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

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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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The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
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From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.

DINO'S LODGE

In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

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Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.

JERRY'S

In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

Wire Photo, eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

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Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually broke away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying, “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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