6 Ways Charles Schulz Really Was Charlie Brown
While Charlie Brown and his creator, Charles Schulz, share a first name, the character was actually named after one of Schulz’s art school friends, not after himself. Despite this, the big-headed character shares a lot more with his creator than a name. In honor of what would have been Charles Schulz’s 91st birthday, let’s celebrate the man and his creation by considering how similar Schulz was to good old Chuck.
1. They Both Had Terrible Valentine’s Days
We all know that Charlie Brown never receives Valentines even though he gives them out to everyone else, but he isn’t the only one that Cupid seemed to laugh at. Schulz was skipped ahead two grades as a child and was always shy and awkward around the other students in his classes. For his first grade Valentine’s Day, his mother helped him make up Valentines for everyone in class so no one would be left out. Unlike Charlie, who was ignored by everyone else, Schulz excluded himself. He was too shy to put the box of Valentines at the front of the class, so he held on to them throughout the day—and later brought them back to his mother.
2. They Mutually Loved The Little Red-Haired Girl
If you’re mostly familiar with the animated Peanuts classics instead of the comic strips, then you probably don’t realize just how unobtainable the Little Red-Haired Girl actually is—she’s never actually shown in the entire comic strip series. Charlie Brown talks about her and on rare occasion he gathers the muster to talk to her out of the frame, but she is never once shown in the strip.
The Little Red-Haired Girl and Charlie Brown’s obsession with her was based on a real-life obsession Charles Schulz had for a young redhead named Donna Mae Johnson. The couple met while working together at Art Instruction, an art correspondence school. Before long they had been together for three years, but when Charles asked her to marry him, she refused, only to marry another man in October of the same year. While the two remained friends, it seems Schulz never completely recovered from his broken heart. He once said of the ordeal, "I can think of no more emotionally damaging loss than to be turned down by someone whom you love very much. A person who not only turns you down, but almost immediately will marry the victor. What a bitter blow that is."
3. They Both Loved Their Dogs
It isn’t too surprising to hear that Schulz had a black and white dog during his childhood that later served as the inspiration for Snoopy. Interestingly, the dog wasn’t actually a beagle though, it was a pointer named Spike. Charles’ first published drawing was of little Spike and it was featured in the newspaper comics feature Believe it or Not.
4. They Both Were Tormented By Bossy Women
Like The Little Red-Haired Girl, Lucy Van Pelt was also based on a real person, only in this case, it was actually two people. The bossy, impatient and rude character was based on Schulz’s mother and his first wife, Joyce.
One can imagine how bad Schulz’s relationship with Joyce was, based on the fact that only a year after their wedding Schulz introduced Lucy to the world. Even after the couple’s divorce, Schulz still featured Lucy prominently in the series, where she always seems to have the upper hand over poor old Charlie.
Schulz’s mother was also a big inspiration for Charles, as her cold and distant manner made him constantly feel like he wasn’t getting enough love. This is reflected in the way other characters treat Charlie Brown. While he seems largely positive despite his maltreatment, this is one way he greatly differed from Schulz, who grudgingly held on to every indignity and insult he ever received and used them later on to fuel his strip.
5. They Were Both Above Racism
While Schulz generally stayed out of politics and Charlie and the rest of the gang never really mention current events, both he and his cartoons were progressive when it came to race. When Schulz added Franklin to the cast of the strip, race relations of the late sixties were at a boiling point. While he claimed the character had no political motivations, he obviously was against segregation and politely ignored hate mail sent in by both editors and readers complaining about the decision to have Franklin attend school with the rest of the children.
Similarly, when Hank Aaron was challenging Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974, Schulz read about the hate mail received by the athlete and decided to support Aaron by drawing a series of cartoons detailing Snoopy’s difficulty as he approached the home run record.
6. They Died Within Two Hours of One Another
Perhaps one of the saddest things Charlie Brown has in common with his creator is their deaths. Schulz knew he was becoming sick in the late nineties and announced his retirement in December of 1999 and requested that the publishers discontinue the series after his death. He continued to produce enough Sunday strips to last through mid-February, and on Saturday, February 12, 2000, he passed away. Only two hours later, the final Peanuts strip was printed.
This post originally appeared in 2010.