I have been a fan of Peanuts for as long as I can remember. I don’t recall an exact moment when I became a fan or when I first encountered Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang, but I do know I was in love with them all already in elementary school. I would get a Peanuts-themed school diary each year, and I even had a couple of Peanuts dolls that came as free gifts with the laundry detergent my mother used to buy. (Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, and a few different Snoopy’s alter egos, if memory serves.)
I went on buying Peanuts-themed school diaries for as long as I was in school, and during my late teens, I began collecting all comic books of the series I could get my hands on. Peanuts was extremely popular even where I lived—Italy—but I never quite managed to find all the books. I’m not even entirely sure they were all translated and published, but I’d say I got most of them. Recently, I got the last three books of The Complete Peanuts in the original language, and now I can safely say I’ve read each and every of the nearly 18,000 Peanuts strips Charles Schulz drew during his life. That’s how I learned some interesting trivia about the series, which I thought to share here, for the benefit of whoever might be interested.
You’ll forgive the lack of pictures in this post, but you need permission to legally publish syndicated comics on your own website. I’m neither going to pay tons of money for it nor risk a cease-and-desist, so I’ll just link to them.
1. Charlie Brown is not bald.
With the exception of a lock of hair on the front and one on the back, Charlie Brown’s hair never really appeared in the strips, but it is there. Schulz himself confirmed this in a 1990 interview with NPR. According to Schulz, Charlie Brown’s hair is very fair and cut very short so that it’s practically invisible. To support this claim, Linus describes Charlie Brown as “sort of blond” in the Sunday table of July 9, 1989. That seems to contradict an earlier Sunday table where Charlie Brown said to Schroeder that “at least I don’t have yellow hair.” (July 17, 1955.)
2. “Charlie Brown” was one of Schulz’s fellow teachers.
The last volume of The Complete Peanuts (1999-2000) published by Canongate also features the Li’l Folks strips. Mostly single-panel, these strips were a precursor to Peanuts, and some of the themes and characters that would become recurring in Peanuts can be seen already in Li’l Folks. In a short introduction to Li’l Folks in the same volume, Gary Groth states that Charlie Brown was “the name of one of Schulz’s fellow teachers at Art Instruction”, where Schulz used to work in 1946. A character named Charlie Brown appears multiple times in Li’l Folks, though it looks nothing like the modern Charlie Brown.
3. Linus was named after Linus Maurer.
Linus Maurer was an American cartoonist friend of Schulz’s. According to Schulz himself, Maurer was the first person to see the first sketch of Linus Van Pelt, who was then named after Maurer. Unfortunately, Maurer passed away in 2016 at age 90.
4. Peanuts is (possibly) set in Pinecrest, California.
To my knowledge, the January 8, 1990 strip is the only one mentioning the probable place where the Peanuts gang lives. In that strip, Linus mentions that the school where he and Sally go is the Pinecrest Elementary School. According to my research, there are only two Pinecrests in the US: Pinecrest, Florida, and Pinecrest, California. I don’t know for sure which of the two it is (if any), but my guess would be Pinecrest, California because Schulz used to live in California. Also, Snoopy’s brother Spike lives in Needles, California.
5. Schulz was a friend of tennis star Billie Jean King.
Billie Jean King was among the many athletes referenced in Schulz’s work. They knew each other personally, and as King herself stated in her preface to the 1973-1974 Complete Peanuts, mentioning her in a strip was “his way of letting me know that we needed to talk or just catch up with one another.”
Speaking of mentions, athletes weren’t the only people, fictional or real, that Schulz named in his work. Something that caught me by surprise was that Harry Potter was mentioned in the November 8, 1999 strip. Sometimes I forget that Harry Potter is a rather old series by now, and that Peanuts ran until fairly recent times.
6. “Happy birthday, Amy!”
Several August 5 strips have the text “Happy birthday, Amy!” written somewhere on them. These birthday wishes were meant for Amy, indeed, one of Schulz’s daughters.
