Icon King Helped Inspire Pop Culture Character

By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, June 21, 2021 

One more reason why we regard Billie Jean King as one of the coolest people on the planet is her profound influence on others.

King has inspired past Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Grand Slam champions ranging from Chrissie Evert to Serena Williams and Academy Award winning actors Emma Stone and Holly Hunter, who have each portrayed the social justice warrior in films.

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Did you know the iconic King partially inspired a famed pop culture cartoon character?

King, who famously defeated fellow Hall of Famer Bobby Riggs in the 1973 Battle of the Sexes match staged at the Houston Astrodome, was the partial inspiration for cartoonist Charles Schulz creating the character Peppermint Patty, the athletic, energetic friend of Charlie Brown, for his Peanuts comic strip.

Schulz was a huge fan of King’s—he once placed the tennis legend as one of his Top 3 “Heroes”—and the pair became good friends and occasional doubles partners.

King appears in “Who Are You, Charlie Brown?” a new documentary about Schulz that premieres on Friday, June 25th on Apple TV+.

“I feel he was always searching for the truth,” King says of her friend about 90 seconds into the trailer for the documentary below. “He wanted the world to be equal. You saw the girls in sports, which, as a girl, I’m like ‘That’s great.’

Indeed, in the Peanuts world, Peppermint Patty and Lucy, who has spent a lifetime snatching the football away from Charlie Brown at the last second, are sometimes the best players in any of the sports the kids’ play.

The tennis champion and cartoonist met in 1974 when King asked Schulz to sit on the board of trustees for the Women’s Sports Foundation. He agreed and a friendship was born over their shared values.

“I think we bonded because we were both curious about the world and we bonded over our love of sports and understanding what they can do for you,” King said in an interview with The Press Democrat. “It wasn’t about being champions, but a champion in life. He understood the deeper things.”

Schulz was an avid amateur tennis player, who played with and against King in charity pro-ams.

In a 2012 interview with The Press Democrat, King recalled her friend’s unique way of reaching out to her: Schulz would write a reference to “Billie Jean King” from one of the characters in the comic strip as his way of alerting her to give him a call.

“I could always tell when he wanted me to call him. He would put my name in the strip,” King told The Press Democrat. “Like Snoopy would be lying there and in the caption above him it would say, ‘Thinking about Billie Jean King.’

“So I’d call him and he’d say, ‘So glad you called. I was thinking about you.’ “

So how did the cartoonist’s creativity extend to the tennis court?

“He wasn’t bad at all. I played against him and with him. He wanted to have both experiences,” King told the newspaper. “He asked about grips and about playing and movement,” she said. “He’s very smart, but subtle and curious at the same time. He’s Charlie Brown.”

King, who has played on the public clay courts of Central Park near her New York City apartment, recently got together to hit with fellow Hall of Famer and New Yorker John McEnroe. Check out this video showing two of the greatest volleyers in tennis history still have champions’ touch.

Photo credit: US Open Facebook

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