Jimmy: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. This is Unpacking Peanuts, and we have made it all the way through the first two decades of this incredible comic strip. So, obviously, I think the world consensus is that we are, if not at the absolute tippy top peak of Peanuts, we are certainly adjacent to it on one side or the other. And it's been absolutely a blast to go through all these strips all these years. So I just can't wait to get into talking about it all.
I'm Jimmy Gownley. I'm your host for this evening. I'm also a cartoonist. I did the Amelia Rules series. I did the book Seven Good Reasons Not to Grow Up. And the book The Dumbest Idea ever. Joining me, as always, are my pals co hosts and fellow cartoonists.
He's a playwright, and he's a composer, both for The band Complicated People, as well as for this very podcast. He's the co creator of the original comic book Price Guide, the original editor of Amelia Rules, and the creator of such great strips as Strange Attractors, Tangled River, and A Gathering of Spells. It's Michael Cohen.
Michael: Hey, there.
Jimmy: And he's the executive producer and writer for Mystery Science Theater 3000, a former vice president of Archie Comics, and the current creator of the instagram sensation Sweetest Beasts, Harold Buchholz.
Jimmy: Well, guys, we did it. We've discussed two entire decades of the comic strip Peanuts. We have seen some of the best work ever done by any cartoonist ever, anywhere. What do we have to say about it? Harold, why don't you start? What was your feel going through, these sixties, strips? And how do you see them as different from the 50s strips, if you could sum them up in such a simple way?
Harold: I love living in the Peanuts world. This has just been a joy and a privilege and honor to do this with you guys. It's been amazing, and I'm very happy that we've done this. I'm learning a lot as a cartoonist. We get to go in kind of a little more in depth into things and really get a sense of what made Charles Schulz, and what made Peanuts Peanuts. And that's super helpful to me.
I feel like 1960s is when Schulz really hits his stride, and it is amazing to see someone just come alongside the culture and engage with it on so many different levels. He's hitting people where they are, and he's fulfilling a need that nobody knew they had. To be right in the center of aspects of the culture is truly remarkable in the 1960s. It just works on every level visually. the humor, the richness of these characters, and then all of the different places that you now can interact with them, it just continues to expand, whether it's in book collections, whether it's in the gift books and the greeting cards, the animated specials. Now a feature film at the end of the decade, a lot of people are engaging with Peanuts on a lot of different levels. And even, I mean, the one that just still I can't get over, that blows me away is that he's in outer space. Charlie Brown and Snoopy have gone with astronauts to outer space. How late 1960s can you get?
Jimmy: Yeah, you can't get more center of the Zeitgeist than the moon landing, I wouldn't think of 1969. That's pretty impressive.
Harold: And I was just following the arc of this Anger and Happiness index, which by the way, if you go to Peanuts Obscurities Liz has been tracking these numbers that we keep popping up all through these episodes about whether the strips are showing anger and happiness. And to see them in an arc, is really interesting. Particularly the happiness thing is we started that in 57 and then it peaked out in 1958 at 170 and then dropped, dropped, dropped, dropped, and then leveled out 63, 64, and then started to climb and then level off in 66 at 100 and around 130s. That's kind of interesting to me that the anger is a little bit more kind of the classic, the business chart that you see in the boardroom sequences of New Yorker cartoons. It's more or less steady, just up and down. I think there's a little more anger in the early fifties and then it just starts to kind of float. Starting 1960s between, I guess the low was 85, so I guess there's, there's some range in his high of 146 and 67, but it's not quite as clearly flowing line as you see the happiness index. But anyway, for the decade, it's just interesting to see that things are changing and that's just one little slice of Peanuts that I've been trying to kind of, I don't know, pull out of the strip to get a sense of where Schulz might be in the humor that he's doing and the stories he's telling. But anyway, there's so many different ways to slice and dice Peanuts.
Jimmy: Yeah, it's really interesting and I think it would be great if we could go back and do indexes for a variety of other things. Maybe that's for someone else's podcast. Because it's weird because what you're charting is the strip, of course, but you're also in some way charting the creator of the strip because he's the one pouring himself into it every day.
Harold: Before we started this, I remember I did one, I think it was 1958 and 1968. I don't know where it is, but it was how many times does, does the character kind of face the reader and address the reader? And it was like through the roof, 1968. He hardly did it in 1958. And that's another piece of 1960s Peanuts, is we start to see the person just repeating an odd phrase at the end, and that's the punchline, that sort of thing.
Jimmy: So, Michael, what are you thinking? You were an OG reader. You started when, you were five or six years old. At this point, you're out of high school. I, mean, at this point in our chronology of the strips some time ago in Real, what are your thoughts of the 60s, let's say, versus, the 50s? Just what's your general impressions?
Michael: Okay, well, I pretty much grew up with Peanuts. And literally I did, because the first Peanuts came out like, a month after I was born. So even though I wasn't reading it when I was one, it was there. I'm pretty sure that the 60s is going to go down as the peak. So we're at the top of the mountain. We're at Mount Everest now, which makes the 1960s the peak decade. The 50s were great. I'm a big fan of the late 50s, but the 50s is kind of hampered by, I'd say, three years for Schulz to get up to his peak level. It's great from the beginning, but it gets really great, I think around 55. So we have, roughly half a decade of the yeah, it's the top. It'll never be beat. It's possible. It'll stay great. I don't know. I haven't read it. So I'm going to find out. So I can't really add a whole lot to Harold's analysis of the 60s. So I'm going to focus in on just one aspect, which, of course, we've mentioned a lot. But, I'm going to talk about one aspect of Schulz's creation that I think just gets overlooked because it's so obvious. But I'm going to posit that Schulz and Peanuts is the funniest thing in the 60s. In terms of humor, it's the best. What it's competing with is, film stars. Woody Allen, Peter Sellers.
