CHARLOTTE, N.C., February 15, 2017 – Anyone who has ever read Charles Schulz’ comic strip “Peanuts” knows that the “gospel according to Charlie Brown and his gang” was a message of joy and love to the world. It seems appropriate then, to honor Mr. Brown and his creator with a trivia tribute on this day after Valentine’s Day.
From the age of six, Charles “Sparky” Schulz grew up knowing he wanted to be a cartoonist. Schulz and his father avidly read strips together from four different newspapers. Like his own father, Charlie Brown’s dad was a barber and his mother was a housewife.
By the time he was 15, Charles Schulz had published his first cartoon drawing, a picture of his dog, but the recognition was short-lived. Following his graduation from high school, he submitted numerous cartoons to magazines and newspapers only to be rejected on each occasion.
Eventually, Schulz took a job as a cartoonist at the “St. Paul Pioneer Press” where he created characters known as “Li’l Folks,” the forerunners to Charlie Brown and his dog Snoopy. By 1950, the comic strip was purchased by United Feature Syndicate. The name of the strip was changed to “Peanuts,” and the rest is history.
Not all, but most of the “Peanuts” characters were largely based upon real people or, as in the case of Snoopy, a real animal. Snoopy, Schulz’ real life beagle, appeared for the first time in a strip on October 4, 1950, though that dog was based on Schulz’ black and white dog named “Spike.”
Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl were inspired by two people Schulz knew from the art classes he took when he was a teenager in Minneapolis. Some aspects of the character were also semi-autobiographical, since Schulz was actually infatuated with a redheaded girl who rejected him, thereby establishing similar situations that evolved in “Peanuts.”
Lucy, who was Charlie Brown’s most severe critic, was a combination of two real life people, Schulz’ mother and his wife Joyce. Schultz had been married to Joyce for about a year before Lucy made an appearance in the strip.
Other characters also evolved from actual people or events. The model for Linus was based on Linus Maurer, a cartoonist friend of Schulz. Franklin was introduced in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King; and Woodstock, the tiny yellow bird, was the result of that now-iconic 1969 weekend rock music festival in New York State.
As might be expected with a brand new comic strip, “Peanuts” finished last in a survey taken in New York in 1950 following its debut in October. Before long however, it was appearing in 2,600 newspapers from 75 countries throughout the world. It was translated into 21 languages with a readership of more than 350 million people.
Over his career, Schulz drew more than 18,000 strips. But through it all, he took only one vacation, a five-week respite in 1997. It was the only time in his career when strips were repeated while Schulz was still alive.
Obviously, the next step for the Peanuts franchise was merchandising that included greeting cards, toys and clothing. In 1962, Schulz captured the honor of Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year with a Reuben Award given by the National Cartoonists Society.
For nearly half a century Charles Schulz and his band of “Peanuts” characters brought joy to millions of people. Schulz stopped drawing following abdominal surgery. The final daily edition of his cartoon strip appeared on January 3, 2000.
That final cartoon featured Snoopy sitting at a typewriter on top of his doghouse with the following message: “Dear Friends, I have been fortunate to draw Charlie Brown and his friends for almost fifty years. It has been the fulfillment of my childhood ambition. Unfortunately, I am no longer able to maintain the schedule demanded by a daily comic strip. My family does not wish Peanuts to be continued by anyone else, therefore I am announcing my retirement. I have been grateful over the years for the loyalty of our editors and the wonderful support and love expressed to me by fans of the comic strip. Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy…how can I ever forget them…”
Prior to his retirement, Schulz had already drawn six strips for publication in Sunday papers. Ironically the final edition appeared on Sunday, February 13th, the day after Charles Schulz died and one day before Valentine’s Day.
The legacy of Charlie Brown and “Peanuts” lives on today as an integral part of Americana that will never die. Charles Schulz, in his own way, was the Norman Rockwell of comics.
Generation upon generation will continue to savor the exploits of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and all the others as part of our American heritage. Schulz was a comic strip Valentine to our country that will live forever.
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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