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It's a Good Name, Charlie Brown

Bearing the moniker of a cartoon character is not a burden but a joy for the real-life folks who will help celebrate the 50th anniversary of "Peanuts."

March 28, 2000|RENEE TAWA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"This is Charlie Brown" is how Charlie Brown answers the phone, and, imagine, each time he says it, he waits to see what happens next. Maybe he'll get the wiseacre who says, "Where's Snoopy?" or "How's Lucy?" Maybe he'll get a little giggle . . . and who isn't up for a little giggle--especially if your good humor is tested every day with a name like Charlie Brown. Or maybe he'll get that uncertain silence and have to jump in with, "No, really!" until the caller believes he really is Charlie Brown, 62, a San Diego small businessman.

It is a good ride, this Being Charlie Brown, this mini-adventure that happens to you almost every day because you happen to have the name of a comic strip character who is weighted with the expectation of being Everyman--the archetypal American who doesn't give up, who soldiers through the pain of unrequited love, the lost ballgame, the football or (fill in your own metaphor here) that gets whisked away from under your nose. If your name is the same as the boy with the silly mid-forehead squiggle, you are reminded of this with perhaps no greater certitude than in the days following the recent death of "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz.

Says Charlie Brown of Rainier, Ore., a nuclear-plant training specialist: "It's kind of strange. When your name is Charlie Brown, it affects your life, your whole life."

So say you spend your whole life fielding questions about your name. When an opportunity knocks, you think, why not go crazy with it, this Being Charlie Brown?

In fact, on April 7, as part of the groundswell of affection and nostalgia for Schulz, more than 50 people named Charlie Brown from all over the country will meet at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park to mark the 50th anniversary of "Peanuts" and pay tribute to the comic strip's creator. Events for the six-month celebration--developed in cooperation with Schulz before his death on Feb. 12--will include the opening of a new kids' racetrack ride, the Charlie Brown Speedway, and a public ceremony recognizing the many Charlie Browns. Schulz's daughter, Jill Schulz Transki, is scheduled to attend.

So is a 5-year-old Inglewood girl named Charlie Brown, who got her name simply because her mother liked the sound of it. She is tickled at the notion of a Knott's get-together.

"That's funny," she says, "because there's a whole bunch of people named Charlie Brown." (Schulz named the "Peanuts" star after his friend, Charlie Brown, a fellow instructor at a Minneapolis cartooning school. He too has passed away).

Imagine, says Charlie Brown of San Diego, a stage full of people with your name, people who know what it's like to have to keep your ID close because, of course, you'll be asked to prove it. And he can tell you right now, all of the Charlie Browns there will be people he wants to meet.

Charlie Browns like 37-year-old Carlos Moreno (Charlie Brown in Spanish) of San Diego, a 1 1/2-year-old boy from La Mirada, and a 55-year-old Newport Beach boat skipper who owns a dog named Snoopy.

"If you were a stick in the mud," surmises the San Diego Brown, "you probably won't be coming."

All are paying their own way. All, like the San Diego Brown, probably figure they owe it to Schulz to attend. The San Diego Brown, who used to be a stockbroker, is sure he nailed a few deals because of his name, which is an automatic icebreaker and one that no one ever forgets.

"All of my life, it has had something to do with the success of my career," he says. "If I called you and said my name is Joe Schmutz or something, it's, 'So what?' They just want to talk to you because they've never talked to [a Charlie Brown]."

Like most Charlie Browns, he puts up with a little teasing. In "Peanuts," Charlie Brown gets called a blockhead and is too shy to even talk to his crush, the little red-haired girl.

Of course, Julie Brown of Mira Loma worried about the teasing her son might endure. He's a fourth-generation Charlie Brown on her husband's side. "How could you name your son Charlie Brown?" ask horrified people who think of the comic-strip character as a blockhead.

But she would rather think of the character as an antihero of sorts.

"He always is the one to take in the underdog, like the Christmas tree that's just a stick," says Julie Brown, 43. "He always tried. He never seemed to let the kids down, even if they snatched the football away or said something mean. He just kept going."

(In the new book "Peanuts: A Golden Celebration," Schulz wrote that he didn't understand why some people called Charlie Brown "a loser. That never occurred to me. A real loser would stop trying.").

You can't have that name and not feel a certain affinity with the character, says Charlie Brown of Minneapolis, who's about to marry a red-haired woman named Charlotte, whose dad nicknamed her Charlie Brown. For Brown, 52, named after his grandfather, the Knott's party comes with a twinge of poignancy.

"For me, it's going to be somewhat of a circle closing," he says. "My dad died last August, and with Charles Schulz passing away, I really feel like I'm out there alone now."

Renee Tawa can be reached at renee.tawa@latimes.com.

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