Harold: Jerry Lewis.
Michael: It's competing with and then, of course, the old timers who are still around. Jack Benny, Bob Hope, whatever. Then there was the beginning of comedy albums, right. I think of Alan Sherman. I think of Bob Newhart. I think of Bill Cosby. All really funny. And the kind of thing it was kind of odd that people would buy comedy albums and listen to them over and over again. But just on, the fact of consistent level of laugh out loud, I think Schulz is the funniest person in the 60s.
Jimmy: I never thought about it that way, but I think you might be right.
Michael: I can't think-- Woody Allen. Yeah, it's hit and miss.
Jimmy: And most of his peak stuff that people really love comes later and isn't quite as schticky and like joke, joke, joke as the 60s stuff.
Michael: Yeah. And Shelley Berman. There's just lots of stand ups.
Jimmy: Nichols and May.
Michael: But yeah. And a lot of it's brilliant. But then again, Schulz is brilliant every day.
Jimmy: Every day.
Michael: And I'm not one to laugh because I don't like humor, but I thought going over some of these strips that I've thought on my whole life. It's still funny.
Harold: That's really interesting, Michael. my wife, Diane Cook, she would remark when I was she's like the only person I know who reads comics and laughs out loud. And I was like, wow, that's a sad indictment in comics. But yeah, it is kind of unusual. And why to read a comic strip and not laugh out loud and Peanuts does make me laugh out loud. I think of television. The one show that from this era that made me and makes me laugh out loud, that is just kind of a surreal thing. Was Green Acres.
Michael: Really? Good God.
Harold: Yeah. That is.
Michael: I'm sorry I did not mention the Dick Van Dyke Show.
Harold: Oh, Dick Van Dyke Show. Yeah.
Michael: Which would be in contention except what? It ran three, four years.
Jimmy: Five years. And when you watch them, they don't all hold up right? There's like four or five episodes a season that you could show to anybody now, which is more than anybody else was doing in those first early years of 60s, probably. but it doesn't compare to no.
Michael: And it has little Ritchie instead of Linus, so it's not comparable. Anyway, just ignoring all the other brilliance and the darker side of Peanuts, which is really something that shaped my worldview. It's very cynical. But just from, flat out yucks is funniest thing in the as you know, was a very funny deck.
Harold: Well, it's interesting you say cynical. You see Peanuts as cynical?
Michael: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's cynical towards how humans behave towards each other.
Harold: See, I wouldn't use the term, but I think I know what you're talking about.
Michael: And how people delude themselves. Yeah. No, I mean, I identified with that. It's just you're feeling like the outsider, feeling like brother and sister. There's this fight for dominance. Poor little dog who wants to be a human. Doesn't get any respect. That's pretty cynical worldview. I'm always stunned when I because I look at Facebook a lot because of the podcast. I'm always trying to promote it on Facebook. So I subscribe to lots of sites. And so I get lots of Peanuts stuff on my feed. And most of it is a bunch of kids dancing madly with huge grins on their face. And I just go that's not Peanuts. Frantically trying to be happy is not.
Harold: why do you say they're trying?
Michael: Well, because Charlie Brown is Charlie Brown. He's not going to be happy when he grows up. If he ever grows up.
Harold: Well, that's interesting because I want to see the next 30 years because I'm not-- kind of like Michael after maybe the early 80s. I'm out of the loop. And I get this sense of contentment maybe in the last years. That, again, I'm so spotty with it that, it'll be interesting to read them. Read through them and see where Schulz winds up with Peanuts, because I missed so much of it.
Michael: Yeah, well, me too. But again, it's kind of absurd. Of course they're cartoon characters, but if Charlie Brown thinks he doesn't have friends whereas if I was always sitting on a tree with a friend talking about life, that's a friend. If I was standing against the wall talking about life, that's a friend.
Jimmy: Right. I think, one of the things that really spoke to me about that aspect of Charlie Brown was in the 1969 strips where he's waiting, he's watching the little red haired girl leave, and Linus is begging him to do something, and he won't. And then he's instantly back to pining, and it's like, yeah, Charlie Brown, you are set in your way of seeing yourself and seeing the world at this point. not all the time, but sometimes that's really detrimental to you. You don't love the little red haired girl. You love pining for the little red haired girl. And that's so sad. That's deeply sad. But somehow because that's not all Charlie Brown is. Like, if that was all Charlie Brown is, that would be a really dark view of a person. But he has all these other aspects, the big brotherly aspect, which is coming into the fore at this point. the optimist aspect that it allows you to take that, which for me, is like a crushing character flaw. It's the kind of thing that drives me as crazy as it drives Linus in the strip. But that's not all Charlie Brown is. And that's amazing. Again, with these tiny little cartoon characters made of pen and ink.
Harold: Yeah. They're so rich and they're contradictory in themselves.
Jimmy: Yes. And only a master of whatever type of writing you're doing can do that type of thing.
Harold: and hold it together. Yeah.
Michael: Especially well, getting back to the funny the comedy aspect, what I really appreciate yeah. I think most people would agree it's a very funny strip. The characters are not making jokes when you're laughing at a panel. It's not because somebody said something funny. It's because they are being true to their character to the extent that it's funny that they're kind of trapped. Even Linus, who comes across as the one who would be a successful person in the real world, is beset with all kinds of insecurities.
Michael: And, that's funny and, very relatable. It's not cruel. It's not cruel. Except the bird known as Woodstock falls on his head a lot, which is that was comedy in the 1930s.
Jimmy: Yeah Right. That would be the whole thing. Do you guys ever see the comic strip, Top of the World by a guy named Mark Tonra about these two guys in jail? It's very funny. It only lasted a few years. It was really good. But he did a parody of, like, 1930s comic strips. And it was just a guy. And he sees a banana peel and he goes “bandanas.” And then the next panel is him laying on the ground and he just says, “pithy woe.” To me that is the 1930s comic strip.
