Good grief! It's been almost 50 years since Charlie Brown and his pals first appeared on TV in the animated holiday classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. Five decades later, the "Peanuts" cartoons still reign as some of the most beloved holiday specials of all time. Who can forget Charlie Brown's scrawny Christmas tree, Linus camping out in a pumpkin patch (in 1966's It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown), or Snoopy whipping up a Thanksgiving feast (OK, toast, pretzels, popcorn, and jelly beans) in 1973's A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving?
Thanks to the magic of animation, Charlie Brown and his pals remain ageless. But whatever became of the child voice actors who portrayed those classic characters on the small screen?
In a series of interviews, blogger and pop culture archaeologist Marc Tyler Nobleman got the inside scoop on what some of the former child voice actors have been up to since their "Peanuts" days. Yahoo TV reached out to Nobleman, who conducted the interviews between March and June of this year.
"The search methods varied from person to person," Nobleman told us via email. "Tracy Shaw and Kathy Steinberg (Lucy and Sally from the Christmas special) were the hardest to find. As with every interview I've done, it was a privilege to speak/email with all of them. Everyone is busy and in many cases, there is no benefit to the interviewees to take the time for this; they agree simply as a gesture of goodwill toward fans — fans that some of them don't even believe they have! I frequently find myself assuring my interview subjects that people are still interested, often exuberantly so."
While Peter Robbins, the original voice of Charlie Brown, isn't represented in the interview series (the former child star made headlines for his legal troubles last year), most of the cast members have fond memories of their days working on the "Peanuts" TV shorts. Robbins even once credited his late co-star Christopher Shea, who played Linus in the Christmas and Halloween specials, for his work on the holiday classics, telling the Washington Post's Comic Riffs in 2011, "If not for Chris Shea, those two specials don't work. I give him all the credit in the world. I'm like the pitcher who sets him up for each line." Shea passed away in 2010.
Here are some highlights from Nobleman's new interview series.
Todd Barbee (Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving)
Todd Barbee was already a veteran of the "Peanuts" specials by the time he landed the role of Charlie Brown at age 10. After portraying the one-off character Russell in the 1972 "Peanuts" political special You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown, and Franklin in 1973's There's No Time for Love, Charlie Brown, Barbee went on to voice the title character in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
In his interview, Barbee revealed that his father was Lee Mendelson's director of photography, which paved the way for his "Peanuts" audition. He also recounted a story from one of his recording sessions: "One time they wanted me to voice that 'AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG' when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away," he said. "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."
Watch the football scene:
While Barbee went on to voice Charlie Brown in a dog food commercial and had "multiple opportunities on the horizon," he stepped away from the biz at age 12. Today, he's a freelance creative director in the San Francisco Bay Area and cites working on the concept development for the Rolling Stones's "Bridges to Babylon" world tour as one of his career highlights. But he'll never forget his early days as everybody's favorite blockhead. "It's nice to be 51 years old and still remembered for this iconic part of American history," he said.
Christopher DeFaria (Peppermint Patty in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving)
A one-time Pig Pen (he played the perpetually dirty kid in 1969's A Boy Named Charlie Brown), Christopher DeFaria revealed he was hired for the part of the freckle-faced tomboy after his sister played the character. DeFaria portrayed Peppermint Patty in five "Peanuts" shows and said he kept it a secret at the time.
"I had a nickname at the time, Kip," the 55-year-old former voice actor said. "Everyone knew me as Kip, so I wanted them to credit me as Chris so people wouldn't know I was playing a girl." While he says he "rocked" the Thanksgiving show, DeFaria added that he was most embarrassed by 1976's You're in Love, Charlie Brown because Peppermint Patty had a crush on Charlie Brown.
Check out a clip from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving featuring Peppermint Patty:
DeFaria is still in the business, working as an executive and a producer at Warner Bros. (Gravity, Happy Feet Two), and he was also involved in overseeing the animation in The Lego Movie. While he described his recent work on the big-screen kids' flick as "an extension of what I did as a kid with Peanuts," DeFaria reflected on his extraordinary experience of the past: "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."
