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Franz Lidz
December 23, 1985
The holidays always bring you Charlie Brown specials. We bring you his creator, who's special too
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December 23, 1985

Good Ol' Charlie Schulz

The holidays always bring you Charlie Brown specials. We bring you his creator, who's special too

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Actually, Minnesota wasn't all that barbarous a place in the '20s and '30s, and Schulz grew up in a benignly innocent setting. His father was a barber who didn't have time for sports. Sometimes he would take his son to Mille Lacs Lake to fish. Schulz hated it. "I've done Snoopy fishing," he allows, "but the worms always attack his friend Woodstock and tie him to a tree."

Schulz learned to play hockey by swatting tennis balls at his grandmother while she gamely tended goal in the basement with a broom. "I like to think she made a lot of great saves," he muses. Golf he mastered by chipping the same tennis balls to his black-and-white pointer Spike with an old nine-iron. Spike, a gifted dog who fetched potatoes from the cellar on command, was the subject of a sketch Schulz sent to Ripley's Believe It or Not, with the caption: "A hunting dog that eats pins, tacks and razor blades." It was his first published drawing. Eventually, Spike became the inspiration for Schulz's best-loved creation, Charlie Brown's irrepressibly waggish beagle, Snoopy.

Unlike his master, Snoopy is more wishy than washy. From atop his doghouse he leads an elaborate fantasy life that often finds him competing in the Stanley Cup finals or on Centre Court at Wimbledon. But when he climbs down, he can be a hot dog, too, starting double plays by snaring grounders in his teeth and spitting them to the second baseman.

Snoopy is perhaps the worst sport in Peanuts, a trait that helps to keep him human. After a double fault, he smashes, wangs, boots, stomps, whaps and crunches his tennis racket into the court. Then he sits down at his typewriter and taps out: "Gentlemen: Under separate cover I am returning a defective tennis racket." At the rink, he takes advantage of the national anthem to score three goals.

Schulz played his hockey in the streets. He and his friends would wait until the snowplows had come through and then scrape off the loose snow to expose the icy road surface. They'd pile clumps of snow at either end of the block to mark the goals. Men drivers would always slow down and weave around the goalposts, claims Schulz, but women would roll right over them. "The men knew how important those clumps were to us," he says. "But the women just didn't understand."

Neither does Lucy, Charlie Brown's indifferent outfielder. Fly balls always drop in gentle arcs five feet behind her. "What in the world made you miss that one?" screams Charlie Brown.

"I was having my quiet time," she says.

Charlie Brown is such a devoted fan that he loses a spelling bee for spelling maze "Mays." He worships the hapless Joe Shlabotnick of the lowly Green Grass League. He's on hand the day Shlabotnick makes a bloop single, and cajoles him into autographing a ball. Later Charlie Brown discovers that Shlabotnick has misspelled his own name.

His obsession with the game takes a surreal turn when he reluctantly peers out his bedroom window to await the start of another day. But instead of a sun, a huge, beaming baseball rises in the morning sky. Soon everything he sees is a baseball: the moon, an ice cream cone; even the back of his head is laced with stitches. He consults a psychiatrist and inquires, "Is this the last of the ninth?"

Schulz knows the strange symptoms of baseball fever and the incurable longings associated with it. He played catcher on his neighborhood team, sometimes arriving two hours before a game to put on his gear. But he was never big enough to play for his high school team and resented coaches for not spending time with less gifted athletes.

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