Michael: Yeah, of course. And of course, Chris Ware made his career, at least the start of his career, basically. Just taking that to the extreme of the prat falls, except it's actually going to smash your skull.
Harold: Yeah. It's like removing the humor from the tropes that were supposed to be funny. And you're focusing on the dread, and the repetition.
Jimmy: Well, the other thing that has to be said about and Michael alluded to this earlier is that every day. You have to commit to that. You have to commit to the fact that I am going to write and draw one of these things every single day of my life.
Michael: He's got to hit at least a double.
Jimmy: Right. And it's got to be at that. Most people, I think, are like, I'll take a couple of walks. Right? We'll manufacture a run, here and there. But Schulz. No, I mean, you're right. He is, like, swinging for the fences, trying to make stuff every single day. He wants to be the best comic on the page.
Harold: And he owns it. Nobody else could do the humor he's doing. There's nobody in his space with these characters and with his way of seeing the world. We do see a lot of things that are coming up alongside it that evoke it. I'm thinking like Miss Peach and a lot of stuff that was going on. She was so influential. But because he's built this cast of characters, for one thing, like Michael, you said the humor comes from the characters. Nobody else has Snoopy. Nobody else has Charlie Brown.
Harold: he just owns it.
Michael: So you haven't seen Miss Peach, the musical?
Harold: I haven't.
Jimmy: Is there a Miss Peach the musical?
Harold: Be off broadway. Miss Prune parody.
Jimmy: Well, you know, the other thing, when you're talking about these latter day kids comics hacks like Mel Lazarus or Bill Watterson or Me or Me.
Michael: You have a Musical.
Harold: That's right. I love all those.
Jimmy: But no, what I'm saying is we all get to start post Peanuts.
Jimmy: So all of the stuff that Schulz invented, we get to start with.
Jimmy: That's wild. Every once in a while, I'm a little proud of my work. Recently, one of those episodes we were talking about funny comics, that the guy from Nickelodeon was saying, are there any funny comics? Yeah. Amelia Rules is goddamn funny. Twice as funny as any of those things you listed. I'm sure. However, that's partly because I get to start post Peanuts. And that is a North Star that he didn't have. Keith Richards didn't have the Rolling Stones to look at and figure out how a career goes.
Jimmy: So I think those guys you got to give extra special credit.
Harold: Yeah. Who doesn't stand on Charles Schulz's shoulders? That's in this field. It's amazing.
Jimmy: Yeah, absolutely. All right, so here's my question for you guys. Well, you know what, actually, I'll save that question. Why don't we take a break now? I'll come back, I have a couple of little questions, and then we'll get to our big surprise. So, stay tuned. We'll see you on the other side of the break.
VO: Hi, everyone. Have you seen the latest Anger and Happiness index? Have you admired the photo of Jimmy as Luke Skywalker? Or read the details of how Michael Co-created the first comic book price guide? Just about every little known subject we mention is referenced on the Unpacking Peanuts website. Peanuts Obscurities are explained further, and other stories are expanded more than you ever wanted to know, from Albert Payson Terhune to Zipitone and Annette Funicello to Zorba the Greek, plus the latest tier list, and, of course, the Shermometer. Check it all out@unpackingPeanuts.com/ Obscurities.
Jimmy: And we're back. Did you miss us? You didn't. I know. I can tell. I could tell in your voice. It's just not the same anymore. But don't worry, we'll make it through. Anyway, it's our 1960s wrap up. Hey, Michael, how about the old tier list as we go, from, 1969 and getting ready for 1970? Do we have any changes in that?
Michael: Yeah, mostly downward. We're losing them at a frightening rate at this point. We're eliminating the last tier, which is the ex Peanut.
Harold: Too big a list.
Jimmy: There's too many.
Michael: It is legion. Okay, here we go. This is at the end of the decade. Here's where we stand. Tier A, the starring quartet hasn't changed at all. Need I mentioned their names?
Jimmy: Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Lucy.
Michael: Tier B seems fairly consistent. We've got Schroeder, who's always been there as a backup, as a catcher, as a piano player. Sally, who's I think like the funniest character. Still, she doesn't appear all that much. And then Peppermint Patty, who as of 69, is not showing up all that much either, but we know she's going to be huge, C, is our, supporting players. And Frieda, who could have faded away because she was basically a one joke character, but she still appears fairly often and drives some of the plot lines. Violet, who we're talking about, one of the founding members, is fading, but she still shows up a lot more than Patty. They used to be pretty even. And then Woodstock, or the Bird soon to be called Woodstock, really is starting to break out strong. And he's clearly now marked as Snoopy's second in command.
Jimmy: And so his Samwise.
Michael: Yeah, he's starting to show up a lot. And then the last category, also featuring we've got Roy, who was basically only appearing at the camp when people go to the camp, but he's been showing up now and then with Peppermint Patty, so he's in the neighborhood. And then there's the original Patty, who I'm afraid had some bad luck with her name.
Harold: Huh. She's hit the D list.
Michael: Yeah, well, she's hit the D-list, and I think it's having two Patties is one Patty too many, so she's sinking. Five. Yeah, he's there occasionally when there's a bunch of guys standing in line or playing baseball. His sisters have vanished. Franklin, who came on big last year, still hasn't had a breakout performance, but we'll see. he's hanging in there, but he's not getting a whole lot of airplay. And then Shermy.
Jimmy: This will be the last year that we have.
Michael: He tried everything. He tried being nice. He tried being everything under the sun.
Harold: 19 years is a good run. Yeah.
Jimmy: nothing clicked for old...
Michael: Yeah, I suppose, but we have to say goodbye to Shermy.
Jimmy: But I love that he went out with a little joie d vive. He had the wild extra quarter inch on his crew cut by 1969. I like that he's loose.
