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Wikimedia Commons

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

Wikimedia Commons
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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Chloe Efforn
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Animals
John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady
Chloe Efforn
Chloe Efforn

John Lennon was crazy about cats, and though he owned a couple of dogs (Sally and Bernard) over the years, he was better known for getting by with a little help from his feline friends.

1. ELVIS

Growing up, Lennon's beloved mother, Julia, had a named cat after Elvis Presley, whom Julia and John were both crazy about. The Lennons later realized they had misnamed Elvis when "he" gave birth to a litter of kittens in the cupboard, but they didn't change the cat's name based on that small mistake.

2. AND 3. TICH AND SAM

He had two other cats as a boy growing up in Liverpool: Tich and Sam. Tich passed away while Lennon was away at art school (which he attended from 1957 to 1960), and Sam was named after famous British diarist Samuel Pepys

4. TIM

One day, John Lennon found a stray cat in the snow, which his Aunt Mimi allowed him to keep. (John's Aunt Mimi raised him from a young boy through his late teenage years, and he affectionately referred to her as the Cat Woman.) He named the marmalade-colored half-Persian cat Tim.

Tim remained a special favorite of John's. Every day, he would hop on his Raleigh bicycle and ride to Mr. Smith's, the local fishmonger, where he would buy a few pieces of fish for Tim and his other cats. Even after John became famous as a Beatle, he would often call and check in on how Tim was doing. Tim lived a happy life and survived to celebrate his 20th birthday.

5. AND 6. MIMI AND BABAGHI

John and his first wife, Cynthia, had a cat named Mimi who was, of course, named after his Aunt Mimi. They soon got another cat, a tabby who they dubbed Babaghi. John and Cynthia continued acquiring more cats, eventually owning around 10 of them.

7. JESUS

As a Beatle, John had a cat named Jesus. The name was most likely John's sarcastic response to his "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" controversy of 1966. But he wasn't the only band member with a cat named Jesus: Paul McCartney once had a trio of kittens named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

8. AND 9. MAJOR AND MINOR

In the mid-1970s, John had an affair with his secretary, May Pang. One day, the studio receptionist brought a box of kittens into the recording studio where John and May were. "No," John immediately told May, "we can't, we're traveling too much." But she picked up one of the kittens and put it over her shoulder. Then John started stroking the kitten and decided to keep it. At the end of the day, the only other kitten left was a little white one that was so loud no one else wanted it. So they adopted it as well and named the pair Major and Minor.

10. AND 11. SALT AND PEPPER

John owned a pair of black and white cats with his wife Yoko Ono. As befitting John's offbeat sense of humor, many places report he christened the white cat Pepper and the black one Salt.

12. AND 13. GERTRUDE AND ALICE

John and Yoko also had two Russian Blue cats named Gertrude and Alice, who each met tragic ends. After a series of sicknesses, Gertrude was diagnosed with a virus that could become dangerous to their young son, Sean. John later said that he held Gertrude and wept as she was euthanized. 

Later, Alice jumped out of an open window in the Lennons' high-rise apartment at the Dakota and plunged to her death. Sean was present at the time of the accident, and he remembers it as the only time he ever saw his father cry.

14., 15. AND 16. MISHA, SASHA, AND CHARO

In later years, John also owned three cats he named Misha, Sasha, and Charo. Always an artist at heart, John loved to sketch his many cats, and he used some of these pictures as illustrations in his books.

This piece originally ran in 2012.

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entertainment
7 Famous Actors Who Starred in Obscure Short Films
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Well-known actors who can attract attention or lend prestige to film projects can often command significant salaries. Jack Nicholson, for example, reportedly made more than $50 million for portraying The Joker in 1989’s Batman after merchandising royalties were factored in. But performers don’t always opt for money—or even feature-length movies—if a filmmaker is persuasive enough. Here are several notable talents who agreed to appear in obscure short films for a variety of peculiar reasons.

1. HARRISON FORD // WATER TO WINE (2004)

Arguably one of the most successful leading men of the 20th century, Harrison Ford has always been candid about his criteria for film work. In addition to being intrigued by a role, he wants to be compensated. (“No, I got paid,” he told a talk show host who asked if he was nostalgic about returning to the Star Wars universe in 2015.) He apparently made an exception for Water to Wine, a 2004 amateur film shot by a group of snowboarders in Wyoming. Ford—who has a ranch in the state—accepted the role of “Jethro the Bus Driver” as a favor to the filmmakers, who were friends of his son, Malcolm. Ford’s sole request was that his name not appear in the credits.

2. BRYAN CRANSTON // WRITER’S BLOCK (2014)

Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston was shooting the feature film Cold Comes the Night in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy interrupted production. Rather than sit idle, the actor told the movie’s production assistants that if they wanted to try writing a short film, he’d shoot it immediately. Winner Brandon Polanco came up with Writer’s Block, a 13-minute black-and-white mood piece about an author wrestling with a lack of inspiration.

3. BILLY BOB THORNTON // THE LAST REAL COWBOYS (2000)

Billy Bob Thornton broke into Hollywood with his 1994 short film Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade that he later expanded into a full-length feature. That DIY approach may have helped director Jeff Lester entice the actor to star in The Last Real Cowboys, a short that featured Thornton as one of two main characters sitting next to a campfire. The production shot for just one day 50 miles outside of Las Vegas. 

4. OSCAR ISAAC // LIGHTNINGFACE (2016)

A year after Star Wars: The Force Awakens crossed $2 billion at the box office, Oscar Isaac (who portrayed Poe Dameron) appeared in this eccentric short by director Brian Petsos. Isaac is Basil Stitt, a man who gets hit in the face with lightning and is convinced he will soon develop supernatural abilities. Isaac and Petsos previously worked on a feature film, Ticky Tacky.

5. BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH // LITTLE FAVOUR (2013)

The BBC’s Sherlock helped make Benedict Cumberbatch a highly recognizable screen presence worldwide, which in turn helped this short film raise and exceed its $40,000 budget via the Indiegogo platform. Cumberbatch portrays a British intelligence officer active during the Iraq War who is contacted by an American spy to repay a favor. Cumberbatch, who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for The Imitation Game in 2015, also produced the film.

6. MICHAEL FASSBENDER // PITCH BLACK HEIST (2012)

Two-time Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender co-stars in this tight heist thriller about two thieves who are forced to complete a job in total darkness. (Liam Cunningham, who plays Davos Seaworth on Game of Thrones, co-starred.) Director John Maclean knew Fassbender before the actor broke out in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds and convinced him to take the gig. The two later worked on the well-received 2015 Western Slow West.

7. BILL MURRAY // A FILM ABOUT WALKING IN SLOW MOTION (2012)

The urban legends surrounding Murray’s puckish behavior are well-documented, from crashing karaoke parties to spontaneously tending bar. In 2012, Murray was filming a promotional video for a school in South Carolina attended by his son. Afterward, director David Smith asked if he could film Murray walking down a hall with crew members. He complied—and then kept walking, out of the building and into his car. 

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