The story be­hind Char­lie Brown’s hope for a Valen­tine

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - MICHAEL CAVNA

If young Donna Mae John­son had re­turned Charles Schulz’s af­fec­tions all the way to the al­tar, the world might never have re­ceived the great­est Valen­tine’s Day comics nar­ra­tive ever told.

In­stead, be­cause the red-headed Ms. John­son chose an­other man over “Sparky” Schulz, read­ers would be for­ever gifted with Char­lie Brown’s an­nual rit­ual of un­re­quited love.

Tues­day was the 64th an­niver­sary of the first Valen­tine’s Day “Peanuts” strip, in which Char­lie Brown be­moans, “I didn’t get a sin­gle Valen­tine! Not one!!”— which prompts the gift of a pity card.

That in­au­gu­ral strip didn’t fea­ture the Lit­tle Red-Haired Girl, but “Peanuts” even­tu­ally would, as the off-cam­era ob­ject of Chuck’s ob­ses­sion be­came a run­ning sym­bol of his dreams, de­sires and hard-luck love life.

Sev­eral years be­fore that strip ap­peared, Schulz fell for the real-life “lit­tle red-haired girl” in his na­tive Min­nesota. In con­trast to the comic, Charles and Donna ac­tu­ally dated.

“She was the first per­son Sparky was in a real re­la­tion­ship with — the first per­son he let his love all hang out for,” Jean Schulz, who was mar­ried to the “Peanuts” cre­ator for the bet­ter part of three decades, told The Wash­ing­ton Post in 2015.

“Oh, we dated about two years,” the real-life Donna John­son told The Post in 2015. “I loved him.”

Ul­ti­mately, though, Donna chose Al Wold, a strap­ping fire­fighter, over Schulz.

“I guess I chose Al be­cause I knew Al’s friends, who be­came my friends,” she said.

“I didn’t re­ally know Sparky’s friends.”

Schulz could not read­ily for­get the sting of that loss. United Fea­ture Syn­di­cate launched his “Peanuts” in 1950; within three years, his first Valen­tine’s Day card strip ap­peared.

In 1961, Char­lie Brown men­tioned “that lit­tle girl with the red hair” for the first time. But it wasn’t to be; he pined for her through the end of the fea­ture, as well as in the an­i­mated spe­cials and the re­cent fea­ture film.

We can’t know her, Jean Schulz said. “There’s this mys­tique and this fan­tasy.”

But Char­lie Brown’s mailbox pa­tience — like vig­ils for re­quited love — was en­dur­ing.

“There’s an old leg­end that says if you stand in front of your mailbox long enough, you’ll re­ceive a Valen­tine,” Char­lie Brown says to Lucy in one es­pe­cially mem­o­rable strip. In an­other, he says, “Valen­tine’s Day is over. I’d give any­thing if that lit­tle red-haired girl had sent me a Valen­tine.”

This dy­namic would fuel two an­i­mated spe­cials, 1975’s “Be My Valen­tine, Char­lie Brown” and Schulz’s post­hu­mous 2002 show, “A Char­lie Brown Valen­tine.”

It also would spark a 13-year tra­di­tion at the Schulz Mu­seum in the Bay Area: Ahead of Valen­tine’s Day, red­heads get free ad­mis­sion.

Donna John­son Wold died last Au­gust — one year af­ter she told The Post, “I’ve had a good life.”


The Lit­tle Red-Haired Girl, as she ap­pears in the fea­ture film "The Peanuts Movie."

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