Michael: Yeah, he was getting too hairy for the strip. Strip favors bald characters.
Jimmy: You know what? As it should be at this moment. Should we take a second for one last Shermometer
Harold: in honor of Shermy
Liz: Yeah, let's do it, too.
Michael: should we sing? Can you sing it in a mournful tone?
Jimmy: I think we know from the birthday episode, I cannot sing it.
Harold: Michael now that we have a complete version, maybe you can write a tune around it.
Michael: All right, well, before you do thermometer before you do the Ode to Shermy, let me finish the tier list-- category E is this is even more severe than Shermy. Pig pen didn't even show up this year, and I think he's done. So he's going to join all the other F list characters, and I guess Shermy will be there, too. And they are up in comic strip heaven.
Jimmy: Yeah, we are coming up on a nine year period where Pig Pen will not be in the strip. And then he does come back later, which is possibly unique.
Michael: Well, it's a little weird because he seemed to be kind of popular.
Jimmy: He's still an icon of the strip. I think he just wasn't popular with Schulz. I think he felt he didn't have a lot to say or do with him. Anyway, that does leave our boy. What can we add? We should add something. What is his last trait?
Jimmy: How about absent? So that makes Shermy me an absent, inquisitive, shaggy, expository, Cool. Straggling, bystanding, cynical, philosophical history- loving, empathetic, aggressive, compassionate, patient, pedantic, Emotional, good listening, vain. Friendly, hypocrite.
Michael: A well rounded human being.
Jimmy: Way to go.
Michael: You lived a good life.
Jimmy: So, okay, here's my other questions for you guys, and then we're going to get to our big surprise. Pick your favorite year. What's your favorite year of the 60s, Peanuts wise?
Jimmy: Of the your favorite year of the 60s
Jimmy: Is 1959.
Jimmy: All right. Good call, Harold?
Harold: Oh, gosh. that's tough. from memory as a kid, I'd say 65.
Jimmy: 65. It was always 65 for me until this read. I'm now going to go with 68.
Harold: Yeah, I see that. Yeah. I really did enjoy these last years of Peanuts. Most recent ones.
Jimmy: Yeah. So good. Well, listen, as we go forward, I think in some ways, our job has, been super easy and actually really of benefit mostly to us, if you think about it, because, we have been week in and week out talking about Peanuts. And we've not only been talking about Peanuts, which is the most popular and greatest comic strip of all time, but we've been talking about the most popular and greatest period of the comic. I think everyone in the world thinks that 1960s Peanuts is the bees knees. So what I want to do, for my call to action, for the three four of us as we, go forward, is this next half has to be about, before, rather, both the listeners and Mr. Schulz. I think there is a tendency in any artist's work, especially someone with a huge body of work, it's just to focus on one section, the section that everybody knows and agrees upon. But I want to make our goal to be the guides for, people who are going to brave it out to the end. so hopefully, as we go forward, we're going to be able to show you guys some nooks and crannies and some forgotten and maybe, unjustly ignored, aspects of the last 30 years of the strip.
Harold: I'm getting chills.
Jimmy: I'm really excited for it. Yeah. Because and I'm excited because I'm going to start picking some of my favorites. Now, I held off on that for the because I knew if all three of us were selecting them, too, we would have 365 strips to talk about. So I'm looking forward, to what's to come. I have to say. I really am. Hey. And what's to come next is the big surprise. We are going to talk about a beloved part of Peanuts that is adjacent to the main strip. We're going to discuss Your Good Man, Charlie Brown, the famous off Broadway musical that you've probably seen somewhere, either, the animated version or in your local school or church basement. And, we're lucky enough that we have, in the family, someone who was affiliated with and part of one of the earliest amateur productions of Your Good Man, Charlie Brown. It's Liz Sumner. Hey, Liz.
Jimmy: So tell us what we're about to listen to.
Liz: This is a conversation with my friends from high school, the woman who had the brilliant idea to put on the show. This was spring of 1972, and that's Marcia, and my friend Gay, who directed us and here comes the interview with them where they tell you all about it.
Jimmy: That is fantastic. Here we go.
Jimmy: I am so excited to have these special guests here. Liz, why don't you, give a quick introduction here to our audience for our guests?
Liz: I would be delighted. So these two ladies are dear friends of mine from high school, which was quite a number of years ago.
Jimmy: Almost nine at this point.
Gay: Thank you for that.
Liz: So we have Marcia Hepps, who has acted, directed, and taught theater from the Sundance Institute in Utah to Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont. She's been a proud member of Actors Equity and SAGAFTRA for over 20 years. And Gay Merwin, who is an Actor's Equity Association stage manager who worked on Broadway and with touring companies for 21 years. And, back in 1972, they weren't quite so accomplished. And Marcia, had this crazy idea to do a production of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown.
Jimmy: This is fantastic. Now, okay, so 1972. So let's set it up. I believe the show itself came out in 1968, is that correct?
Liz: I think it might have been a little earlier.
Jimmy: A little earlier. So it's had its initial run, and now this is the first time when people are going to be able to put on their own productions of Your Good Man, Charlie Brown. Right. Which is something that it became famous for. It's one of the most performed musicals in the world. Right. So take me back to that time. What made you decide this is what the show you wanted to do? How did it go about happening? And were you, like a Peanuts fan going into it? Did you become one because of it? Take, us back to those days.
Marcia: Well, how can you not be a Peanuts fan first?
