When Charles M. Schulz was in art school, he had a crush on a red-headed classmate. She didn't feel the same way. Years later, when Schulz was the world-famous creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip, he remembered his youthful heartthrob and created a little red-haired girl to captivate, and repeatedly break the heart of, Charlie Brown.
An adorable exhibit at Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury pays homage to Schulz's ability to convey the torment of unrequited love. "Heartbreak in Peanuts" is made up of comic strips, from the early '50s to the '90s, that feature Charlie Brown and his red-haired girl, Lucy and her never-would-be-sweetheart Schroeder and Sally and her resistant Sweet Babboo Linus. In the end, Lucy could never compete with Beethoven and Sally could never lure Linus away from his love for his blanket.
"There's something funny about unrequited love. I suppose it's because we can all identify with it," says Mattatuck curator Cynthia Roznoy. "Charlie Brown suffers a lot of miseries and disappointments. But he perseveres. He's a hero."
The exhibit, a traveling show based at Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., also features thwarted love stories that may not be as well remembered: Linus' affection for his teacher Miss Othmar, and Pig-Pen and Peppermint Patty, who liked but didn't understand each other.
Snoopy's many love notes to fetching lady beagles, which he banged out on his little typewriter on top of his doghouse, get special mention. "Dearest darling, how I love you. Words cannot tell how much I love you. So forget it." None of those gushing letters ever brought Snoopy true love. One of Snoopy's ladies left him at the altar to run off with his brother Spike, and then later dumped Spike for a coyote.
When he was in first grade, Schulz was too scared to hand out his valentines at school, so he brought them back home on the sly. This morphed, in "Peanuts," into Charlie Brown waiting, waiting, waiting by the mailbox for valentines to arrive. They seldom did, and when they did, they were half-hearted. In one strip, Patty tells Violet that she bought Charlie Brown a chintzy valentine, assuming he wouldn't mind. "When you're a Charlie Brown, you really don't expect too much," she says.
Sometimes Charlie Brown expressed his frustration romantically: "Of all the playground benches on all the playgrounds in all the world, she has to sit there," he moans to Linus, a la Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca." Other times, his unhappiness is simpler: He hides behind a tree while Sally talks to the red-haired girl in his place.
The exhibit features an activity bay where kids can make valentines and put them in a mailbox like Charlie Brown's, and a selfie station with a Charlie Brown cutout.
HEARTBREAK IN PEANUTS is at Mattatuck Museum, 144 W. Main St. in Waterbury, until Aug. 13. mattatuckmuseum.org.