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John Kiesewetter on the world of local and national TV

Senior Entertainment Reporter John Kiesewetter has been covering TV and media issues for 20 years. After joining the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1975 as a summer intern, he worked as a county government and suburban reporter; assistant city editor and suburban editor; and features editor supervising the Life section. He has a B.S. in journalism from Ohio University.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Lucy Van Pelt Was From Mariemont

This is a great story. Lucy Van Pelt, the popular "Peanuts" character, got her name from a Mariemont woman? I thought I knew a lot about Charles Schulz cartoons, but this one is new to me. (I never cease to be amazed at Cincinnati connections to TV, past and present!)

My blog about PBS' "American Masters: Good Ol’ Charles Schulz" Monday prompted several e-mails from Jan Watkins of Milford, who led me to Louann Van Pelt in Colorado Springs. The former Mariemont resident was a neighbor and friend of Joyce and Charles "Sparky" Schulz, when they moved to Colorado after marrying in 1951.

Louann and her husband, Fritz, were interviewed for by "American Masters," but cut from the show. In fact, the 90-minute Schulz show didn't mention his year-long stay in Colorado, before moving back to Minnesota.

So in the PBS show you met the real-life Charles F. Brown and Linus Maurer, whose names were used by Schulz, but not Louann Van Pelt. Here's her story:

"Sparky created Lucy while in Colorado Springs (in 1951). He did remark once that he didn't think my nickname of Lou was suitable, although I'm not sure why," she says.

"He actually tacked on the Van Pelt surname after they moved back to Minneapolis. It was sort of a way to say 'Hi!' to us who always read the strip," she says.

Louann was 11 in 1940, when her family moved from Iowa to the Mariemont area. She and Fritz graduated from the old Plainville (now Mariemont) High School. The Van Pelts moved in 1947 to Colorado, where Fritz was a teacher and school administrator. Fritz's father, Merrill, was the University of Cincinnati band director (1929-1947) and Cincinnati Public Schools music supervisor.

"Fritz and Sparky were in the same 20th Armored Infantry Division during WWII. Sparky made Sergeant and Fritz was the Company Bugler. When we accidentally found them in Colorado, we became fast friends, taught them to play bridge, loved them and their then two children. We've had a few visits over the years, and the men talked by phone from time to time. When Sparky became syndicated (in 1951 or '52), they decided to return to Minneapolis-St. Paul."

"Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography," a new book by David Michaelis (HarperCollins, $34.95), says the newlywed Schulzes went four months without making any friends in Colorado Springs until they met the Van Pelts, "an attractive, witty couple around whom laughter and conversation came easily."

Louann Van Pelt agrees with "American Masters" and Schulz biographers that Lucy's blunt, domineering personality came from Joyce, the humorist's first wife.

"We have always felt and said that Lucy is fashioned after Joyce. She was very opinionated," Van Pelt says. "I always hasten to tell people I'm actually much kinder than her, and would never snatch that football away" when Charlie Brown wanted to kick it.

Linus was named after Schulz's old Art Instruction college buddy Maurer because Schulz "thought the fact that his name began with the letter 'L' would help to fit it with Lucy’s name," he later wrote to Fritz, according to the Michaelis book.

Louann figures her PBS interview was cut because of her severe hearing loss. "I'm so nearly deaf I couldn't answer questions or respond to Fritz with anything like casual chat," she says. "Good Ol' Charlie Brown" producers David Van Taylor and Ali Pomery have told the Van Pelts that a tape of their interview has been donated to the Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, Calif.

And that's how Lucy Van Pelt's ancestory traces back to Mariemont.


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