Marcia: So my roommate Jenny and I were sitting in our dorm room and we were listening to the recording of Your Good Man, Charlie Brown. And I thought, we could do this. We should do this. So we went to our drama teacher and I said, can we do this? And he said, yes, but I can't direct it. I don't have the time. But I have this directing student that would be great for that sort of thing. So he told us about Gay. Well, Jenny and I had-- and Liz, I've got to ask you about this. Jenny and I while we were dreaming and just sort of you know how you listen to an album and you picture things in your head? we cast it right then and there. And I said, I want to do Snoopy because I love Snoopy, and dogs. And he has this great number called Supper Time at the very end of the show that is just a showstopper and so much fun. And Liz, I think we cast you as Lucy originally and Jenny as Patty. I think that's what happened, and then Jenny chickened out and decided she couldn't do it. I don't know how Lis Guthrie got how you, became Patty and Liz became do you have any memory of that?
Liz: I can assure you that if you had cast me as Lucy, I would never have given it up in a million years.
Jimmy: This didn't seem likely.
Liz: I was thrilled to be Patty, absolutely thrilled. But never, ever would I have given up Lucy.
Marcia: Liz had been the Madwoman in The Madwoman of Chaiilot, and I just had loved watching her work. So we must have done that before we talked to other people about it, because Jenny must yeah, I'm m wondering.
Gay: Because we did this the Madwoman, and, Lis Guthrie played that wonderful doctor who strode in and was almost kind of a Lucy character.
Marcia: Very Lucy. Very Lucy.
Gay: maybe you guys thought saw that and thought, oh, well, she'd be a good Lucy.
Liz: She was. And she was extraordinarily good.
Marcia: And we moved you to Patty. But I'm pretty sure that that's my memory of it, that we had you as Lucy. And I apologize.
Liz: Maybe I was more gracious at the time.
Jimmy: You keep this a secret. Listen, whatever you do, don't tell Liz.
Gay: Your whole life would be different now. It's your fault, Marcia.
Marcia: But there was no way Lis Guthrie could have played Peppermint Patty, and Liz was versatile enough to do anything.
Liz: This was pre Peppermint Patty. This was Original Patty.
Marcia: Oh, this was original. and there's a difference. Forgive me.
Gay: I'm so ignorant. I didn't know that.
Liz: You'll need to listen to the previous episodes of Unpacking Peanuts.
Marcia: I've started and love it.
Jimmy: I always feel bad people can now take, like, almost three days of their one and only life on Earth and spend them listening to us talk about the size of Snoopy's forehead. And I can't help but feel I'm going to need to answer for that. Okay. How does an amateur production of a show like this even happen? For someone out there who just occasionally goes to see one, what goes into securing the rights to getting it on, all that stuff?
Marcia: I really do believe that our drama teacher must have done all of that, because I have no memory, of doing any of it. I mean, I was 17. 16 or 17, and the school must have put up.
Gay: Our school did productions. We had faculty productions, senior class productions, and school musicals. So they were used to getting the rights, getting all that information, assuming that that was done by yes, our drama teacher.
Jimmy: I wonder, because it being such an early instance of it being produced off, the original off Broadway cast and stuff, I wonder, if that was something that they had to figure out at the time as well.
Harold: Yeah. Could I interject for a second just to give some background? so we were mentioning that you thought it had been a little earlier than 68. So it started on off Broadway, right? in 1967.
Gay: Yeah, that first production never went to Broadway.
Harold: And then it was in London in 1968. And then they said it was touring the country from 68 to 70. And then 1971 is when it was on Broadway, and I think it was on Broadway for about four years. So you guys are performing it in the second year as a major Broadway show, you're performing. So you are very early. And maybe it wasn't so easy to get those rights. I'm not used to Broadway shows, being available to other production, school productions that early.
Gay: My guess is when big productions first release the rights. And I'm just making this up, but it just seems to me that they encourage, and are lenient with schools because they want to encourage the youth to go into the arts kind of thing.
Liz: Well, and Westtown was not known for doing cutting edge performances. I mean, they did like, Dirty Work at the Crossroads and, what was that 1920s? Diamonds are a girl's best friend. Whatever.
Jimmy: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Liz: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. They were not doing the latest thing.
Gay: They might do Rent now, though.
Harold: But you guys had the idea and sounds like the students had the idea, and so that may have gotten something to happen that wouldn't have happened otherwise.
Liz: It had never been done, as far as I know. A student production of this size.
Harold: Yeah. I mean, that is really early. And I was looking at the off Broadway cast. It's like Gary Burghoff.
Jimmy: Yeah. From Mash
Liz: Bob Balaban.
Harold: And Bob Balaban. Yeah. Whose people may know from some of the Christopher Guest mockumentaries like A Mighty Wind.
Jimmy: So we're back there, we got the rights. Now, was it a casting thing where it was open to the whole school, lots and lots of people? No, it was just okay, so tell us that part. It's a little theater club or something that's doing this?
Gay: No, it was totally Marcia.
Liz: It's Marcia.
Marcia: It was me and Jenny in our dorm room. The school already had the shows that were going to be done, the three plays that were scheduled to be done that year. And I just had this idea and Hugh went with it.
Gay: The great thing is, when you're 17, it, never occurs to you that this is really crazy.
Liz: I should mention that this is Westtown Friends School, and it was a boarding school for boys and girls. Still is. It was founded in 1799.
Marcia: And so we were living on dorm. We didn't have a whole lot to do. We were listening to the--
Jimmy: When you didn't have Double Potions with the Slytherins. Okay. So was it
Suppertime? Was that the song that was I am going to this is the one that, we have to put this on because of this song, or were there other moments.
Marcia: Happiness is the last song in the musical, and I think it's exquisite. I truly do.
Gay: Almost every number in it is wonderful. Some are more known than others are more popular, but each character got its own kind of little bit. Patty didn’t have her own song.
Liz: I had one solo line, in a song that “Happiness is playing the drum in your own school band”
Jimmy: Nailed it. Nailed it.
Liz: Thank you. Still got it.
Jimmy: It's also a very strange show in the fact that it is updated over the years, like Patty, was later changed into Frieda, or not Frieda,
Jimmy: Yes. Thank you, Sally.
