez says. "I'd always have to do a sales pitch. And I can really do a pitch. They used to say: 'Come on, Bill, do a dance for The Man."'
And this was after "A Charlie Brown Christmas" had been a huge, Peabody- and Emmy-winning hit in 1965, and after the "Peanuts" comic strip mania was well under way.
Airs Friday
Friday will mark the 40th anniversary of the TV special, which has now become for some as much of a Halloween tradition as candy corn and soaped windows.
It will be shown at 8 p.m. Friday on ABC, in tandem with "You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown," a later "Peanuts" special with a "Great Pumpkin" subplot.
"We translated the Christmas idea to the pumpkin patch," says Melendez, who had little idea he was creating a small but much-loved new piece of Americana with his yarn of the eternally optimistic Linus, who forgoes trick or treating to spend his night in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arise and bring toys to all the good little children of the world.
Never mind that the other kids laugh at him.
Never mind that Linus -- otherwise the egghead of the Peanuts bunch -- would seem to have rather obviously confused Christmas and Halloween.
Symbol of faith
Commentators -- the kind of people who write books like "The Gospel According to Peanuts" -- have seen in Linus a symbol of faith, which endures even in the face of doubts and sneers.
Or, alternately, a symbol of religious delusion -- persisting in spite of the efforts of sensible people to talk the sucker out of it.
"We threw everything (into) it," Melendez says.
And viewers responded.
To this day, every gardener who discovers an oversize gourd in October feels it a civic duty to phone the local newspaper to report that the Great Pumpkin has arrived in his back yard.
40th anniversary
This year, in honor of the 40th anniversary, there has been a cornucopia of Great Pumpkin-related merchandise, including an "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" domino set from Sababa Toys, a 500-piece "Great Pumpkin" jigsaw puzzle from USAopoly and a 40th anniversary coffee table book about the making of "Great Pumpkin" from HarperCollins.
"I didn't know at the time that this was going to be anything vital," says Melendez, 90.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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