Upvalley man pulls together tales of those moved by world's most famous cartoon strip
By CAROLYN YOUNGER, For the Register
Monday, April 02, 2007

Don Fraser -- who relishes a good story and knows how to tell one -- is looking for accounts from children and adults with treasured memories connected to the Peanuts gang.

Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty, Sally, Snoopy, et al., have become cultural icons since the Peanuts comic strip first flowed from the pen of their creator, the late Charles M. "Sparky" Schulz, in 1950.

St. Helena resident Fraser, a friend of Schulz and for 35 years a licensee for Peanuts-related clothing, and author Derrick Bang are compiling a book of anecdotes for a book they call, "Security Blankets."

Glance around Fraser's office on Library Lane and it's clear that the 72-year-old entrepreneur and former Marine pilot could fill several Peanuts-related books all on his own.

Fraser's dizzying array of mementos, plaques, cartoons, watercolors, photographs and embroidered and emblazoned clothing covers walls and vies for floor space in a converted five-room bungalow next to the Wine Train tracks.

Impressive as it is, the collection is meager compared to the lifetime of memories tucked in Fraser's personal memory bank.

In the course of conversation -- interrupted briefly as a train rumbled past, shaking the house and tilting picture frames -- names of childhood friends and college and Marine buddies, both alive and long-gone, are recalled and honored with tales of shared escapades, projects and dreams, and in the telling seem as fresh as yesterday.

Fraser's friendships span continents, decades and numerous business enterprises.

In the beginning

A stint with an advertising firm in San Francisco led to Fraser's idea of using Peanuts characters to revive sagging cookie and cake sales for one of the firm's clients. Which led to a meeting with Peanuts creator Charles M. "Sparky" Schulz. Which led to the creation of miniature gold-plated Snoopy-as-flying-ace pins to promote the ad campaign. That, in turn led to Fraser and Elliott Steinberg founding a company named for Steinberg's daughter, Aviva, and more little pins and tie tacks. When a cry went up for colorful pins, Fraser contacted a Berkeley friend, Robert Hsi, whose family ran a cloisonne jewelry business in Taiwan. Then came toys.

But Fraser was ready to move on. His next idea arrived like a thunderbolt the day he and Schulz were playing tennis. Schulz was wearing a shirt with an alligator languishing at chest level.

"I started giving him a bad time about the world's greatest cartoonist wearing an alligator," Fraser recalled. That was all it took. Several months later he was in the men's clothing business, dusting off a corporation called Inetics he had founded in 1968, and then shelved when its initial purpose in life -- as a technology company started with Palo Alto neighbor Jim Rudolph -- ran its course.

As a youth growing up in rural Missouri Fraser's plans for the future didn't extend much past working in his family's shoe factory.

During World War II his father, a cutter in a shoe factory, and uncle, a shoe salesman, came up with the idea of making wooden clogs, the only footwear then that didn't require ration stamps.

The shoe's base was wood, the strap was upholstery webbing and when Fraser and his brother and sisters were old enough, it was their job to tack on the webbing and paint the clogs. From eighth grade through high school, Fraser also worked nights in the Fraser Shoe Company as a janitor. His original intention at the time, when he gave it any thought, was to continue in the family business after high school.

"But some really good teachers opened my eyes to the fact that there is another world out there if you get an education," Fraser said.

He landed in the University of Missouri, took the mandatory ROTC program with the idea of becoming a Marine and having his college fees and tuition paid. He next set his sights on Northwestern University where he switched his major from physics to business -- "Reality set in," he said -- and within days of graduation headed to Quantico, Va., for nine months of officer training. His next choice was flight school. He trained in T-34s, T-28s and F-9 Cougars and in 1958, joined the first squadron of F-8 Crusaders.

Memories take wing

Nearly 50 years later, models, paintings and photos of the straight-wing and swept-wing planes of his past fill his mini-museum. Each one reminds Fraser of a personal adventure or an old flying buddy. One of these was responsible for giving Fraser two early collections of Peanuts cartoons -- the same buddy was later shot down in Vietnam and spent seven-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in what came to be known as the Hanoi Hilton.

By then, Fraser had earned a master's degree in business from UC Berkeley and was holding down two jobs, one at Cutter Labs in Berkeley, the other renovating old San Francisco homes. The death of one of the partners in a flying accident ended the home renovation business and Fraser moved on to a real estate research company, then to the San Francisco advertising firm, which, in turn, led to a friendship and business relationship with cartoonist Schulz and all the members of the Peanuts gang.

The friendship -- but not Fraser's respect and admiration -- ended with Schulz' death from cancer in 2000. In 2005 United Features Syndicate didn't renew Fraser's license, ending a business relationship of nearly 40 years.

But Fraser has moved on to other projects, not the least of which are the stories he and Davis Enterprise editor Bang are collecting for "Security Blankets" to be published by Andrews McMeel.

"In a group of people there is always somebody who has a Peanuts story," he said. Which is why he has also started an oral history project talking to longtime Peanuts licensees around the world, people he sees as part of the Peanuts legacy. These individual stories will go into the archives of the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa.

Fraser, who has great faith in the enduring qualities of Schulz and his Peanuts characters, envisions researchers 100 years from now paging through the accounts "and seeing how people were touched by this guy."

Perhaps the most daunting project ahead will be dismantling and redirecting a half-century's worth of memorabilia -- Fraser is planning to shut the doors of his museum/office.

"It will be a challenge," he agreed, "but that's the discipline I have to go through so my kids don't have to when I'm no longer around here. At 72 you need to be serious about things like that, so as much as it is difficult, it is necessary."

More valuable to him are his family and the friendships he's forged.

"Some people accumulate money and I've never been good at that," he added, "but relationships I'm good at. I love the people in my life."

To learn more about the "Security Blankets" project or to contribute a story go online to www.peanutsstories.com.

Don Fraser in his office in St. Helena, CA


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Schulz Museum

Andrews McMeel Publishing