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Billie Jean King, Charles M. Schulz and Some Guy
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Powell's Books Powell's Books

In the late '70s I was, for reasons I still don't understand, invited to participate in a book project with the tennis legend, Billie Jean King, and the equally legendary cartoonist/philosopher, Charles M Schulz. The book would be called Tennis Love and Mr. Schulz would contribute 50 original Snoopy illustrations.

For the next year or so, I met regularly with Billie Jean and periodically with Mr. Schulz and we ended up with a manuscript and over four dozen brilliant drawings of Snoopy. (At our first meeting, Mr. Schulz, who was and is one of the nicest people I have ever met, told me to call him by his nickname, "Sparky.")

One fall morning, an eternity after the manuscript and artwork had been shipped off to MacMillan, I was wandering the aisles of a small bookstore a few blocks from my San Mateo, CA  hovel when the spine of a book on a shelf in the sports section caught my eye.  The title sounded vaguely familiar, probably because it was the title of the book I had worked on for so long.  I snatched the book off the shelf and saw, for the first time, the wonderful front cover - a photograph of Billie Jean clad in her work togs, standing next to Snoopy on one of the grass courts at Forest Hills. I also couldn't help but notice my name on the cover. I bought the book.

Flash forward about a year. I accompanied Sparky and his lovely wife to a women's tennis match at the Oakland Coliseum, which is now called something like the WD 40/Burger King/Bud Light/iPlace. During a break in the match, I handed Sparky my copy of the book and asked if he'd autograph it for me.  He said he would, took a pen out of his pocket, opened the book and set to work. Fully three or four minutes later he closed the book, handed it to me and re-pocketed his pen.  As much as I wanted to see what had taken him so long to write, I didn't look at the inscription until I got home later that night.  When I finally did see it, I was stunned. It was only a few words long: "To Greg with friendship - Sparky."

Turns out that what had taken him so much time was the large drawing of a pigeon-pawed Snoopy, swinging a tennis racquet.

 I treasure that book. And I treasure the memories of the conversations I had with Sparky.

8 Comment count
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Thank you

Hi. Just read the whole story straight through. Great one. thanks. m

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...for the kind words, Marta. The part of the story I didn't write is that the next morning I couldn't find the book. Although I was positive I'd left it on the coffee table in the living room, I commenced a frantic search of the house and my car. It had simply disappeared.

By mid-afternoon, I was severely depressed and pretty much convinced I was losing my mind. Then my nine-year-old son rolled home from school...with the book. He'd taken it to show his friends, negecting to ask me if he could do so.

I was enormously relieved because this was a kid who was notorious for losing things. I was always a bit surprised whenever he came home with his shoes, his socks, his shirt, and, well, you get the picture. Once he actually lost his Little League championship jacket before he finished his first slice at the team pizza party at which the jackets had been handed out.




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oh, i like this part of the story too! thanks. i think you're the kind of storyteller who could just keep going and going!

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Wow. Just how perceptive are

Wow. Just how perceptive are you? Yeah, I have plent of stories and I love to tell them. I can't tell you how many times I've been in mid-story when someone has asked me if I would issue a plane ticket to the point.

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Greg, why didn't MacMilliam

let you know when the book was going to be published? I had a similar experience when I came across a documentary I had written being telecast on public television, and decided it seemed somehow familiar. No one bothered to tell me. Schulz, by the way, had been a member of a group of cartoonists and other creative people who had a club on Monterey's Cannery Row in Ed Ricketts' old Pacific Biological Laboratory. Oh, also, we have a painting by Kesey, and I see you were neighbors. Amazing piece.

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I suspect MacMillan kept

I suspect MacMillan kept Billie Jean and Schulz abreast of the publishing schedule and sort of forgot about including me because, well, my name wasn't going to sell any books.

 I vaguely remember hearing about the Cannery Row club. (I distinctly remember the first time I visited the mostly pre-developed Cannery Row in the mid-'60s. It reeked of a different time. Fabulous.)

I'd love to hear more about the Kesey painting.

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So would I

I hope Steve will blog about that here on Red Room.

Huntington Sharp, Senior Editor, Red Room

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I will blog on the Kesey painting

in a day or two. An important biography is currently being written on Kesey.