Tracey Claudius was 25 years old when she accompanied a friend who was interviewing Charles Schulz for a corporate magazine on the topic of effective communication. Ostensibly, Claudius was there to take photographs for the article, but in fact, as she admitted in a letter that she sent to Schulz on the day of the interview, 16 March 1970, she really just wanted "a chance to thank you for all the enjoyment Charlie Brown and 'that stupid beagle' provide me. … For me it was like being Charlie Brown and getting to meet Willie Mays. … Happiness is discovering your idol's feet are not clay, but pure and durable gold." Schulz—who was 48 and almost between his two marriages (his first, to Joyce Halverson, was growing distant and would end in divorce in 1972; in 1973 he married Jean Forsyth Clyde)—was immediately smitten.
Within a few weeks, the two had gone ice-skating (at Schulz's rink), met up at a book store in San Francisco, and shared dinner at the Fairmont Hotel. Claudius was as excited by the nascent friendship as Schulz, and they quickly developed a warm and playful relationship sparked by a great deal of mutual teasing. Despite all of his success, Schulz had always been plagued by bouts of melancholy, from which, according to his biographer David Michaelis, "He had neither the disposition nor the training to pull himself out of. Now, with his marriage in free fall, he needed not just someone, but a woman, to anchor him. From the start, the unspoken assumption between them was that Tracey was going to make him happy" (p. 451).
Schulz commemorated the first six weeks of their relationship in a series of cartoon drawings, on construction paper, featuring Charlie Brown and Lucy Van Pelt as stand-ins for him and Tracey. On the first sheet, a smiling Charlie Brown simply asks, "Remember?" In the second he states, "March 16th was the day we met." In the third, still grinning but now reclining against a tree, Charlie Brown says, "April 1st was the second time I saw you." The fourth drawing depicts him at a table as he comments, "On April 8th we dined alone for the first time." "On April 15th we went to the top of the Fairmont," Charlie Brown declares in the fifth cartoon, as he leans over to plant a kiss on the nose of a startled Lucy. Seated, in the sixth drawing, at an outdoor table with umbrella, Charlie Brown's expression cannot conceal his self-satisfaction as he asks, "On April 22nd you squeezed my hand in the Dark! Remember?" As Charlie Brown drives a sports car past a sign advertising "Lots for Sale … Romantic Views" in the seventh drawing, he recalls, "On April 29th we drove through the hills of Mountain View." The final drawing again shows Charlie Brown happily reclining against a tree and celebrates, according to Claudius's recollections to Michaelis, an evening she and Schulz spent together in a Monterey hotel: "May 1st and 2nd were so neat I can hardly stand to think about it."
Schulz's letters are not dated, and their envelopes were not retained, so it is difficult to establish an accurate chronology for the correspondence. But in July 1970, almost exactly four months after their meeting, Schulz sent Claudius an unsigned postcard from Honolulu, where he and his wife were vacationing with another couple. The postcard depicts a blue "Sunset in Beautiful Hawaii," and Schulz's note reads "Aloha—Like Gatsby, I'm pursuing the 'green light.' … Hope to see you soon—I miss you very much." This is not Schulz's only allusion to Fitzgerald's masterwork in the archive. He begins a letter that tell Claudius how much he has enjoyed their phone conversations with a direct quotation: "'Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us …'"
Many other letters are also about phone calls and books. One letter is headed "My Bold Plan," and discusses Schulz's strategy for meeting Claudius in a San Francisco book store, where he will purchase great new books for her and lead her to a quiet corner where he can say "Hi, Sweetie" to her. Katherine Anne Porter is also mentioned several times; one letter covered his gift of the copy of Pale Horse, Pale Rider that Schulz read and annotated in junior college. More than any single author or book, however, Schulz's letters are peppered with references to the cast recording of the musical revue Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris, which he credits Claudius with introducing him to.