7. Coconut hatred.
Several characters in Peanuts, including Charlie Brown and Snoopy, hate coconut with a passion. The reason is that Schulz himself did. In a Facebook post, the Schulz Museum said that “Charles Schulz first ate coconut when he was a child, and he disliked the taste so much he was determined never to eat it again. When Charlie Brown came along he shared the cartoonist’s loathing for coconut, and he was very clear how he felt about it. Schulz himself once proudly stated ‘…I’ve taught all my children to hate it too’.” According to the New York Times, Schulz “hated cats, coconut and sleeping away from home.” (I guess his hatred for cats was milder, in that only Snoopy out of the entire gang went on to inherit it.)
8. Poochie started it all.
The vast majority of the characters call Charlie Brown using his full name. The only exceptions are Peppermint Patty (“Chuck”), Marcie (“Charles”), Snoopy (“the round-headed kid”), and Peggie Jean (“Brownie Charles”, see below). This was the case from the very first time Charlie Brown appeared in Peanuts, but technically it wasn’t always the case. In a January 1973 strip, it is revealed that this trend was started by Poochie, a minor character who was mentioned in just a handful of strips and appeared only in one. Poochie was Charlie Brown’s neighbour, who moved away from the neighbourhood during Snoopy’s puppyhood, and it was she who started calling him using his full name.
9. Snoopy wasn’t always Charlie Brown’s dog.
At the beginning of the strip, it wasn’t exactly clear whose dog Snoopy was. Regardless, in a series of 1968 strips it is revealed that Snoopy used to be the dog of Lila, a minor character who appeared only in a few strips. Lila’s family could not keep Snoopy, who was returned to the puppy farm he was born in and later on bought by Charlie Brown’s parents.
10. Charlotte Braun and the axe.
Charlotte Braun is a very early minor character who appeared in ten strips between November 1954 and February 1955. She is a dominating personality who constantly shouts. It’s unclear why Schulz named her so obviously after Charlie Brown. What’s really interesting about her is that in 1955, a fan named Elizabeth Swaim wrote to Schulz and asked him to remove the character, for some reason. Schulz took her suggestion, possibly because he himself hadn’t seen a lot of potential in the character; he replied to Swaim as follows:
“Dear Miss Swaim,
I am taking your suggestion regarding Charlotte Braun and will eventually discard her. If she appears anymore it will be in strips that were already completed before I got your letter or because someone writes in saying that they like her. Remember, however, that you and your friends will have the death of an innocent child on your conscience. Are you prepared to accept such responsibility? Thanks for writing, and I hope that future releases will please you.
Charles M. Schulz.”
The reply included a drawing of Charlotte Braun with an axe in her head. That’s way grimmer than I would ever have expected.
11. Peggie Jean and Brownie Charles
Charlie Brown’s long-standing love interest was the fabled little red-haired girl, but she wasn’t the only one. Peggie Jean, a minor character from the 90s, was on Charlie Brown’s mind pretty much till the end of the strip, and she actually kissed him. (She will break up with him, eventually.) The first time they introduced themselves to each other, Charlie Brown was so nervous that he said his name was “Brownie Charles”—which Peggie Jean liked so much that she started using it as a nickname for him.
12. The mystery girl
On March 2, 1994, an unknown girl walks up to Snoopy’s doghouse to tell him to get up and chase rabbits. That’s something Frieda would usually do, but the girl looks nothing like her. According to Wikipedia, Schulz claimed that the girl was Patty, but she looks nothing like Patty either. Indeed, the claim on Wikipedia has no source, so whoever that girl was is still a mystery.
13. Adults in Peanuts
Adults almost never appear in Peanuts. They are mentioned, or their presence may be implied, but they are usually not seen. A few exceptions do exist: the first one was on May 16, 1954, when adult legs were shown during a golf tournament to which Lucy participated; indistinct adult figures are shown from a distance in the May 30, 1954 strip too. Another notable exception was the November 11, 1998 strip, where Willie and Joe, two characters by Schulz’s fellow cartoonist Bill Mauldin, appear alongside Snoopy to celebrate Veterans Day.
