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10 Things We Learned from a Q&A with Charles Schulz's Wife

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Wikimedia Commons

A couple of weeks ago, Charles Schulz’s widow, Jean, did a Q&A with Redditors. She spent hours giving thoughtful, detailed answers to fan questions about her husband and the comic strip that has become a pop culture mainstay. Here are some of the things we learned.

1. Charles Schulz was a bit cranky.

One Redditor recounted a story where a young boy walking to school encountered Schulz near the ice arena he owned in Santa Rosa, California. A big fan of Peanuts, the child asked if he could shake Schulz’s hand. "No, get out of here, you will probably give me some disease," is what Schulz allegedly replied. Jean’s response:

Yes, he could be cranky particularly if he had person after person after person interrupting him from things. ... It does sound familiar, the boy on the way to school wanting to shake hands and the no I will probably get sick, it all sounds like there was a period when we had ice shows in December and we would both have colds. We would be greeting people ALL DAY LONG. two shows a day, for two weeks, and we would always get sick. So Sparky said I am not going to shake hands, or hug, at the ice show because I always get a cold. But that was different, and a different thing, just no—don't shake hands because I have a cold. But was he as bitter as that? No, that was a very bad day, poor kid and I can see why he would remember it. You would feel really rebuffed by that. But he was overall a pleasant person. If he had come off the golf course and had a lousy round, he would not want to talk to anybody. However, he loved to laugh, and when he was visiting his friends, or when he was on the golf course, they would laugh and joke and tease. So he was probably LESS cranky than a lot of people because he truly liked people. He was interested in people and in observing them and what they were like.

2. Camp Snoopy's abrupt removal from the Mall of America was not because of Team Schulz.  

After someone commented that it was a shame that the Mall of America changed their indoor theme park from Camp Snoopy to Nickelodeon Universe after Schulz died, Jean mentioned that his death had nothing to do with the decision:

You know, I'm going to clip that out and send that to the people at Mall of America because it was not a decision in their favor. But these are business deals that it's just difficult to even describe. And I've actually forgotten what happened, but typical American business deals. It had nothing to do with him passing—it really had to do more with contractual terms and my husband never owned the copyright to his comic strip, it was owned through United Media, but there was a contract for X number of years with Camp Snoopy and it's so convoluted I can't even remember. So they probably were unhappy that they did let it go, but it's big American business these days.

3. The names of the Peanuts characters were inspired by Charles Schulz's friends.

Image courtesy of peanuts.wikia.com

There was a Charlie Brown in the art instruction schools in Minneapolis that Schulz worked at when he was younger. The Van Pelt children took their last names from a man Schulz had been in the Army with, while Shermy was a childhood friend. Schroeder was a caddy at the golf course Schulz worked at as a teen, though Jean couldn’t remember if Schroeder was his first name or last name. The famous blue blanket Linus can’t live without came directly from Schulz’s daughter’s obsession with her own security blanket.

And yes, the elusive little red-haired girl was also based on a real person, a girl named Donna Johnson whom Schulz proposed to in the 1950s. Not only did she turn him down, she married someone else almost immediately. But none of that seems to bother Jean, who said, “Sparky did tell me once, ‘I always wanted to marry a little dark-haired girl.’ Meaning me. But he had an uncanny way of always saying just the right thing.”

4. Sparky was a romantic.

When asked what her favorite thing about her husband was, Jean replied:

Well I think I have to say that he was SO complimentary and so loving to me. It didn't matter what I did - if I found him at the office, that evening he would say ‘I just loved hearing your voice on the telephone today’ and then he would say ‘every time you walk into the room I fall in love with you again.’ I'd cook an ordinary dinner and he would say ‘Thank you so much.’
In the back of my mind I would think ‘Did he learn that somewhere? Is he just saying that because he read somewhere to compliment your wife once a day to have a happy marriage?’
But he was so sweet. And it was so wonderful to feel that adored.
And I can still feel that from him.
He also helps me find things. I would always lose things, and would think ‘Sparky will help me find it.’ And he has. So he's still taking care of me.

5. Jean has theories on what the Peanuts kids would be doing today if they had grown up.

But you sort of think Linus is probably teaching at some level. Lucy is probably running a software company (I'm making this all up, I have no idea) and Schroeder might be a conductor. I'm anxious to see this play and see what he proposed, though, because Pigpen is his favorite character. And Charlie Brown? He's such a soft, easy, guy that he'd be doing something like being an oceanographer or studying marine mammals or something. He has so much compassion. He might run the Humane Society. That would be perfect because one of the people Sparky truly loved was the person who ran the Humane Society in Santa Rosa. He would take in all the stray pets that nobody would want, and Sparky admired him so much because of his level of compassion for the animals. We live out in the country and we have rattlesnakes, and I would ask him to get rid of them and he would say ‘that rattlesnake isn't hurting anybody’. So yes, Charlie Brown is going to run the Humane Society.

