I’m SO excited to be a part of Peanuts Worldwide’s campaign celebrating 50 years of A Charlie Brown Christmas this year – what an honor! Everyone has memories and traditions with their friends and family during the Christmas season, and A Charlie Brown Christmas is such a huge part of them across generations, a timeless classic that everyone can come together to watch and appreciate.
To kick off the campaign, I (along with some other bloggers) dialed in to chat with Jill Schulz, the youngest daughter of Peanuts creator, Charles M. Schulz. It was really cool to hear from Jill firsthand what life was like with her brilliant dad, and what some of her favorite/memorable Christmas traditions are.
|The Schulz Family (Jill’s on the right)|
What was it like to celebrate Christmas in the Schulz family?
Jill: I always had great memories of it, but to us, that’s just how our Christmas was. Back then, there was not as much merchandise, publicity, worldwide status for Peanuts and Snoopy. We had a pretty typical Christmas, except that we opened our gifts on Christmas Eve. Typically, we’d have neighborhood friends and kids coming over and my mom cooked a great big dinner. Then we’d wait for Santa Claus, I’d always sneak back down and open a window because I thought there was no way he could fit down the chimney.
Once the TV show came out, that became a tradition: both Christmas and Halloween, they became something we’d gather around TV to watch. But to me, it just seemed like a normal family Christmas.
Was there anything in the special that was similar to your childhood?
Jill: There are elements that are supposed to come from my family. Like Lucy’s crabbiness came from Meredith. I’m told that Linus has a blanket because I always had a blanket. Dad was active in Sunday school when we were much younger, he taught there on Sundays for many years. So the Linus speech was something very important to him.
Lee Mendelson tells the story of meeting with the top guys at CBS—they said they loved the special, ‘But you need to take the Linus’ speech out.’ When Lee told Dad that he said, ‘Tell them to just forget it then.’ Now it’s become the most iconic part of the entire TV special. It’s one of my favorite parts because I know how important it was to my father.
Why do you suppose after 50 years, it’s still resonating with people?
Jill: Because the characters, the experiences they have, in the strip and the TV show are things that every generation has, does, and will continue to experience in life. Football with Charlie Brown. Everyone experiences losing. Everyone comments on commercialism. It’s been happening for years, will continue to happen. Siblings teasing each other, fighting, even if they love each other.”
“All of these things are extensions of his own personality or things he would observe in others. He was always observing everybody, whether in the coffee shop at the ice rink, or on trips. He was a great observer of human nature. Like many of us, he hung onto and had a clear vision of his feelings as a child. That comes across in the strip and the special.”
What is Christmas like for your family today?
Jill: After those big Christmases as a kid, I had to get adjusted to having Christmases with just my husband and my two kids. It felt so small. I tried to do the same traditions, watch the special, do the presents. For a while would go to Utah with my sister Amy. Amy and Monte are more sentimental about the past. She has nine kids, she tried to and successfully created the same kind of big family meal, friends coming over. It was great to do that for a while. Now we invite good friends and go to Utah to go skiing, have snow, make snowmen, do all of those traditional Christmas things we’ve heard of, even though we live in California. One tradition I didn’t keep: My parents always put an orange in Christmas stockings, I switched that to chocolate.
Tell me about ice skating and Snoopy.
Jill: Way back when I was 9 or 10 and ice skating, they decided to build a Snoopy costume to have him in the ice show. My mom made the first Snoopy costume. Someone else was supposed to be in it, and he didn’t show up. So I was the first skating Snoopy, skating to Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. It was hard to see—I remember falling over on the ice, but I got up and waved. I’m too claustrophobic now, so can’t do it anymore.
Did any other parts of your life show up in the comics or in your dad’s shows?
Jill: One of my favorite things that showed up in the strip and in a Broadway show was when my brother Craig was in high school, he had to do an art sculpture made from a coat hanger. He came home 2 days later with his grade, and it was a C. My dad said, ‘How can you grade a coat hanger sculpture?’ That became a funny scene in the show and the strip.
My sister Amy always talked too loud, so she had some Lucy qualities. One time she was told to be quiet, and she started buttering toast, and looked up and said, ‘Am I buttering too loud?’ I said, ‘If you pray with your hands upside down, you’ll get the opposite of what you pray for.’
Did your Dad think the special would be around 50 years later?
Jill: He wasn’t one to predict. The most important thing to him was drawing the comic strip. He’d always say, ‘I’m just a cartoonist.’ He was not setting out to make his cartoon famous, or sell merchandise. Those were everyone else’s ideas.
One thing he never understood was when people would say to him, ‘Mr. Schulz, you’re so successful now, why don’t you retire?’ He’d say, ‘Why would I spend my whole life to become successful at doing the thing I love to do, and then not do it?’ He passed away immediately after he decided he could no longer draw the strip. To him, it was all about drawing the comic strip.
Where do you see the franchise in 10 years?
Jill: We’d like to see it grow, to continue the legacy of my dad and keep the characters out there. But there’s a careful line between keeping the integrity of my dad’s characters and creating enough new material to keep it fresh for new generations.
New movie in fall of 2015. Brother Craig Schulz and his son worked on the script with Fox Studios and director Steve Martino. This movie, with the new technology of 4D, mixed with 3D and 2D, is fun and new, done with a lot of class. Hoping it will generate interest from new generations. We have to keep up with where the kids are today—social media, apps, movies. You can’t expect to introduce kids to it without all that.
Who’s your favorite Peanuts character and why?
Jill: My absolute favorite is Snoopy because I like his imagination and his free spirit, how he imagines whatever he wants to be. I had a pretend friend as a kid that everyone teased me about. And because he’s a dog and I love rescue animals. Then it would be Linus, because I like how calm he remains, how philosophical he is.
When was the first time you realized who your dad was, did it affect you?
Jill: He was my dad first, but I can’t deny there were lots of opportunities that have come out of the fact that Charles Schulz was my dad. Things I’ve learned. He was successful with what he did, but I never wanted to feel like I wanted to use that, or that I’m any more special than anyone else because my dad was well-known. I’ve always wanted to carve my own path – such as the shows I produce that have nothing to do with Snoopy. It helps that none of us could draw at all
Once I became a teenager and in my 20s, I did get a greater awareness of the difference between people who are your real friends and those who just want to be your friend because of that. But everybody’s life has an advantage and a disadvantage, no matter who they are.
There are too many people who do things because they want to be famous. My dad always said, ‘The joy is in the process, not the end result.’ I’ve always kept that in my back pocket.
Favorite merchandise item?
Jill: There was a board game called the Pursuit of Happiness – don’t know if it’s still out there. And I probably have 200 stuffed animals at home; the 5-foot stuffed Snoopy is one of my favorites. I did get a new sno-cone machine. And the Happiness Is a Warm Blanket book series. Those were great.
Stay tuned for more exciting posts and giveaways to celebrate 50 years of A Charlie Brown Christmas and enter below for a chance to win a vintage Snoopy plush and the “Be Joyful” Peanuts book!
What are some of your favorite Christmas memories?
*Disclosure: I was provided with the information, video, and images as a Peanuts 50 Years on TV Brand Ambassador