L-R Todd Barbee, Robin Kohn, and Jason Mendelson at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, November 18, 2023. Photo credit: Michael P Coleman / Coleman Communications

Meeting Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Peppermint Patty — In Person! — This Thanksgiving

The voices behind three of the legendary characters from 1973’s A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Shared Smiles and Memories at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa. This year is the 50th anniversary of that Emmy Award-winning special.

By Michael P Coleman

Over the last decade, I’ve been blessed to talk to a lot of people who could be considered famous. I say that not to brag or name drop, but to give context to this next statement:

I’m not usually starstruck.

But I certainly was last weekend at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, when I found myself face-to-face with the voice actors who brought Charlie Brown, Lucy Van Pelt (you get bonus points if you knew her last name), and Peppermint Patty to life in 1973’s TV special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. The trio appeared during a series of events in commemoration of the special’s 50th anniversary.

Between hourly viewings of the special, voice talent Todd Barbee (“Charlie Brown”, Robin Kohn (“Lucy”), and Jason Mendelson (“Peppermint Patty,” and the son of the late “Peanuts” TV producer Lee Mendelson) shared smiles, memories, and some of the behind-the-scenes details that the hundreds in attendance ate up as quickly as a tree could gobble up a kite. I even got to ask a question that I’d always wanted to ask:

Is there any merit to the urban myth that Franklin was intentionally placed on the other side of the ping-pong table for dinner, because some of CBS’ southern affiliates didn’t want to see him placed next to his white Peanuts counterparts?

I was thrilled to learn that the answer to that decades-old question was a definitive “No.” As it turns out, it was just the contrary. Franklin’s place at the Thanksgiving table, including his inclusion on the trip to Charlie Brown’s grandma’s house, was quite intentional, in the response to the massive social movements with regard to race that had occurred in this country in the decade prior to the special.

After the talk, I introduced myself to Barbee, and even talked him into “giving me five” just as Charlie Brown did with Franklin in the special, as Franklin strolled into Charlie Brown’s house, grubbed on popcorn, pretzel, jelly beans, and toast, and effortlessly integrated the “Peanuts” universe.

Franklin’s arrival on the “Peanuts” scene was a really big deal in my house!

Michael P Coleman and Todd Barbee, Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, November 18, 2023. Photo credit: Michael P Coleman / Coleman Communications

Peppermint Patty solidified her place in all of our hearts — she had to be a cool kid to have a friend like Franklin!

Last weekend at the Museum, I learned that the special wasn’t Franklin’s first animated incarnation, as I’d remembered, but it was the first time I’d seen him outside of the classic comic strip. Half a century later, I still remember the feeling I got when I realized, as a little boy, that someone who looked like me belonged in the “Peanuts” universe, too. It was a big moment for me and my younger sisters, sitting on that shag carpeted floor in Detroit, in front of that state-of-the-art 25 inch color console TV. And I can’t tell you how I felt being able to share that feeling with three of the architects of a special that will be watched and beloved another 50 years from now.

I also learned a bit of great news for fans of the special: the soundtrack for “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” by the late, legendary jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, has been released for the first time. I got my copy signed by Barbee and Kohn! It was a really unforgettable afternoon.

Photo credit: Michael P Coleman / Coleman Communications
L-R Jason Mendelson, Rob Kesselring, Michael P Coleman, Robin Kohn, and Todd Barbee at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, November 18, 2023. Photo credit: Michael P Coleman / Coleman Communications

The afternoon’s only disappointment was the absence of a certain beagle. Event organizers had announced that he’d be there, but he was a no-show. Knowing Snoopy, he was off flying his Sopwith Camel or boxing with a beach chair.

Or, given the time of year, he may have been minding the turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie in his oven.

If you’re a fan of “Peanuts” and you’ve not visited the Charles M. Schulz Museum, you should correct that. But make sure you have a credit card at the ready. While museum admission or membership is quite reasonable, their two gift shops could be described as credit card-eating trees. I dare you to get out of there without something to commemorate your visit.

And you have to grab a tuna fish sandwich at the Warm Puppy Café — if you’re a true fan of Charles M. Schulz, you know why!

If you catch me there one afternoon, and I will be heading back over soon, it’ll be my treat!

The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center is located at 2301 Hardies Ln, Santa Rosa, CA 95403. 707-579-4452 schulzmuseum.org

Connect with freelance writer Michael P Coleman at MichaelPColeman.com.

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