Snoopy mania hit new heights in November 1968.
Thanks to Akron’s Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Charlie Brown’s puppy pal rose to the occasion 50 years ago at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.
Goodyear engineer William Ludwick of Akron designed a 50-foot-tall balloon likeness of the “Peanuts” character to entertain the Manhattan crowd. Filled with helium, the famous beagle didn’t even need a Sopwith Camel to zoom through the air.
“Snoopy will soon be leaving the Charlie Brown crowd for one day to join the best known gasbags in the world,” wrote Goodyear PR man John Bird of Fairlawn.
“The conqueror of the Mighty Red Baron will team up with Donald Duck, Smokey the Bear, Bullwinkle Moose and other longtime comic strip and TV favorites to give added flair to Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade.”
It had been nearly 16 years since the Beacon Journal began publishing Charles M. Schulz’s syndicated comic strip Dec. 29, 1952. With little fanfare, the Akron newspaper simply noted: “A funny new comic begins Monday.”
Round-headed Charlie Brown and his cast of childhood chums slinked into the funnies, joining Little Orphan Annie, Smokey Stover, Li’l Abner, Bugs Bunny, Dick Tracy, Moon Mullins, Prince Valiant, Steve Canyon, Pogo and Nancy, among others.
Started in 1950, the “Peanuts” comic strip became a cultural phenomenon, eventually appearing in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries. There probably wasn’t a neighborhood in the United States that didn’t have at least one dog named Snoopy.
Goodyear’s new balloon, the 88th character created for Macy’s parade since the late 1920s, capitalized on the success of such animated TV specials as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965) and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (1966), and the 1966 novelty song “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen.
In the comic strip, Snoopy often imagined his doghouse as a biplane with German ace Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, as his nemesis: “Here’s the World War I flying ace zooming through the air in his Sopwith Camel.”
Ludwick’s design featured Snoopy standing on his hind legs and wearing a green aviator helmet and goggles. The balloon was created with spheres, cones, cylinders and doughnut shapes.
“Fashioning an inflatable likeness of Snoopy was a sizable undertaking at Goodyear,” Bird wrote. “Nearly eight months and 1,500 man-hours were required to design, cut, seam, glue and assemble the more-than-4,000 square feet of fabric going into the carcass.”
For the 250-pound balloon’s unveiling at the Wingfoot Lake hangar in Suffield Township, Goodyear’s PR department hired Ohio airshow pilot Everett Dyer to dress up like the Red Baron in a leather jacket, helmet, goggles and white scarf.
Once Snoopy was inflated, Everett buzzed the giant balloon in a biplane and then landed in front of the red-collared character for photographs.
Curse you, Red Baron!
Snoopy was deflated, packed into a crate the size of a phone booth and shipped with other balloons to Macy’s receiving dock Nov. 20 at Seventh Avenue and 36th Street in New York. On the big day, Thursday, Nov. 28, a 40-man crew handled Snoopy’s lines as the big beagle floated above the crowded streets.
“My stomach would just turn over some times,” Ludwick later recalled. “I worried most about the wind. Rain and snow you can live with. It’s the wind that’s the problem.”
More Goodyear balloons
Before the 1968 parade, Ludwick kept it together as he sat for an interview with Joe Garagiola on NBC’s “The Today Show” while millions of people watched. Betty White and Lorne Greene served as the parade emcees.
Among the other Goodyear-created balloons that Thanksgiving were Superman, Smokey the Bear, Donald Duck, Bullwinkle, Underdog, Happy Dragon, Dino the Dinosaur and Linus the Lionhearted — a jungle cat unrelated to Linus from “Peanuts.”
Following the parade, the balloons were deflated and crated, packed away to entertain another day.
The duel against the Red Baron would resume the next year.
Over the decades, there have been at least seven different Snoopy balloons, including an astronaut, a skater, a jester, another pilot and a double figure with bird pal Woodstock. Snoopy has appeared in nearly 40 Macy’s parades, the most of any character.
While Goodyear stopped creating Macy's balloons in 1980, the “Peanuts” tradition continues this Thanksgiving with a Charlie Brown balloon in New York.
Oh, good grief! That blockhead.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.