Still More Pop Peanuts

Pop culture, broadly speaking, refers to the trends, the names, the events that define a particular time and place for the people who live then and there—the zeitgeist, if you will, though focused on particulars rather than the abstract. So it’s no surprise that Charles Schulz’s Peanuts captures much of the culture of its time, even as it transcends its time and becomes “classic” in every sense of the word.

The most recent entry in Fantagraphics’ Complete Peanuts series, 1975 to 1976, ratchets up the popular culture quotient, with references to once-current events and figures appearing with greater frequency than in our earlier examinations of the series. Billie Jean King extends her reign as the most frequent referent (playing, in Sally’s imagination, mixed doubles alongside Harry Truman against George Washington and Betsy Ross, on December 26, 1975), while Elton John, Olivia Newton John, Uri Geller, and the wacky Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes also make cameos (the latter on a television set watched by Snoopy’s brother, Spike, who shows up for the first time in 1975).

The first appearance of a soccer ball in Peanuts occurs in this collection (March 23, 1975, hitting Linus in the head), accompanied by an explanation of just what soccer is, needed for an America that was just getting used to the beautiful game. Towards the end of 1976 (a year with surprisingly few Bicentennial references), Marcie and Peppermint Patty have a nice riff on authors with long names (Katherine Anne Porter, Joyce Carol Oates, and Pamela Hansford Johnson, on December 29, 1976). And when Spike is rebuffed in his quest to hitchhike back to his desert home, he hopes that the family that wouldn’t pick him up gets reduced gas milage from their smog control device. That’s vintage ’70s right there.

But our focus here is to examine the references that haven’t aged quite so well, starting with Spike’s putative job at a Harvey House (August 11, 1975):

The Man From Needles

A Harvey House is a railroad station dining establishment associated primarily with the Santa Fe Railroad (and hence, the American West, whence Spike hails). Noted for their efficiency in feeding diners in strict adherence to the railroad timetable, the Harvey Houses (and associated Fred Harvey Hotels) would have been well known to most adults in 1975, particularly given their spread to interstate rest stops and airports as rail passenger numbers dwindled, leaving a Harvey House as shorthand for any restaurant dedicated to serving travelers.

Of note, Spike’s Needles, California, Harvey House is on the National Register of Historic Places and, as of 2008, was undergoing renovations.

And who, pray tell, is Mr. Frick?

Mr. Frick

On December 18, 1975, Snoopy begins preparations for the Innsbruck Winter Olympics (he thinks they’re taking place in Nashville) when Lucy asks him just how he expects to get in. By disguising himself as Mr. Frick, of Frick & Frack fame, of course!

Snoopy’s emulation of Frick’s signature move is spot on in this strip.

It wouldn’t be a Peanuts collection without Charlie Brown’s baseball obsession coming to the fore—he finally, and disastrously, meets his hero, Joe Shlabotnik, in a series of strips in June and July of 1975—and he pitches us Charlie Finley on June 5, 1976:

Charlie Finley

Charlie Finley owned the Oakland A’s baseball team during their glory years in the early and mid-1970s, but more pertinent to Charlie Brown’s desire to trade away Lucy is Finley’s understanding of the implications of player free agency, newly confirmed by the courts at the end of 1975. Finley attempted to move players before they became eligible for free agency, trading the contracts in order to obtain some value for them, a type of sports decision making that was unique at the time but all-too-common today.

For Snoopy to have a crush is hardly unique, but who is this ravishing Miss Georgina from June 11, 1976?

Upstairs Downstairs

Ah, but America was under the spell of imported British television drama Upstairs, Downstairs in 1976.

Upstairs, Downstairs, telling the tale of “downstairs” servants and the family they served “upstairs” in Edwardian England, aired on PBS from 1974 to 1977 to outstanding ratings. Lesley-Anne Down played Snoopy’s crush, Miss Georginia Stockbridge (née Worsley), who lived very much upstairs.

Perhaps the most curious pop culture reference in this volume of the Complete Peanuts, though, is one that didn’t quite make it into pop culture at all:

Do what with my heating pad now?

Snoopy’s utterance of this line, “Wouldn’t that unplug your heating pad?” (February 9, 1975) seems to be an attempt to create a catchphrase for him, akin to “Good grief!” or “Curse you, Red Baron!” It’s repeated one more time in this volume, on May 23, 1975, and that’s it.

The line appears to be original to Schultz, as I cannot find any references to it other than in conjunction with Peanuts (and almost none in that context, either). It’s certainly an interesting phrase, if a bit long for a catchphrase. I’m curious as to whether it reappears in the next few years of the strip.


As long as the bizarre Truffles (the only character in the strip with actual eyes, rather than black dots) doesn’t reappear, we should all be fine…

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