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ICE-SKATING STAR HAS LINK TO CHARLIE BROWN

Times Staff Writer

For Jill Schulz, star of Knott’s Berry Farm’s holiday ice show “It’s the Christmas Beagle, Charlie Brown,” performing daily with “Peanuts” comic-strip characters Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Lucy is something of a family reunion.

Not only is she a lifelong fan of “Peanuts”; the 26-year-old U.S. Figure Skating Assn. gold medalist happens to be the daughter of the strip’s creator Charles Schulz.

Although she has been a principal in major touring ice shows, including “Holiday on Ice,” Schulz was initially hesitant to star in a show with the Peanuts characters when it was first offered at Knott’s three years ago. (The current production continues with daily performances in Knott’s Good Time Theater through Sunday.)

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“I thought maybe I shouldn’t do it because maybe I wouldn’t matter, that I’d get lost among the characters,” she said. “But my brother told me, ‘If you’re good enough, you’re good enough.’ ”

Sitting backstage Monday after the last performance of the day, the petite blond said that being the daughter of a famous figure presented few problems--professionally or personally.

“If there is a disadvantage, it’s that when I’ve accomplished something, whether it’s passing a test, placing in a competition or doing a solo show, a lot of people think it’s not because I’ve worked for it, but because of who my dad is. In reality, who my dad is has no bearing on those things. But it’s not something I ever carried around on my shoulder as a big problem.

“Surprisingly enough, more people don’t pick up on that (the fact that Charles Schulz is her father). Even one of my agents didn’t know until about six months ago. I don’t try to avoid the name, but, at the same time, I don’t advertise it.”

Because she has proven herself as both an amateur and professional ice skater, Schulz said the family name hasn’t sparked cries of nepotism from other skaters. But trying to emerge from the shadow of a famous parent can, she said, lead to a self-imposed pressure to excel.

“Sometimes you feel that . . . you want to make sure to do good, to show that you are capable of being on stage on your own talents and merits. But, in reality, we should always do stuff for ourselves, not to please others. Because if you don’t make yourself happy, you’re not going to make anyone else happy.”

Although she was born in Minneapolis, where both her mother and father grew up ice skating, Jill didn’t put on a pair of skates until she was 10, ironically after the family had moved to California.

At age 12, she began entering skating competitions, capping her amateur career by winning a gold medal in U.S Figure Sktaing Assn. competition when she was 20. At 21, Schulz turned professional and spent two years touring the United States with Ice Follies/Holiday on Ice, followed by a yearlong tour of South America with Ice Follies International. She has also been featured in several of Knott’s Berry Farm’s ice shows in recent years.

During the last two years, she has been studying dancing and acting to broaden her career possibilities.

“There’s only so much you can do in ice skating without an Olympic gold medal,” she said. “It’s too easy to stay forever on the road with (ice) shows--I know some skaters who have been at it for a long time, and they get it in their minds that all they can do is skate. So they worry about when to retire, or to try to go one more year because they don’t know what they’ll do if they aren’t skating.

“I’m trying to do commercials, acting and dancing, so I can feel that I don’t have to skate. I’ll always love to, but now I don’t feel that it’s the only thing in my life.”

Last summer, she was one of the hundreds of dancers who performed in the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympic Games. Shifting career emphasis, however, can be an ego-testing experience.

“When I was auditioning as a dancer for the Olympics, all of a sudden I was no longer one of those who was the best trained. It’s frustrating to start over again in another field, but it’s also good to have new challenges.

“Sometimes I think, ‘Why am I subjecting myself to this?’ ” she said with an infectious laugh. “But every good thing that happens makes it worth going through the struggle to get there.”


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