6. Schulz didn’t select the name “Peanuts.” He wanted it to be called “Li’l Folks.”

Though Schulz had used the name “Li’l Folks” in the St. Paul Pioneer Press for a year and a half, the Syndicate turned down the name when he submitted it to him, citing a defunct comic strip that had been similarly titled “Little Folks.” Schulz suggested “Good Old Charlie Brown” as an alternative, but a Syndicate editor put his foot down on Peanuts.

7. Charles Schulz enjoyed a wide variety of other comic strips, from Popeye to Cathy.

He loved Popeye and he could draw a really good Popeye when he was in highschool. And Li'l Abner, and he said that when Li'l Abner and Daisy Mae got married, that was a big mistake because you need that tension. Part of movies and plays and books is tension between characters and they sort of lost that tension. Maybe they became a crabby couple, I can't remember. All cartoonists love Little Nemo, but the comic strips that he liked - Cathy (not so much for the drawing but for her situations), THE FAR SIDE (he thought it was so funny), he liked a lot of the New Yorker cartoonists too. Lynn Johnston he thought was a beautiful artist with a current comic strip that kept up with day to day and the kids were growing older, and Mutts by Patrick McDonnel, and there were many more. We have a friend whose strip is not widely syndicated, Drabble is the name of the strip, and LuAnn. And he might have read other comic strips that he might not have said much to me about. He used to love Prince Valiant, and he would say that he wanted to draw an adventure strip like Prince Valiant. And of course he ended up drawing the complete opposite.

8. Jean’s favorite character is Sally, and she used to call her husband “my sweet baboo.”

Photo courtesy of the Charles M. Schulz Museum

Well, it's very hard to have a favorite character but what I always tell people when they ask me that is I associate with Sally. I don't think I'm quite as dingy as her, but I call myself "clueless" so it may really be that I'm more like her than I know.

But maybe the reason I associate with Sally is because I used to call Sparky my sweet baboo - you say baby and baboo came out - and Sally torments Linus with that. So then I stopped calling him that, but he probably should have regretted that because it was a pretty nice term of endearment.

9. When Schulz wrote lines of music in the comic strip for Schroeder, he wrote the real thing.

Odds are, you probably never checked the artist’s work when he threw a few lines of music on a staff. But some people did.

When he drew the musical notes for Schroeder, he always used actual musical notes, and the first time he did that somebody wrote him and said ‘I can't believe you put a little bit of Beethoven's something symphony’ (it wasn't always Beethoven, there were a lot of musical strips. He realized that when that person wrote to him, people recognized and appreciated authenticity and you are writing for them. You are writing those Beethoven notes in your silly little comic strip for that person who is a musical expert. Appreciating your audience is important. It shows respect for them.

10. The idea to have the muted trumpet represent the voice of adults didn't come about until the Christmas special.

In the very early days of the comic strip, no adults were portrayed whatsoever. When necessary, they would appear as an offstage speech bubble, but never any physical representation.

Sparky used to say when people would ask him why there would be no adults he would say ‘the panels are too short and they wouldn't fit.’ But the truth is that it's abstract, it's not reality, and the minute you put an adult it in it, it becomes a real strip. And so when they did the first Christmas show, Sparky and the team would talk all these things out and they talked about adult voices. Sparky would say 'no we can't have adults in it' and [voice of Snoopy] Bill Melendez made up a trumpet with mute on it, and he got someone to do that and thought that was a great sound, and it's funny how that sound has become iconic. Because you hear people say ‘oh wha wah’ because it's the voice you don't want to listen to. Bill also made Snoopy's voice. He made some noises on the tape, and then sped it up. So it was all seat of the pants stuff. And then it became classic, because it worked.

You can hear more personal stories and insider views from Jean over at her blog for the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

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10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
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Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.

1. ANGELINA JOLIE

After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”

2. WHOOPI GOLDBERG

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.

3. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS

When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. MARLON BRANDO

“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”

5. JEFF BRIDGES

Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...

6. COLIN FIRTH

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. MATT DAMON

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.

8. MARGARET O'BRIEN

In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens' maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.

9. BING CROSBY

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. HATTIE MCDANIEL

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.

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15 Wonderfully Wise Quotes From Judy Blume
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Judy Blume was the queen of the YA novel before the concept even existed, inspiring generations of passionate fans—and a fair share of dissenters—in her nearly 50-year career. Here are just a few of our favorite thoughts about books, writing, and life from the iconic author, who turns 80 years old today.

