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Letters From 'Peanuts' Creator Reveal Bittersweet Romance

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Letters From 'Peanuts' Creator Reveal Bittersweet Romance

Arts & Life

Letters From 'Peanuts' Creator Reveal Bittersweet Romance

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, may be the most famous cartoonist in the world, but he was a private man in many ways. In 1970, at the peak of his fame, his first marriage was ending badly. There would be a second marriage several years later. And in between the two marriages, Schulz met a young woman named Tracey Claudius. She was 25. He was 48. Tomorrow, Sotheby's is auctioning off the collection of letters and drawings from this lovely but unsuccessful courtship. NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: I sit in a small room at Sotheby's on the East Side of Manhattan. Selby Kiffer, international senior specialist in the manuscript division, has put two simple manila folders on a table. He opens one and there's a pile of colored construction paper, the kind you probably remember from school. A few pages are a bit faded. There are drawings on the paper, many of them of Charlie Brown. Kiffer points to one of his favorites on blue construction paper.

SELBY KIFFER: On April 22, you squeezed my hand in the dark, remember?

ADLER: I reach for one of the drawings gingerly.

Can I touch?

KIFFER: Of course.

ADLER: OK.

There's a picture of Charlie Brown with the words Tracey, Tracey, Tracey written on the bottom, and words in a cartoon bubble.

Yesterday, I stood in a bookstore for two hours and no one gave me a hug.

KIFFER: This is one of my favorites, in two pieces, Charlie Brown saying, you don't miss me, with a rather forlorn look and then a big grin, or do you?

ADLER: Here's one on orange construction paper. And it says, I decided to send you a long letter. And what it is is a very elongated A.

KIFFER: There are jokes like that throughout.

ADLER: Some of the actual letters are illustrated. And there are many mentions of books.

KIFFER: Of course Snoopy was an aspiring novelist and was always working on his novel that began: It was a dark and stormy night.

ADLER: And among the letters is a two-page manuscript Schulz sent to Claudius of Snoopy's novel with that first sentence and then...

KIFFER: Suddenly a shot rang out, a door slammed, the maid screamed. And it ends with a paw print and came with a cover note that says: Who else do you know who gets an original manuscript from a dog?

ADLER: Schulz and Claudius went skating, they had dinner. They spoke on the phone. Schulz signed most letters with his nickname, Sparky. He proposed to Claudius twice and she rejected him both times, perhaps fearing their age difference but also believing their affair would damage his wholesome reputation. So there's a poignant, intimate, even sad character to the drawings and letters.

KIFFER: There's a bitter sweetness to it and an innocence about it. He talks about squeezing her hand in the dark and stealing a kiss in a bookstore, the sort of thing that you would associate more with Charlie Brown and his fantasies about the little red-haired girl than necessarily with a 48-year-old man.

ADLER: Kiffer describes Schulz as a very private man. And these 44 letters and 35 drawings are fascinating, he says, because...

KIFFER: He sort of set himself free and let himself express himself.

ADLER: One book mentioned several times in the letters is "The Great Gatsby." Kiffer says here you had this tremendously successful man who created this cultural phenomenon.

KIFFER: And yet like Gatsby he was searching for something. He didn't feel fulfilled. And he met this young woman, and at least for a brief time that void was fulfilled and they had a wonderful time together and he left this record of it.

ADLER: The collection is being sold by Claudius's family as a single archive. She's apparently ill and living outside Philadelphia. The estimated price: $250,000 to $350,000 dollars.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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