Marcia: Sally. That's right.
Jimmy: And also, if you want to have a good Irish cry, you can watch Kristin Chenoweth sing Happiness at Charles Schulz's memorial service.
Jimmy: All right, well, there must have been tons of shenanigans or, give me some behind-- First off, you have any stories that would embarrass Liz? That would be awesome. I would be here for that. or if, in lieu of that, any other stuff, that happened that really sticks out in your mind.
Liz: Well, yeah, we got the composer, and originator of the show to come to our second production.
Jimmy: That's pretty impressive.
Jimmy: How did that happen?
Marcia: No idea.
Jimmy: Were you guys there?
Gay: Again I had the feeling the feeling it was our drama teacher.
Marcia: Clark Gesner. We were told Clark Gesner was coming, and I don't know whether it was a Westtown thing, that he was somehow connected, affiliated, that someone let him know that we were doing the show. When we did the first production of it, it was like a crazy hit. We did one evening performance, and I had teachers who never called me Marcia after that again, literally called me Snoopy for my senior year. And it was such a hit that they asked if we would be interested in doing it again my senior year, because everybody besides me was a senior.
Marcia: We're a year older. I was precocious.
Gay: Well, it was your idea, too.
Marcia: Everybody came back and I think Westtown even paid, didn't they, Liz?
Liz: Yeah, they flew me down from when I was in school in Boston. They flew me back to…
Harold: Oh my gosh
Jimmy: are you serious? That's incredible.
Harold: So that was the show that he showed up at?
Marcia: Clark Gesner showed at. And again, no idea how that and I have asked the archivist at Westtown to check into it, but she's new.
Liz: 50 years ago, nobody had video cameras and nobody thought to record the audio. And I don't think any photographs exist of it. So maybe we're all lying because there's no proof.
Harold: Well, going back to the idea that you were so early on in performing it, I'm wondering if that was one of the reasons why he wanted to see how it was translated.
Marcia: How it landed with kids doing-- we weren't five and six, but we were kids.
Jimmy: That, is amazing.
Liz: So Gay your memory seemed when we were talking the other day your memory was better than mine. Are there stories that were missing?
Gay: I just remember stage managing and doing the props and the sets and not realizing at 17 that other people could do that other than the director.
Harold: So who had seen the show before you did the show?
Gay: I don't know if anybody had seen it. Marcia, you were listening to the music. Had you seen it?
Liz: I actually saw it on New Year's Eve
Gay: before we did it?
Liz: 1971. Yeah, I saw it in Philadelphia.
Harold: The one who was doing the tour,
Marcia: the touring company Not with Broadway.
Marcia: Liz: Yes, touring company. I don't remember a thing about it. I remember our production, but I don't remember a thing about the production I saw.
Harold: So you were the only one who actually seen it. So I was wondering, how did you approach the sets? Did they give you guidelines or did you pretty much have to decide what you were doing?
Gay: That was me, and I just thought reading it and being full of children and about children and, essentially done by children at heart. I just had this idea that it should all be like those, blocks that kids play with, the square blocks. And so all the furniture, everything, were blocks. We covered things with brown paper and painted, and I wanted to do all these kind of bright primary colors, like yellow, red and blue and green. I think those are the only colors we used.
Harold: Oh, wow. So it kind of looked like maybe a Sunday comic strip with the bright colors.
Gay: Could have been. Could have been. I was thinking just more like those little blocks that usually have letters that kids play with. I had never seen it. All I had done was I hadn't heard the music. All I'd done was read the script and I just kind of worked from there. And it's a perfect show for students because it's a small cast and there's no real major serious dancing in it. Right. And, if you have people who can sing and act and everybody knows the characters, it's a perfect show for a school to put on.
Liz: And we had really talented people. The boy who played Charlie Brown was great. The guy who played Schroeder was great. We were good drama students and had good musical background.
Harold: Well, that's great. To think that, like you were saying, there's youth involved. Had you seen the Christmas specials or any of the specials to kind of get a sense of how that had translated into sound?
Marcia: I fell in love, absolutely with Charlie Brown's Christmas.
Gay: That was I had not seen the Christmas special or heard the music or I was pretty much just a blank slate coming into it.
Harold: Do you remember playing it very, I would assume you probably played it very young. I mean, you were trying to kind of take on the attributes of, like, a six or seven year old child.
Gay: Everybody played it pretty much like I think, to me, it came across as the idea of children trying to be adults kind of thing. So they didn't play it young at all. They played it as adults.
Harold: That's interesting. And I don't know if that's unique in how you did it, or if a lot of, let's say if a high school group or whatever was doing it, if that's typical, that you just kind of play it where you are, because there's a lot of sophistication in the writing.
Marcia: That's a really good question, Harold, because I think anytime an actor takes a part, there are so many decisions that you start to make, one of the things you know you don't want to do is to try to imitate any other actor's performance of it. And to do that, to try to imitate any of the kids voices or anything would have felt inauthentic, I think. And it seems to me that this production asks you to find the Charlie Brown in yourself, the Snoopy in yourself, more than even a normal production of something would. There's something I don't know if that makes sense, but, it's not asking us to be anything inauthentic. We've all had these experiences of the little redhead headed girl, and, not being able to kick the football.
Gay: Harold, you know, from the comic strips that a lot of that humor is absolutely for adults.
Harold: Schulz always said this was a strip for for adults. He know. He said it wasn't for kids.
Gay: Yeah. And and the musical, because so much of it was taken straight out of the comic strips, that it was the same way the humor was really for the adults.
Harold: How would you describe your performance of Snoopy? Do you remember what your spin on it, or kind of how you approach Snoopy?