Not surprisingly, many of the letters rehearse all of the features that Schulz finds most attractive about Claudius. More often than not, her name is written in longing triplicate: Tracey Tracey Tracey. Schulz variously comments on her sweet voice, her nose and beautiful profile, her prettiness, her beautiful eyes, her fascinating weirdness, her deeply musical laughter, her golden eyes, her soft hands, and her marvelous face. One letter is actually a compilation of Tracey's "Good Points," which includes charming, cute, beepable, huggable, buggable sensitive, athletic, and bookable. A second column on the letter is headed "Other," below which Schulz has noted, "Are you kidding?"
The letters frequently declare Schulz's love for Claudius and express how much he misses her. In what is evidently a late letter in the sequence, he again evokes The Great Gatsby: "Beep! … Wake up! I love you! I miss you …… Please miss me. The green light is fading … Don't let it fade." In a letter from late 1970, Schulz tells Claudius that although he might have loved her better, he did the best he could. He remembers the things he loved doing with her—driving, hugging in book stores, drawing pictures for her, and hearing her laugh—and he pledges to see her again someday and to love her even more when he does. Next to his closing ("Beep, Love, Sparky"), Schulz has drawn a small red heart shedding tears.
Michaelis provides a significant clue in ordering the sequence of the letters: the daily Peanuts strips that Schulz was drawing at the time began to reflect the language and themes of his letters to Claudius. Initially Schulz used the language of previous strips in his letters: Lucy playfully beeped Snoopy's nose in a 1970 comic, and in a strip from 1968 Snoopy referred to himself as "buggable and huggable"—two of the "good points" Schulz subsequently applied to Claudius. In two letters that must date from late June or early July 1970, Schulz laments that his many long-distance phone calls to her had been found out and he was forced to stop calling her. In the 15 July strip of that year, Charlie Brown berates Snoopy for his obnoxious behaviour when he is not permitted to go out "to see that girl beagle" he met. In the third panel, Charlie warns Snoopy, "By golly, you'd better start behaving youself"; and in the fourth, as Snoopy picks up the telephone, Charlie Brown yells at him, "And stop making those long-distance phone calls!"
At the same time Schulz was sending letters to Claudius, he was also sending or giving her drawings and other mementoes. In addition to the wonderful series of drawings of Peanuts characters (including a pair showing Charlie Brown, first frowning in despair as he says "You don't miss me …" and then bursting into a wide, hopeful smile as he wonders, "Or do you?"), Schulz sent a charming series of six teenaged boy-girl gag drawings based on the color of the construction paper they were on. These included examples on red (a girl walks by as a boy calls out from a bench, "Hi, Red."); purple ("What's your favorite song, honey," asks the boy, and the girl replies, "'Deep Purple' … what else?"); and green (a scowling couple leans over a fence as the boy observes "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," and the girl responds, "The whole word is green, stupid!").
He also drew for Claudius a series of poignant self-portraits: one shows him sighing as he leans against a phone book in anticipation of a call; another depicts him standing by a pay phone on a busy street and asking, "Hi, how about sixty cents worth of talk?"; and a third portrays three things he likes about Claudius: seeing her through a tennis racket, hugging her in a book store, and beeping her perfect nose." Among the humorous bits of ephemera Schulz sent was an annotated dust-jacket from a copy of Webster's New World Dictionary; among his many comments, he has written "I'm going to return my new dictionary … There are no words to tell you how much I love you." Perhaps the most intriquing item in the archive is the two-page "original manuscript" of Snoopy's famous melodrama, "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night."
According to Michaelis, Schulz twice proposed to Claudius. She declined, she later said, because she did not think she could make Schulz happy—but also because she despaired of ruining the public image of the creator of a comic strip that she considered to be "holy." Schulz and Claudius remained in sporadic contact by telephone until the spring of 1973. The present archive affords an unprecedented access to the creative process and private life of one of the most influential icons of twentieth-century American culture.
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