previous arrow
next arrow

Grief: Was it Good for Charlie Brown?

GRIEF: WAS IT GOOD FOR CHARLIE BROWN? I have a sad and conflicted relationship with the cartoon character Charlie Brown. When I was growing up in the 1960s, I was a huge Peanuts fan. I loved Snoopy. I bought Charles Schulz’s books. I bought Snoopy memorabilia. But the happiness that the Peanuts comic strip afforded me ended abruptly in 1989.

Why? I read the real Charlie Brown’s diary. For those of you who may be unaware, there was a real Charlie Brown. See:

It is a good grief to read someone’s diary—enlightening and burdensome at the same time. At least that’s how it was for me to read Charlie’s. When his diary fell into my hands, Charlie had been dead for six years. Our common link was a St. Paul therapist named Virgil Burns. Virgil was my first foray into therapy. At the time, I suffered from depression, a late post-partum depression. Virgil had Charlie’s diary and the beginnings of a manuscript about Charlie’s life. Virgil wanted me to finish the manuscript in the same style as the original author’s. I was excited to tackle the project. He gave me the manuscript, the diary, and a birthday card that Charles Schultz had created for Charlie Brown.

Charles Schultz and Charlie Brown met at the Art Instruction School in Minneapolis. Schultz was just beginning his comic-strip career, and he asked Charlie Brown if he could use his name. Charlie agreed. When M and I attended the opening of the exhibit, The Life and Art of Charles M. Schultz, at the Minnesota Historical Society in July 2023, I saw a letter that Schultz had written (January 15, 1976) to Charlie Brown in which he said, “I have often regretted that my using your name may have brought you more trouble than any of us had dreamed.” It has been said that Schultz also regretted his initial comic strip (October 2, 1950) that begins with the frame, “Well! Here comes ol’ Charlie Brown,” and ends with the frame, “How I hate him!”

Charlie Brown’s diary is a sad and upsetting read. He recounts the events of his father’s sudden death and his mother’s reaction. He details his faults, his failures, and the deep depression that he couldn’t seem to shake. He relates how his name being associated with a cartoon character added to his distress. He kept trying to find the level road but always failed, much like Charlie trying to kick the football out of Lucy’s hands. The happy, easy-going life that he hoped to score was snatched away from him time and time again.

Last weekend, M and I went to see You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, performed by the students at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul. They did an exemplary job! In the program, Artistic Director and Professor of Theatre, Jennifer Hunter, writes: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is about a younger generation learning how to struggle and persevere through adversity, specifically the happiness and deep valleys that life brings. In the comic strip, Charlie Brown says, ‘My anxieties have anxieties’.”

I did not finish the manuscript. Virgil had overstepped his bounds as a therapist, and I ended the sessions. I returned the manuscript, the diary, and the birthday card. I could not return the knowledge I gained about Charlie Brown. I could not return the upsettedness of that time in my life. I could not return the deep sadness I felt for the real Charlie Brown, and I could not resurrect the pleasure that the Peanuts gang once brought me.

I attended two Charlie Brown events within the last eight months. Both were well done, but I could not relax at either of them. Good grief! Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Captcha loading...