‘You’re a good man, Charlie Brown’: Peanuts cartoonist visits O’Hurley’s General Store
SHEPHERDSTOWN — When Charles M. Schulz first started developing the Peanuts comic strip in 1947, he decided to frame it around the life of his autobiographical character, Charlie Brown.
After United Feature Syndicate picked the comic strip up from Schulz’s local newspaper, the St. Paul Pioneer, the comic strip changed its name, “Li’l Folks,” to avoid lawsuits over copyright infringement. Although the syndicate renamed the comic strip, “Peanuts,” Schulz insisted for many years the name should have honored the comic strip’s main character.
“I pushed for the name ‘Good Old Charlie Brown’ initially,” Schulz impersonator James Froemel said, during a History Alive! performance in O’Hurley’s General Store on Tuesday night. “The reason they didn’t choose it, was they were afraid it would limit the number of kids we could feature in the comic strip. I’ve always resented that the name ‘Peanuts’ makes it sound small and cutesy.”
According to Froemel, the syndicate had another reason for refusing to name the comic strip after the main character.
“They were also unsure about having Charlie Brown as the main character,” Froemel said.
The History Alive! performance was featured by the West Virginia Humanities Council and the Friends of the Shepherdstown Library.
Froemel, along with being an impersonator and storyteller, has won the West Virginia’s Biggest Liar contest three times. He said he has been fascinated by Schulz and the Peanuts comic strip since childhood, so he already knew a lot about his life before applying to present Schulz as his first History Alive! character.
“I liked how he thought about art and storytelling, as a theater nerd,” Froemel said, referring to his bachelor’s degree in theater from WVU. “He did a lot of good. When you find out he was a genuinely nice person, it makes him seem so much better, because he wasn’t like a lot of great artists, who bulldozed their ways to the top.
“It’s been great to get to portray him in so many different parts of West Virginia that I’ve never been to before,” Froemel said, mentioning he researched Schulz’s character in-depth for five months, before being named a History Alive! character in Nov. 2018. “I had my first show in January, and have done over 30 shows now. It has become one of the most requested characters.”
Although Froemel has one year left on his contract, he said he has already been impressed with how Schulz’s life and work have influenced so many people.
“Everybody has a connection to Peanuts somewhere, so it’s been fun to hear that,” Froemel said, mentioning he continues improving his knowledge of the character for his performances. “I try to research new things about him, to find new angles to present areas of his life to the audience.”