I went to the movies last weekend with the family to see the new animated PEANUTS movie which was very good. It brought back a lot of memories from my youth because I watched Charlie Brown and his gang when I was a kid and now my kids are enjoying them. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they keep everything rather faithful to the Peanuts that was created by Charles Schulz. They didn’t modernize the kids and make them use video games or iPads.
While watching the movie I realized some things I kind of missed as a kid. Yes, I remember how much Charlie Brown whined and complained (with good reason thanks to meanies like Lucy) but the part that really stood out for me this time as an adult and parent was all the unrequited love elements involving the blockhead or rather round head Charlie Brown and the little red-haired girl.
After the movie I did some research about Mr. Schulz because I wanted to see if this pining was based on any real person from his youth and sure enough I learned that it was! There really was a red-haired girl that he fell in love with though he wasn’t a little boy but a young man in his 20s. They worked together just before he got his comic strip deal for PEANUTS in 1950. They dated and got very close. He fell in love with her and ultimately proposed to her and what did the sweet little red-haired girl say?
NO…. that’s right. She refused Charlie Brown’s proposal for marriage and married another man weeks later. Needless to say, Charles was crushed and later discussed it by saying, “I can think of no more emotionally damaging loss than to be turned down by someone whom you love very much, what a bitter blow that is. It is a blow to everything that you are.”
Here’s Charles Schulz and Donna in a photo with the softball team for their company, Art Instruction Studio.
It’s interesting to note that Charles Schulz actually had a golden opportunity to marry Donna but let it slip through his otherwise talented fingers. Here’s what Donna said about their courtship and how close they came to getting hitched. They went to the movies where Charles made his move…“We sat in the back row and . . . I suppose in those days we called it, ‘necked,’” she said.
They then spent all day and much of the night together in the countryside. By the time Donna returned home that evening, her mother thought that they had eloped. Actually, the notion had crossed Donna’s mind too. “I asked him to elope with me once,” she says. “He said he couldn’t do that to my mother.”
Years later, Schulz said he came to regret that gentlemanliness and that hearing the music from My Foolish Heart — whose title tune contains the lyric, “For this time it isn’t fascination, or a dream that will fade and fall apart” — would break his own.
So Charles had the chance to elope with the red-haired girl but did the mature and respectful thing and decided not to do it. He did not want to disrespect her mother who ultimately encouraged her daughter to marry another man. The red-haired fireman Al Wold that would still be her husband after 65 years.
Here’s Charles Schulz and Donna the red-haired girl shortly before the rejection. Incidentally, around the same time that his personal life came crumbling down, his professional career was about to take flight as he was able to get a deal for his Peanuts comic strip and the rest as they say is history.
By the way, very much unlike his character Charlie Brown who was too afraid to even say hello to the red-haired girl, Charles Schulz not only took the risk to ask her out and dated her and then had the nerve to propose to her, but after being rejected he actually returned to her house 30 minutes later and asked if she had changed her mind! Talk about guts! Sadly, though, she did not change her mind and broke his heart again. Weeks later she was married and his career took off without her by his side.
Now, Charles Schulz did not crumble into a ball and give up on love after his experience with Donna. He ultimately married a lovely strong woman named Joyce Halverson the next year in 1951 and they would have 4 children and enjoyed a wonderful life on a sprawling compound with tennis courts, swimming pool and everything else you can imagine. They stayed married for almost 20 years until they divorced in 1970. Charles married again in 1973 and stayed married for 27 years until his death in 2000 at the age of 77 due to colon cancer.
Schulz and the red-haired girl always stayed in touch through the years as friends. Her husband didn’t mind which was very cool of him. Most men wouldn’t like their wife talking to the man she almost married and who became rich and famous thanks to his comic strip.
Here’s Donna Johnson Wold today at 86…. she seems like a special lady. She has always had nice things to say about Charles Schulz. She’s in the excellent documentary and talks about her time with Sparky (in photo below her photo a few years before he passed away)
All this got to thinking about what might’ve happened if he did marry the red-haired girl. How would Charlie Brown and Peanuts have changed? Would they still have become as popular as they did if he got the one that got away? I guess we shall never know, huh?
Personally, as a creative type of person, I tend to believe that pain fuels a great deal of art. Yes, even comic strips. I think it allows deep sensitive souls to find a release of sorts for their torment and anguish in a creative manner. For some it’s writing a song, for others it’s a book or work of art.
So, it seems, Charles Schulz’s loss was the world’s gain in the form of a series that he worked on for nearly 50 years from 1950 to 2000. His last comic strip appeared in print the day after he died. 15 years after his death his beloved characters have hit the big screen where it pulled in over $44 million dollars at the box office and generally good reviews.
Here’s the documentary
The Peanuts trailer