October 21, 2012

Charlotte Braun gets the ax

This isn't a new story, but we don't often find it recounted in a mainstream magazine.

During the early 1950s, as Charles M. Schulz was fine-tuning the cast list for his fledgling newspaper comic strip, new characters slowly joined the original quartet of Charlie Brown, Shermy, Patty and Snoopy. Some would go on to become stars, such as Violet, Lucy and Linus; others ... not so much.

The most infamous example of the latter is Charlotte Braun, a character whose appearance was so brief that she remains unknown even to some avid Peanuts fans. She appeared fewer than a dozen times, and not one of these strips was reprinted before Fantagraphics' Complete Peanuts collections came along. (Charlotte fell victim to an inexplicable publishing quirk that initially left almost an entire year's worth of strips -- from early 1954 through early 1955 -- unseen since their one and only newspaper appearance, when the original Holt, Rinehart and Winston Peanuts reprint books were produced.) 

Charlotte arrived with a booming voice that Charlie Brown claimed was powered by a "built-in hi-fidelity speaker," and this tendency to SPEAK LIKE THIS AT ALL TIMES wore thin rather quickly. "Good ol' Charlotte Braun," as she once dubbed herself, insisted that she merely had a "driving personality (and) definite opinions." These characteristics quickly became embraced by Lucy, as she grew older, leaving Charlotte to the fading mists of antiquity and stump-the-expert quizzes among Peanuts devotees. Her final visit to the neighborhood was on February 1, 1955, a mere two months after she debuted on November 30, 1954.

But Charlotte hadn't gone quietly into that good night; indeed, she had been pushed. Although Schulz probably would have eliminated the obnoxious little girl anyway, the catalyst came with a letter from Elizabeth Swaim, a fan who strongly disliked this new character. Schulz answered much of his mail in those early days, and his reply promised to remove Charlotte ... while warning that Ms. Swaim would have "the death of an innocent child on [her] conscience." As an added bonus, Schulz included what probably was the last sketch ever done of poor Charlotte ... with an ax buried in her head!

This saga has been repeated a few times over the years, usually in comic fan publications or at the Charles M. Schulz Museum. We were surprised to find it, however, in the current (October) issue of Mental Floss magazine, in a feature titled "Five Letters That Changed History." (Click here for a larger version of the page shown above.)

Since the other letters are from Annie Oakley, Ian Fleming, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Emily Dickinson's publisher), Schulz — and Charlotte — are among rarefied company!

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