A Peanuts Prospectus : Charlie Brown, and the Summer of Peggy Jean
I know what you’re probably thinking, and no: the title of this post is not a review of some fanfiction about Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang (besides, I abhor fanfiction!).
Viewing the recent Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit presentation that rolled into town these last few months, I began to think of some of the unrequited love that had been prevalent throughout the series.
Being that Valentine’s Day is approaching, I did consider a post regarding the fabled Little Red-Haired Girl of the series, but want to save that discussion for another time.
Throughout the 50-year run of the Peanuts comic strip, we were often treated to many situations where characters faced failure, or often were unable to get what they wanted most. Of course, Schulz wasn’t always a sadistic creator who kept his characters from victory or good times. I remember opening the newspaper in 1993, and found a panel showing Charlie Brown joyously rushing home, after having won the game for his team!
Though Charlie’s shyness and “yes-I-can/no-I-can’t” attitude kept him from meeting the Little Red-Haired Girl in the comics, he had some luck with another little girl in the summer of 1990. Going to summer camp (and taking Snoopy along), Charlie became enraptured by a little girl with a bow in her hair.
Of course, Charlie’s not one to make the first move, but Snoopy will (provided a cute girl has sweet treats for cuddly animals).
Needless to say, Charlie feels insecure, and calls home to talk to Linus. Even though he has eyes for this new girl, Linus asks him if he still has feelings for the Little Red-Haired Girl. This leads Charlie to mutter: ‘who?’
Wow. This girl must really be something to make him forget the Little Red-Haired Girl just like that!
The next day, Charlie meets the little girl in line for lunch (right), and they have a small conversation, leading to one of my favorite last-panel commentations.
It turns out that talking to this little girl has opened the door for Charlie Brown. The next time we see the two, they are sitting down by the water, and the girl tells him that her name is Peggy Jean. When Charlie attempts to say his name, he becomes so tongue-tied, that he transposes it, calling himself “Brownie Charles.”
Needing comfort from his ‘long-distance wingman,’ Charlie calls Linus, and tells him of the progress he’s made. Of course, one mention of his “Brownie Charles” slip-up has Linus in hysterics. Though a pleasant grin spreads across Charlie’s face at the realization that even though Peggy Jean calls him by this name, he likes it.
It seems everything is coming up roses for Charlie Brown. He’s found a cute little girl he can talk to, and seems to have given himself (accidentally) a pet-name for her to call him by (akin to Sally’s ‘Sweet Babboo’ to Linus). Of course, the next day’s strip is a bit of a shocker, when Peggy Jean broaches a pretty stomach-churning question:
Wow. Any relationship is bound to come with questions, but the nervousness about a first kiss from a cute girl is nothing compared to the sheer horror Charlie faces soon after:
Yes, Peggy Jean has unleashed the ultimate test on Charlie Brown (without her knowing it). Of course, having been through this same scenario before, he searches for something to convince him that Peggy is sincere in her intentions.
He first calls Linus, asking if a girl like Peggy will pull the ball away like Lucy does…only to realize that it’s Lucy who has answered the phone!
Quickly hanging up the phone, he returns to Peggy Jean, and decides to go for it…but stops right before kicking the football, still unsure.
Making another call to Linus, he does get his friend on the line this time. Charlie asks Linus if he should trust Peggy, and Linus tells him “yes.”
Returning to the spot where she was, Charlie finds the football, but no sign of Peggy Jean. Just then, another camper comes up and hands Charlie a note (right). Needless to say, it’s a pretty bitter blow.
The next few days are pretty miserable for ol’ Charlie Brown. Dejected that he couldn’t trust a girl like Peggy Jean to hold a football, he calls Linus for console, and gets a golf analogy (“it’s all I could think of to say,” replies Linus, when Charlie wonders what this has to do with his love life).
Charlie and Snoopy then return to the small dock where they first saw Peggy Jean. As Charlie remembers her calling him “Brownie Charles,” a voice suddenly startles him and Snoopy:
Yes, Peggy Jean returned! Being the sweet girl she is, Charlie Brown’s niceness overpowered her feelings of distrust, and she gives him something to really smile about! (right)
Shortly after being reunited, camp ends, and the two say goodbye. Peggy has no problems telling Charlie Brown “I love you,” and requests that he write and/or call her.
The summer camp story arc lasted from late-July through early-August of 1990. Hopeful of Peggy Jean’s correspondence, Charlie eagerly awaited her letters after writing to her like he promised. However, by late-August, Charlie began to grow worried when nothing had arrived for him from Peggy. His worrying makes him unable to realize he caught a pop fly without looking during a baseball game, and leads Linus to think of the worst-case scenario: that the whole thing was just another summer romance, and that Peggy Jean has found a new boyfriend.
Eventually, the case of the missing letters is solved. Because Peggy Jean only knew Charlie Brown as “Brownie Charles,” that was the name she put on her letters to him. Apparently, Sally told the mailman thirty times (!?!) that there was no such person at their address by that name (and people say Lucy is deplorable!). With this realization, Charlie quickly composes an apology letter to Peggy Jean (and most likely tells the mailman that his stupid sister was mistaken). A short time later, Charlie receives a letter from Peggy Jean, and it seems she still has feelings for him! She even remembers Snoopy, and asks Charlie to give him a hug for her.