14. Snoopy didn’t invent the “It was a dark and stormy night” incipit.
It’s quite possible that you know this already and I’m just very ignorant, but even though Snoopy did contribute a lot to the popularisation of the incipit “It was a dark and stormy night”—a quintessentially banal opener—he didn’t invent it. It was the opening sentence of the 1830 novel Paul Clifford by English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
15. Snoopy had siblings.
Snoopy wasn’t an “only dog”. (Which flies right in the face of what he himself said in the June 6, 1959 strip.) As stated in the strip from June 18, 1989, Snoopy was one of a litter of eight: Spike, Belle, Andy, Olaf, Marbles, Rover, Molly, and Snoopy himself. While Spike is arguably the most famous of Snoopy’s siblings, they all appear at some point in the strip, with the exception of Molly and Rover, who only appear in the TV special Snoopy’s reunion. A recurring theme of several strips of the last few years of the series was Andy and Olaf trying to reach Spike in Needles, but systematically getting lost somewhere.
16. Snoopy’s alter egos.
Probably, everybody knows about Snoopy’s most famous alter ego—the World War I pilot whose archnemesis was the Red Baron—but that was far from being the only one. The list is long, and includes everything from simple impressions (mostly other animals, which Snoopy envies for a reason or another) to actual personas that would recur throughout the series: surgeon, lawyer, grocery clerk, various coaches, and many, many more.
17. The Great Watermelon.
Yes. Yes, I know. It’s “pumpkin”, not watermelon. Except in Italy it was watermelon, because flimsy reasons. The translation stuck, and I grew up reading about the Great Watermelon instead of the Great Pumpkin. And no, Schulz’s pumpkins look nothing like watermelons.
18. The little red-haired girl was actually shown in the strip.
That’s right. Charlie Brown’s elusive love interest appeared in the strip. It happened only once, and it was just a silhouette, but it was her. It was on May 25, 1998.
19. The reason Spike lives in the desert is rather grim.
Snoopy’s brother Spike lives all alone in the desert, despite the fact it obviously makes him miserable, and no reason was given until September 18, 1994. The reason is, one day Spike was walking out with people, and they ordered him to chase a rabbit that darted in front of them. Spike didn’t really want to, but did it anyway. To escape Spike, the rabbit ran into the road and was hit by a car, for which Spike hated himself and the people who made him do it. He escaped to the desert so that he could not hurt anything else again. That’s right—guilt and perhaps a desire to punish himself are what led Spike to a life of isolation. Why Schulz gave him such a sad backstory is anyone’s guess—I am not aware of a specific reason anyway. (If you are, please let me know.)
20. A selection of last-times.
On October 16, 1999, Charlie Brown put away his baseball gear for the last time. The “next year” he refers to in the strip never came, as Schulz died around four months later. The last time baseball was mentioned in the strip was on December 27, 1999.
On October 24, 1999 the last football gag took place. Rerun took Lucy’s place, and neither we, nor she will ever know if Rerun pulled the football away. (That’s what makes Lucy go “Aaugh!”, and that, too, is the last time the cry appears in the strip.) According to Wikipedia (and the Peanuts Wikia as well), about the football gag, Schulz said that having Charlie Brown finally kick the football after so many years would be a disservice to the character; however, upon signing his final strip, Schulz realised that it was a “dirty trick” that the “poor kid” never got (and never would get) to kick the football. (I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of these quotes, but I could not find actual interviews or documents proving he actually said them.)
Schulz always did everything by himself, lettering included, but because of his declining health in late 1999, on December 30 and 31, 1999, and January 1, 2000, the lettering was either done by someone else or by computer.
The last daily strip was published on January 3, 2000. From that point until the day after Schulz’s death, on February 13, 2000, only Sunday tables were published. The final daily strip re-announces Schulz’s retirement (which had already been announced on December 14, 1999), and thanks the fans and editors of the strip.
It’s too bad that Schulz died. I would have loved to see how the Peanuts gang would have evolved in the age of the Internet, social media, and ubiquitous cell phones. Had he been still alive, he would have been 98 years old at the time this post was published.