By Stan Ashbee
Christmas is often the holiday associated most with television specials and movies to celebrate the season, but Easter has one of the most beloved holiday TV specials of all time — “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown.” Peppermint Patty, voiced by Linda Ercoli in the Charles M. Schulz classic tale, was one of a few lucky girls and boys to voice the iconic character over the years.
Ercoli’s voice — “in a previous life,” she joked — could also be heard as other “Peanuts” characters during the 1970s in “Snoopy Come Home” and “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown.”
A few of the memorable scenes in the Easter special had Peppermint Patty telling Marcie to prepare the eggs, so the two could colour them. Marcie poaches, waffles, toasts, and fries the eggs instead of boiling them in their shells. Indeed, funny moments in television animated history.
Even though as a kid Ercoli did a few voice-over jobs for some pretty big projects, she ended up becoming a psychologist and works with older adults in the area of geriatrics and neuropsychology with Alzheimer and dementia patients and caregivers in Los Angeles at UCLA.
“It’s not where I intended to go, but I’m as happy as a clam doing it,” she noted.
It was all happenstance and luck, she said, in regards to getting the gigs to voice characters in Charles M. Schulz TV specials and movies.
“Our neighbour had kids in talent agencies and she said to my mom ‘you should try and get your daughter into the talent agency.’ We said whatever, let’s try it. I got accepted into the agency and then you just start auditioning. They had a cast call because they were doing a bunch of new ‘Peanuts’ shows. They had the ones in the early 1960s or mid-1960s. I think in 1971, they were doing a movie. They did a casting call and I guess they liked my voice. I did a movie. After that, I was probably one of the oldest kids at the time, and I was 11 years old. A lot of the kids were younger,” she explained.
As Ercoli’s voice changed, she said, she played different characters. “And then of course I was all washed up at 14 years old,” she joked.
“That’s when my career officially ended with the ‘Peanuts’ people. I tried to do a few things after that. I did a couple of other small things around that time, but I think I was a little camera shy. I just didn’t want it really, quite frankly. Because what happened, when I got older, when you are in that business you’re expected to do plays and study and I just didn’t want to do that. If you’re not going to do that and you’re not going to pursue seriously like that then you eventually just say this isn’t for me,” she said, adding she did pursue songwriting for awhile and had a couple of small contracts in Nashville, but the songs never got published or put on vinyl.
Life just takes you on a ride sometimes, Ercoli said, adding the voice acting experience was a thrill.
“It was a really fun thing for a kid to do. The people were so nice. I worked with Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez,” she said. Mendelson was the TV producer of many of the “Peanuts” specials and Melendez was an animator, film director and producer and voiced Snoopy and Woodstock.
“Those are the main folks I worked with. I met Charles Schulz once,” she said.
One of the big thrills, she said, was when she worked on “Snoopy Come Home.”
“The movie was being recorded in Los Angeles. I had to sing a song in the movie. The song was written by the Sherman Brothers, who were major big time writers for Disney. One of them actually came to our house in San Francisco just to see what tune I sang in,” Ercoli pointed out.
She said the songwriters found out the key of her voice and did what they needed to do to make the song in the right key, but for some reason something wasn’t right.
“Once it was time for me to record the song, after they had laid down the musical tracks, I would sing it and take after take after take I kept ending my vocal part a measure or two before the song ended,” she said.
“The funny thing was, everybody found out her sheet music was wrong and ended one or two measures before the sheet music of the soundtrack musicians had.”
Ercoli’s guess for the longevity of the specials is because people can relate to the characters.
“The whole premise of this kid who really doesn’t fit in, but yet he has friends. I think it’s a good saga of childhood. There’s him, there’s the musical guy, there’s the bossy one, there’s the little sibling and there is a tomboy. I think it just is very neighbourhood-ish,” she noted, and she added the “Peanuts” specials and others like it at the time were very organic.
“And they’re well done and they were relevant and they’re still relevant.”
Ercoli said she feels very fortunate to have been a part of the “Peanuts” gang and they must have liked her scratchy voice. She also believes every kid should have a chance to do something as fun as voice acting as a child.
Another story Ercoli shared was Peppermint Patty was voiced by a boy prior to her.
“He was growing out of the role too. He was about a year older than I was and he was having the voice change. I remember they couldn’t put us in the same show anymore because our voices were so close together. As he was going out, they earmarked me to come in. That’s how part of that happened because Peppermint Patty was the last character I did.”
Ercoli added she never did meet the voice behind Marcie.
“I met the guy who played Charlie Brown once.”
“I don’t think I met any of the other voice actors,” she said.
To prepare for voicing Peppermint Patty, Ercoli said she yelled a bit to husk up her voice.
“I wasn’t breaking a vocal cord or anything. They just wanted my voice to get a little rougher and a little huskier. That part of my warm up was just to yell three or more times and then we proceeded,” she said.