This might be the 40th anniversary of man’s first lunar landing but, if the truth be told, it was a beagle who beat Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon’s surface some four months earlier.
A worldwide audience of some 500 million television viewers may have watched Neil take one giant leap for mankind, on July 20, 1969, but it was Snoopy, of Peanuts fame, who actually arrived there first.
“I did it,” Snoopy declared in Charles Schulz’s March 14, 1969 strip. “I beat the Russians. I beat everybody.
“I even beat that stupid cat next door,” he said with pride.
Of all the characters in Peanuts, it was Snoopy, rather than Charlie Brown, who was the strip’s breakout star. Of course, the World Famous Astronaut was only one of the comic canine’s many Walter Mitty-like personas. As David Michaelis points out, in Schulz and Peanuts, his exhaustive biography of the late cartoonist, all of Snoopy’s “World-Famous” identities – surgeon, attorney, magician, grocery checkout clerk, etc. – conveyed a restless rebelliousness that demonstrated the dog’s spunk, resilience, unflappability, irreverence, and independence. And, like so many who grew up or came of age in the 1960s and early ‘70s, that’s what resonated with me.
In an essay entitled “Peanuts: The Americanization of Augustine,” Dr. Arthur Asa Berger, a professor of Broadcast & Electronic Communication Arts at San Francisco State University (who wrote his dissertation on another iconic comic strip character, Li’l Abner) chalked up the reason for Snoopy’s popularity to “his dogged persistence to overcome what seems to be his fate – that he is a dog.” In that respect, Snoopy was very much a quixotic figure. But, unlike the Man of La Mancha, who tilted at windmills, Snoopy did battle with the Red Baron from his Sopwith Camel doghouse. It was arguably his most famous secret identity and the one that a previously unknown rock group, The Royal Guardsmen, profited from the most.
Of course, for me and every other scribe who has ever been stymied by a prolonged case of writer’s block, Snoopy’s role as the World’s Greatest Novelist was my personal favorite — the one I could most readily identify with. How many times over the years did I start writing what I thought would be the Great American Novel? Granted, I never used an opening like “It was a dark and stormy night,” in any of my works, but that could have been professional jealousy on my part; after years of receiving rejection letters from publishers, the beagle’s text was finally printed, albeit only one copy.
But it wasn’t just the Baby Boomers like myself who were charmed by the Big Bow Wow. Snoopy’s appeal cut such a wide swath that; as recently as 2006, some 44 percent of the 13- to 17-year-old boys surveyed by a market research company, E-Poll, acknowledged liking the beagle “a lot.” The same study found that some 48 percent of the 13- to 17-year old girls polled also liked Snoopy. And more than likely that’s attributable, in part, to the very essence of cool that Snoopy personified – “Joe Cool,” to be specific.
Even the late Ronald Reagan was an admirer of Snoopy’s. Six years ago, when Reagan: A Life in Letters was first published, one of the pieces of correspondence I got the biggest kick out of reading was an August 11, 1980, letter from the presumptive Republican nominee to Schulz imploring him to urge his creation not to seek the presidency. “Anything you can do to talk Snoopy out of running will be appreciated,” wrote Reagan. “If I’d only known of his political ambitions, I might have persuaded him to run on the ticket with me as vice-president… how would he feel about a cabinet post?”
Let’s face it, Snoopy’s fantasy life was the stuff that dreams are made of. Schulz acknowledged this in an essay he himself penned for The People’s Almanac, the comprehensive tome penned by David Wallechinsky and his father, Irving Wallace. Snoopy, he wrote, “has many dreams left, and dreams of the future are just as good as dreams of the past. Lying on top of a doghouse enables one to look upward.”
I couldn’t agree more. See, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I am the kind of guy who believes that all things are possible. With apologies to John Lennon, you may say I’m a dreamer but, like Snoopy, I’m not the only one.
In its prime, Peanuts was the most widely read comic strip in the world, with an audience of 355 million regularly reading about the adventures of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, and the rest of the gang. And Snoopy inspired ‘em all by reminding each and every one of them that we can accomplish anything if we put our mind to it. We can grow up to become anything we want to be. And we can go anywhere we want to – even the moon – because, if we can dream it, we can do it!
Not coincidentally, a book entitled You Can Be Anything, featuring a certain beagle, was recently published by Running Press Kids. I think my nine-month old daughter will love hearing me read it to her. After all, its message is something I want her to learn all about.
Image credit: Cesar Bojorquez
Douglas Gladstone is a journalist by training who now works as a public information officer for a governmental agency. He and his wife, Karen, reside in New York and are the proud parents of a daughter, Jovie, who was born on the anniversary of the day they met.