Remember a time when autumn meant burning leaves instead of burning Samsung Note 7 phones?
It’s hard to believe, but on Oct. 27, the animated TV classic “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” celebrates its 50th anniversary.
It was the third “Peanuts” special, following “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the mostly forgotten “Charlie Brown’s All-Stars” (which, if it took as long as a typical Major League Baseball game, would be reaching the seventh inning stretch any day now).
Of course the characters remain frozen in time, or we would now be up to “It’s Your Colonoscopy Report, Charlie Brown.”(Let’s not even think about the “Peanuts” gang bobbing for dentures at Violet’s Halloween party or going door-to-door chanting, “Trick or...wait, it’s right on the tip of my tongue...”)
I’ve been a fan of the special ever since its first airing, but I must admit the program was designed for simpler times. In this era of artificially enhanced self-esteem, the very idea of a “Great” pumpkin judging the relative sincerity of pumpkin patches worldwide would be a mean-spirited no-no. EVERY pumpkin would get a ribbon just for participating. (“And you, artichoke and kale, you get ribbons for being pretty adequate pumpkins, too!”)
Fellow old-timers might remember that Coke and Dolly Madison were the original sponsors of the show. Coincidentally, in a 2016 remake, the scene of Lucy carving out a jack-o-lantern and Linus crying, “You didn’t tell me you were going to kill it!” would be replaced with Lucy preparing snacks and Linus wailing, “You didn’t tell me you were going to fill it with high-fructose corn syrup!”
Remember Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown at the last second? (Today’s mania for remakes may yet spawn the reality show “Falling Flat On Your Back With The Stars.”) Nowadays she would cajole him with “If you like your dignity, you can keep your dignity” and afterwards defend her subterfuge by saying, “It’s not what I SAID that’s important. It’s the fact that the Russians leaked those statements to you.”
The late “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz said that Charlie Brown’s mournful repetition of “I got a rock” spurred fans worldwide to send bags and boxes of candy addressed to the lovable loser. In these litigious times, the neighbors who gave Charlie Brown the rocks would receive cease-and-desist orders for messing with the mineral rights of indigenous peoples.
Of course one of the highlights of the show was the fantasy sequence of Snoopy as a World War I flying ace aboard his Sopwith Camel, battling Germany’s Red Baron.
(This rivalry had been introduced a year earlier in the comic strip and would continue a few weeks later in the novelty song “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen. It’s a bittersweet sequence because, while many kids watching the earliest airings of the special had grandparents who served in World War I still living, all those veterans have now passed away.)
Nowadays Snoopy would probably fantasize instead about being a crazy North Korean dictator using his doghouse to deliver missiles to the decadent United States.
Ah, put my revisionist fears out of your mind and revel in your fond memories of autumn rituals. Just save time to put in a good word for my musings.
“Danny Tyree: just as deserving of a Pulitzer Prize as kale.”
Curse you, self-effacing punchlines!
Danny welcomes email responses at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”