Marcia: I think through his imagination, definitely. And to be honest, I didn't even think of him as gendered. Even in those days, he's always been portrayed, I think, most of the times, by a male. I sort of have long hair, and I pulled them up, and put rubber bands, so it was like Snoopy ears. But that was as far as I went towards the look. He's a daydreamer. He sees the world differently than everybody. And yes, it's about food.
Liz: I'm curious about your, trajectory, both of you, your trajectory from drama class at Westtown to your careers in in theater.
Gay: Well, since my parents lived in Washington DC. after school, I went to Washington, DC. And after doing all sorts of various jobs, like selling clothes and working in a bank, I finally started pestering the Arena Stage in Washington DC. for volunteer work. I just said, I'll volunteer, you don't have to pay me. And, I guess I just wore them down. They said, okay, come in. We'll find something for you to do. And I spent four seasons there building props and sets, and that's how I got into theater. And then when I came to New York, when I decided to move to New York, I still had dreams of being a director. I ended, up doing a lot of other jobs not in theater, selling clothes again and that kind of thing. But I finally was helping, assisting stage managing. My husband by the oh, this is an interesting tie. I meant to tell you, Liz, is that my husband was a stage manager. Before that, he was an actor and he had understudied all the boys roles in a San Francisco production of Your Good Man, Charlie Brown. So it's like everything connects.
Marcia: It's the web fascinating.
Gay: I ended up stage managing, well, wrangling kids, which doesn't pay very well. So I thought, well, if I have to wrangle kids, I'll wrangle adult kids and get paid well for it. So I became a stage manager. So that's how my career came about.
Liz: And Marcia,
Marcia: I got into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and, went to school there. Decided that they didn't know anything because they were teaching me all kinds of stuff about doing outer stuff instead of inner stuff. And so I left and did my undergrad at Columbia. I got my MFA in theater, stayed in New York, got my equity card, worked and didn't work. Did a lot of working and not working. And then sort of went on and taught at UMass I taught in Indiana, Purdue. I taught at UArts in Philly, acting and directing in dialects, and still doing theater now when I get a chance. Still acting when I can, doing dialect work when I can.
Harold: That's great. Just to see that you both went into theater, it was a passion that you'd started together or maybe even before you knew each other, and that you made careers out of it is really cool, given that the story we're telling here.
Liz: Yeah, I didn't do it professionally, but I went to college for theater, right out of Westtown. And I went to Emerson and, spent a year there and decided, boy, I really don't like actors. I did not have a good experience there. So I left it for a long time and then found my way back to community theater, later on. And then had the great fortune of falling in love with a man who wrote musicals and, wrote musicals for mature women. and, so I got to perform in Michael's shows and sing Michael's songs.
Gay: So that's how you guys met?
Liz: Ah, we met in a band. He didn't start writing musicals until until a number of years later. But it was I we did. How many shows have you written completely?
Liz: Yeah. So I acted in most of them and directed a couple of them. and, that has been a great joy, but I kept it at a small community level, which has been good fun.
Marcia: I'm sorry, there are so many drama schools like that, where you would walk out and I mean, it shouldn't be like that, because actors are some of my favorites.
Liz: I have learned that-- certainly at the community level, it's been a lot of fun.
Marcia: And the professional, too.
Harold: And I wanted to ask you guys also, just the general question we at Unpacking Peanuts have been asking, at least one of them is what does make this so special? What makes Peanuts stand out from all of these other things like it out there? What stood out for all of you, in terms of what it represented or what it accomplished in people's minds or hearts? What do you see in Peanuts that makes it so special.
Gay: there's two things for me that I really like about Peanuts. One, the drawings were so simple, so pared down. I mean, it's like, Woodstock is one of my favorite characters, and he's like, what? Ten lines? And yet he portrays so much emotion and feeling. And I think that makes it accessible to children, because it's simple. But at the same time, the humor of it is so on such a high level, and there's irony and sarcasm. It's all the adult feelings in this simply drawn comic strip. And I think it's kind of he always dealt with kind of feelings as opposed to as, opposed to, external. He was very about the internal, the goings on in the minds and the hearts of their characters.
Marcia: Yeah, I don't think there's anybody like him, or like it. I remember I never read the newspaper, but I would run to get the comics every day to read Peanuts. And it just seemed like all through my life, it still spoke to there's nothing like the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. It has that simplicity, and I would love to know how that came to be. I never did the research on that. To find out how Gesner got the rights and who picked all of the strips that became because each one of them, I do remember that I went back and looked for all of the strips. I had those big books that contained all the strips. And so I went back and looked at all of the strips that contained the lines that we were speaking, that were the play.
Harold: Well, my understanding, and this is just really limited in terms of how it started again, I think it was someone was inspired. They didn't have the rights. Clark just started writing songs, and he tried to get permission initially, and this is in the early sixties, and he didn't get permission. And then I think he took another crack at it later in 1966, and they did give him permission. I guess he sent some of the songs in and they ultimately approved it. But it just shows kind of the passion that he had for it and what he saw in it that he was willing to kind of do it, not knowing if it would ever see the light of day. It was interesting to me that, the script that's published for it is under a pseudonym. So why would you do that? I don't know.
Liz: It's because it was the whole cast. They created a name because so many people had contributed to it.
Harold: I see. So no one person or based on rules, it wouldn't have been fair to give it to one person.
Marcia: It was more workshopped, than it was written.
Harold: And that's really cool, though, the idea that how often does it happen when you're trying to create a play or a musical where you have a collective experience of something and you together are translating that from your own personal experience and bringing the richness of all these different perspectives into a show? Because, it's not common that you're working from such a common, shared experience as Peanuts was. I'm sure, for the people who were working on it.
Gay: The only other one I can think of is A Chorus Line.
Harold: and that has so many different voices. Yeah, it's interesting. That's very rich. And it is pretty unique.
Liz: Well, I would also say, that what we're doing here with Unpacking Peanuts is sort of like that.
