The relationship between the actor and his or her most famous role can be a curious thing; doubly so if the role itself is based on a highly iconic character. Just ask (or not) Bela Lugosi, Judy Garland, George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Brandon Lee, Heath Ledger. In such cases, it’s tempting to suggest that the “energy” surrounding the role itself, pre-established within the well of human collective memory, has an impact on the actor somehow. That is, if you believe in “energy” with the air quotes around it. Some people don’t.
Peter Robbins, who provided the voice of Charlie Brown in many animated “Peanuts” specials, pled guilty last year to making a number of threats, including hiring a hitman to kill a sheriff and threatening to kill a judge. At the time that all this took place, he was apparently living alone in a trailer park. With, I shit you not, his dog named Snoopy.
Robbins had been arrested in the past, for threatening his live-in girlfriend and stalking her breast augmentation surgeon. He was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia, and has been known for his obscenity-laden tirades in the courtroom.
Obviously, the character of Charlie Brown himself has seemed to be a stew-pot of various resentments and paranoias, though wrapped-up in the package of a child with a zig-zag sweater and large round head. He was continually feeling left out, beset-upon, and made fun of. And his psychiatrist was also the same girl who pulled his football away before he could kick it.
Robbins, starting at age nine, provided the definitive voice of Charlie Brown from the very first “Peanuts” cartoon, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” all through the late 1960s. His trademark Charlie yell, “AAAAAAAAAUUUUUGGGHH!!”, was so distinctive that it was used as a sound-effect even after he stopped voicing the character.
Did “Charlie Brown” shape the trajectory of Peter Robbins’ life in more ways than just the animated specials? Did Robbins himself add that extra touch of verisimilitude to his characterization of the role to help Charlie Brown become a superstar (the full popularity of the comic strip didn’t skyrocket until the cartoons came out)? Or did the two meet each other, as equals, in some undefined and uncanny space; art and reality melding to create some third notion?