1. ON BEING ONE OF THE MOST BANNED AUTHORS OF THE 20TH CENTURY

“I’ll tell you what I make of that—that censors, those who want to censor, they don’t come after books until they know that kids really like them, and once kids like a book, it’s like, ‘There must be something wrong with this book, because why do the kids like it.’ You look at the banned books and you’ll see that they’re popular books with kids.”

— From a 2012 interview with PBS

2. ON THE EFFECTS OF CENSORSHIP

“But it's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”

— From Blume's official website

3. WHY SHE WORRIES ABOUT KIDS THESE DAYS

“Yes, I was a great daydreamer. You know what I worry about? I worry that kids today don't have enough time to just sit and daydream. I was a great pretender, always making up stories inside my head. Stories and stories and stories, but I never told anyone.”

— From an interview with Scholastic

4. ON BEING A WRITER

"Everybody who writes fiction draws from their own life, but if it ended there, it would be very boring. When I talk to kids and they say, 'How do you become a writer?', well, I don't know that you become a writer: you just are. I always had stories, they were always there inside my head."

— From a 2014 Interview with The Guardian

5. ON WRITING

"Writing saved my life. It saved me, it gave me everything, it took away all my illnesses.”

— From a 2014 Interview with The Guardian

6. ON THE CREATIVE PROCESS

“I don't understand the creative process. For years I would say one thing when kids would ask where I got my ideas. Because I was forced to think up something even though I don't really know. And now I'm just saying to people, 'I don't know. I don't understand how it works. How do I know?'”

— From an interview with January Magazine

7. ON DEALING WITH REJECTION

"It's all about your determination, I think, as much as anything. There are a lot of people with talent, but it's that determination. I mean, you know, I would cry when the rejections came in—the first couple of times, anyway—and I would go to sleep feeling down, but I would wake up in the morning optimistic and saying, 'Well, maybe they didn't like that one, but wait till they see what I'm going to do next.' And I think you just have to keep going."

— From a 2011 interview with NPR

8. ON YA AUTHORS AND BOOKS

“[My husband] George and I listened … to the first Hunger Games and we loved it. And we couldn’t wait to get my car and come home. And when we came home, I’m not sure if we’d quite finished, and we sat in the car until we finished. I did not read any of the others. I had no interest in Twilight. But I did see the first movie.”

— From a 2014 interview with Lena Dunham through KCRW

9. ON THE PROS AND CONS OF TWITTER

“I like it. It’s a tremendous—I don’t want to say waste of time, but it also … what can I say? I enjoy reading the people I follow and discovering new people. It’s a lot of fun. I get a lot of laughs from it. And it connects you; it’s nice.”

— From a 2013 interview with Vanity Fair

10. ON GETTING KIDS TO READ

“Whatever gets them excited about reading is good! If you want them to read my books don't tell them so. Maybe just leave around a paperback with a new cover and say, 'I'm not sure you're ready for that.'"

— From a 2013 Reddit AMA

11. ON HER LITERARY INSPIRATIONS

“I was so inspired by Beverly Cleary's funny and wonderful books. And also, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy. And E. L. Konigsberg's first book, Jennifer Hecate. And my favorite books from when I was young, the Betsy-Tacy books.”

— From an interview with Scholastic

12. ON "MARGARET" AND TEENAGED JUDY

“Margaret is fiction, but based on the kind of twelve year old I was. Growing up, we did have a club like The PTKs. And Margaret's interests and concerns were similar to mine. I was small and thin when thin wasn't in. I was a late developer and was anxious to grow like my friends. Margaret was right from my own sixth grade experience. I wanted to tell the truth as I knew it.”

— From an interview with Scholastic

13. ON HOW BOOKS HELP US COMMUNICATE

“I’ve never really thought in terms of taboos. I think that books can really help parents and kids talk together about difficult subjects. I’ve always felt that way. The parent reads the book. The kid reads the book and then they can talk about the characters instead of talking about themselves. You know there’s a connection even if you don’t talk about it when you read the same books.”

— From a 2014 interview with Lena Dunham through KCR

14. ON THREE THINGS THAT WOULD SURPRISE US ABOUT HER

“I’m phobic about thunderstorms. Writing is incredibly hard for me. I’m not the world’s best mother, though kids always assume I must be. And I love a good cupcake. (I know, that makes four things, but I’m hungry and wishing I had that cupcake.)”

— From a 2012 interview with Smithsonian Magazine

15. ON REVISITING OLD CHARACTERS

"I don't want to rewrite anything. My characters are who they are. For years, people have written and asked me to let Margaret go through menopause. And it's like, 'Hey guys! Margaret is 12 and she is going to stay 12. That's who she is.' No, I don't want to rewrite any of them."

— From a 2018 interview with NPR

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