Marcia: I totally agree. I have to say that I saw a production of Charlie Brown where they had a whole, like, they had 20 or 30 people on stage at the end to sing Happiness. And I think it was because they wanted to do the musical, but they didn't want it was a school production, again, and they wanted to get more people involved. So they had this beautiful chorus singing Happy the end. And I hated it. I just wanted it-- it's the simplicity.
Marcia: That is what works. Happiness is anything and anyone at all that's loved by you
Liz: you're a good man, Charlie Brown.
Marcia: you're a good man Charlie Brown and thank you for bringing that voice in, Liz. For those of you who don't know, that's the way the play ends.
Gay: That's the final line.
Marcia: Yeah, it's the benediction. Lucy walks up and says to him after giving him a hard time over and over and over again.
Harold:, isn't that interesting? Because in the strip, you don't get that resolution very much at all. It just goes on and on and sometimes there are these small victories and sometimes there's these big defeats. But I think that there's probably something very cathartic in people seeing this musical where there is kind of a cap to it. And I don't know if anybody saw, the Peanuts movie, the kind of the CGI Peanuts movie that came out around 2000. I can't remember what year it was, but it was kind of a love letter to Charles Schulz and I think, at least one of his sons was involved in making it. And that was the thing that I remember about that movie was it was a way to bring some closure to these themes that Schulz had balanced so well for so many years of, you're always in these places, Charlie Brown doesn't get to kick the football. I think maybe this musical did something similar earlier on in the processes where you actually do have a resolution, you actually do have a celebration of Charlie Brown and it's been so pent up in people's minds as they're reading it. Poor guy, he's going through all of these terrible things and he doesn't seem like he deserves it all. And you feel kind of like him. And to have a musical, that's the button on the musical. That must have been incredibly emotional for a lot of people experiencing it.
Marcia: I've never known the school to be as moved and the teachers, it was a special group of people, but the play just speaks. It truly does.
Gay: The school actually liked our first production so much and Saturday night productions were always for what we call the upper school and adults. And they thought, well, the lower school and the middle school need to see this. So Wednesdays, we had meetings, and they asked if we would do some of it for the meetings. So I excerpted some of the big songs that the kids would like and we kind of remounted the excerpts. and the lower school got to see it and I got the cutest bunch of-- remember the old elementary school paper where they had lines and then they had to dotted lines. So we learned to write script and everything and they had all written these thank you letters and their drawings of the sets and the people and it was adorable. But they were first graders who did that.
Harold: Oh, that's great. Wow. It just seems like that production just brought out the best in everybody. And that's special, that's a really special thing that you guys share. And even to this day, we've got to do this episode, we've got to honor that moment because I'm sure it had an impact not only when you were performing it, but probably into your later life.
Gay: There's a part of me that wants to say that was the highlight of my career.
Liz: The only time I was ever paid to be an actor.
Gay:, the only time I got to really direct.
Marcia: You directed the hell out of that play.
Liz: Yeah, you did.
Gay: It was, it was really the, it really became for the whole school. It was great. It was great.
Harold: Ah, it sounds like yeah, brought everyone together and this, this sense of goodwill and that's, that's kind of rare.
Marcia: I think, so much of that is because everybody knew and loved Charlie Brown.
Honestly, I think you'd be hard pressed to find, a human on the planet. Well, in the United States, at least at that time.
Liz: Oh, I think it's in the world.
Marcia: Well, who didn't have feelings about and, yeah, we grew up with him.
Gay: Still growing up.
Harold: It's remarkable.
Liz: Thank you guys so much.
Jimmy: Well, that was great, Liz. Thank you so much, for arranging that. And thank you to our guests for sharing those memories. It's awesome. it's such a cool thing that Peanuts has reached out across all these different media and all these different time periods and touched so many people's lives. That was absolutely great to hear.
Okay, so that is going to be it for us this week. I would like to announce to you, though, next week, we have something very special. We have a special guest in the house. He's a pop culture icon. He is someone that Jerry Seinfeld once called a pop culture visionary. Harold, do you want to tell us who we have?
Harold: We have Joel Hodgson, creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Jimmy: That's big time, people. Big time. And it's great. We talked to Joel about Peanuts, about his career, about the Midwest and how that affects and influenced both his work and Charles Schulz. And it was just a big thrill, for me to get to be a part of that conversation. So I hope you guys come back next weekend and listen to it.
Harold: Yeah, and tell your friends as well. if you're enjoying, these podcasts, we really do appreciate it when you share it with someone you think would enjoy it as well. And if you have any Mystery Science Theater fans, give them the heads up. It's coming.
Jimmy: Absolutely. Yeah. Why don't you do that? Pick out your favorite episode and share it to your comics loving friends. That, would be a huge help to us. The other thing you could do is you can follow us on social media, on Instagram and Twitter. We are at Unpack Peanuts and apparently on Facebook. We're at Unpacking Peanuts. I didn't know that we have a Facebook. You will never talk to me on Facebook, but you will talk to other people on Facebook. And that's awesome. And YouTube and YouTube now is somehow adjusting the Pod game. So if you want to listen to, this podcast on YouTube, you can also do that. That's it. Come back next week where we got Joel from MST3K. And I'm just going to geek out for an hour and a half. Until then, I'm Jimmy for Michael and Harold. Be of good cheer.
Harold: Yes. Be of good cheer.
Michael: Be of good cheer.
Liz: Unpacking Peanuts is copyright Jimmy Gownley, Mike Cohen and Harold Buchholz. Produced and edited by Liz Sumner; Music by Michael Cohen. Additional Voiceover by Aziza Shukralla Clark. For more from the show, follow Unpack Peanuts on Instagram and twitter. For more about Jimmy, Michael and Harold, visit unpackingPeanuts.com. Have a wonderful day and thanks for listening.