Something first happened on Nov. 16, 1952, that became an iconic cultural symbol for eternal optimism, futility, and misplaced trust. It became a gag repeated in television specials and parodied or re-enacted on sitcoms. Today, in 1952, was the first time Lucy when pulled the football away from Charlie Brown in the Peanuts comic strip.
The first Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz was published on Oct. 2, 1950. The first appearance of a gag involving Charlie Brown missing an attempt to kick a football actually appeared on Nov. 14, 1951, but it did not have Lucy. It featured Violet holding the football and afraid Charlie Brown will kick her hand instead of the ball.
It was not until a year later (on Nov. 16) that the first football gag involving Lucy van Pelt and Charlie Brown was published. The popular football plot appeared, in various renditions, nearly every fall (football season) from 1952 until 1999 (the last daily Peanuts comic strip was printed on Jan. 3, 2000, when an aging Schulz retired after having a stroke the previous November). There were variations on how the ball-swiping plot went, but inevitably Charlie Brown does not kick the ball and winds up on his butt.
For those unfamiliar with the bit, or who want to chuckle visualizing it with fond memories, Lucy offers to hold a football while Charlie Brown kicks it. Usually Charlie Brown hesitates, not trusting Lucy given the previous times. She talks him into it and then, once again, yanks the ball away at the very last moment before his foot hits the ball, and the gullible Charlie Brown once again winds up falling down and exclaiming in frustration.
Many of the television specials that air every year featuring the Peanuts characters in the fall include a version of the football bit. It is too late to catch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but look for it when A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving inevitably airs this month. Or catch versions on YouTube.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which first aired in 1973 and has aired every year since, early on features Lucy coaxing Charlie Brown to kick the football. He resists, but Lucy convinces him that football is a traditional part of Thanksgiving day. So he acquiesces, she pulls the ball away, and he winds up flat on the ground once again.
The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California, has a 22-foot high mural by Japanese artist Yoshiteru Otani which is made of 3,588 Peanuts comic strips serving as tiles to form a mosaic image of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. There are a variety of products available through the official Snoopy Store and the museum shop featuring renditions of the bit. These include clothing, totes, pillows and more. Hallmark Stores, which have had a series of Snoopy and Peanuts related items, also have sold things, including statue figurines depicting the first and many times when Lucy pulled the football away from Charlie Brown.
By Dyanne Weiss