In the Winter of 1990, Peggy entered Charlie’s mind (and the comic strip) again when he decided to buy her a pair of gloves. Of course, he was shocked to find that a good pair cost $25! To raise enough money, he ended up selling his entire comic book collection, only to meet Peggy Jean at the same store…where her Mom had just bought her a new pair of gloves.
What’s notable is this story arc actually made it into the 1992 special, It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown. It would also signify the only time that Peggy Jean would appear in animated form, but must have left some of the viewers scratching their heads. Why? Well, just look at the color of her hair!
Charlie Brown and Peggy Jean’s summer camp story had never been animated, so to the unintiated, Peggy’s appearance must have seemed quite strange (she even calls him “Brownie Charles” like in the comic story). With that reddish-blonde tint to her hair, I’m sure some viewers assumed this was the animated appearance of The Little Red-Haired Girl (FYI: TLRHG was animated in the specials It’s Your First Kiss Charlie Brown, and Happy New Year, Charlie Brown).
One of the early VHS boxes for the Christmas Special also got TLRHG and Peggy Jean confused. The lettering on the back claims that Charlie Brown “is worried about getting the perfect present for the Little Red-Haired Girl.”
Personally, when it came to the color of Peggy Jean’s hair, I imagined her as more of a light-colored brunette.
The following Spring, Charlie Brown began to wrestle with his feelings for both Peggy Jean, and The Little Red-Haired Girl. Linus recommends that he should tell Peggy Jean about this, even though it could lead to the possibility of Charlie never being with either one in the future due to his honesty. Charlie Brown even consults Sally for help, but she also seems to be on Linus’ side on the matter.
However, Charlie’s emotional rollercoaster ride comes to a screeching halt when his letter to Peggy Jean is returned! Apparently she has moved, and there’s no way to contact her now. One wonders why she didn’t tell Charlie Brown about this, but not everything is explained in the world of Peanuts (take Snoopy’s active imagination, for example). After his contact with Peggy Jean is cut off, Charlie soon returned to pining for the Little Red-Haired Girl, but had a brief respite with another little girl named Emily, five years later. However, that’s a story for another time.
Even though it seemed Peggy Jean was gone, she was referenced a few times afterwards. During a baseball game, Schroeder mentions that baseball has probably taken her off Charlie’s mind. Later on that fall as he waits by the mailbox, Charlie has hope that maybe Peggy has written to him, but there’s no such luck to be had.
In December of 1997, Charlie Brown’s glove-buying strips with Peggy Jean returned to the printed page in the equivalent of a comic strip rerun (no, not Linus and Lucy’s younger brother). Their appearance fell within the only time Schulz took a break from the strip, when he carved out a 5-week sabbatical to celebrate his 75th birthday.
During the final year of the Peanuts strip, Peggy Jean returned for her last appearance, in a Sunday strip for July 11, 1999 (the only time she appeared in color in the newspapers). Just like her first meeting with Charlie Brown, it happened on a dock at summer camp, but the results of this meeting don’t go so well:
Yes, apparently, Peggy Jean moved on, and what Charlie probably thought would be a welcome reunion between them seemed more like a casual greeting. One can almost sense Charlie Brown’s eagerness to rekindle their former relationship, but this iteration of Peggy Jean seems more distant than the girl we were introduced to 9 years before. The standard train of thought is that people change, and while Peggy has, Charlie hasn’t. Then again, it does seem that it can take a lot to change someone as wishy-washy as Charlie Brown.
It should also be noted that the reappearance of Peggy Jean occurred in the summer, months before Schulz would be diagnosed with colon cancer, signaling the end of his lifelong dream of cartooning. Would another little girl have entered Charlie Brown’s life if Schulz had continued to draw on into the 21st century? Or was that special moment in the summer of 1990 just that for Charlie: a special moment? We almost all have experienced one sometime in our lives.
Overall, I found Peggy Jean’s introduction in 1990 one of the more memorable story arcs of that decade. Apparently, her appearance back in 1990 had some eager to know where Schulz was going after the first few strips. A reporter from San Francisco managed to speak to Schulz about the summer camp story arc, but even at that time, Schulz was not going to give any further details, other than to say that the tone of the story was more upbeat than his normal ones.
Peggy Jean was also one of the few minor characters to make her way into Peanuts merchandise. One of which was a Westland Giftware porcelain figure featuring both Charlie Brown and Peggy Jean in a small field of flowers (right). What’s a little odd is the title of the piece, which is called Charlie Brown and the Peggy Jean. One has to wonder if maybe they had originally meant Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl, but someone caught the mistake partway through production.
Peggy Jean also makes an appearance in the Appstore game, Snoopy’s Street Fair (left). She appears under a pink, heart-shaped tree, and if you play the game properly, Charlie will ‘fly’ over to her, and sit on a bench with her under the tree.
In some circles, Peggy Jean has earned the unofficial title of Charlie Brown’s Girlfriend. One could almost call her that, given she’s kissed him and held his hands, along with actually having verbal contact with Charlie Brown.
While the world knows all-too-well Charlie’s fascination with the seemingly unattainable Little Red-Haired Girl, I felt I should be one of the few to point out Peggy Jean’s time with him. Her appearance showed how Charles Schulz would give his characters little flashes of hope and happiness, even in the face of hardship and failure, which can often seem overwhelming at times.