Tracy Shaw (Lucy in A Charlie Brown Christmas)
She was 10 years old when she voiced bossy big sis Lucy Van Pelt in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, but before that, Tracy Shaw (then known as Tracy Stratford) starred as the little girl, Christie, in the iconic Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll." (You know, the one with that creepy talking doll, Talky Tina.)
See Shaw on The Twilight Zone:
Terrifying acting roles aside, Shaw told Nobleman she has fond memories of her work on the famous "Peanuts" TV special and says she especially recalls producer Bill Melendez's thick Spanish accent while he was tutoring the cast on how to say certain lines. While she went on to do voice-overs in a few commercials, there were no more "Peanuts" specials for Shaw after the 1965 Christmas classic. "At 12, my voice had gotten 'too old,'" she said.
Lucy questions Snoopy's Santa Claus:
Today, the one-time Lucy lives in Washington state and works as a high school librarian and drama coach. "I find I prefer directing to acting — especially live theatre," she said. As for her "Peanuts" days, Shaw said they are "a part of who I am — but just a part. I don't really remember jumping through hoops in order to be a part of that show — I just remember the doing of it, which was nothing but fun."
Stephen Shea (Linus in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving)
His older brother, Chris, portrayed the original Linus, so Stephen Shea said that while he was honored to be cast in the iconic kids' series, he still thinks nothing compares to the original lineup of actors. "I stand on the shoulder of the original voices," he said. "I don't think anyone had the sound my brother Chris did, especially in the Christmas show."
The younger Shea recounted his own story of getting down a particular Linus scream: "I just wasn't getting it right," he said. "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."
Watch Linus's Thanksgiving prayer scene:
Today, Shea is a landscape contractor who specializes in designing and building parklike landscapes, koi ponds, waterfalls, and bridges. Of his past career as a "Peanuts" character, he says, "It's great to have been part of something in American culture that is known as something good."
Steinberg (Sally in A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown)
Only 4 years old when she first voiced Charlie Brown's little sis, Kathy Steinberg told Nobleman she was hired by producer Lee Mendelson, who was a neighbor and family friend. "I remember not being able to read the script for the Christmas show because I was too young to read and I have heard that they rushed recording because I had a loose tooth," she said.
Remember Sally's "Hockey Stick" debacle?
Today, Steinberg resides in Miami Beach and Paris and owns a business that designs and manufactures interior design accessories for high-end hotels. But she downplays her "Peanuts" past. "It was a positive childhood memory," she said. "I'm glad that I had the experience. It really has not had an impact on me other than that."
Sally Dryer (Violet in A Charlie Brown Christmas, Lucy in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown)
She voiced both Lucy and Violet in the iconic TV specials, so it's no wonder that Sally Dryer revealed she "felt a bit like a celebrity" back in the day. While she didn't exactly get rich from her "Peanuts" work (she was paid scale with no royalties), Dryer did dish: "[What I was paid] was a huge amount of money for doing very little. I kept all the pay stubs until very recently."
The former child star revealed she was "promoted" to Lucy after her work as Violet in the Christmas special because her voice "had a crabbiness to it." After playing Lucy in five TV specials, Dryer said things changed for her in 1969 when her voice changed, and she was out of the voice business by age 12.
Watch a clip of Lucy and Linus in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown:
These days, Dryer owns an art glass and kaleidoscope store in Arizona and does optical sculpture, but she says her past life as a voice actress still comes up on a regular basis: "It's always a highlight of my day when [someone says] they want to meet Lucy."
In addition to his interviews with Shaw, Steinberg, Dryer, Barbee, Shea, and DeFaria, Nobleman chatted with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving voice actors Robin Kohn Glazer (Lucy) and Hilary Momberger (Sally). You can read the interviews in their entirety on Nobleman's website, Noblemania.