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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Today In The Newspaper ...

Charles Monroe Schultz was born on November 26, 1922, in Minneapolis. He was the only child of a German father (a barber) and a Swedish mother (housewife), and lived a quiet life doodling and playing with his dog, Spike. Schultz was a shy kid, made even more so by the fact that he was skipped two half-grades in school so he was always the young and smallest student among his peers.

Schultz graduated high school and undertook a few correspondence courses in art and design. In 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving until early 1946 and attaining the rank of staff sergeant. After leaving the military, Schultz returned to Minneapolis and worked as an art teacher. In his spare time, he developed a comic strip called Li'l Folks. The strip, which appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1947 to 1950, featured a cuddly dog and a peripheral character named "Charlie Brown" ... sound familiar? Schultz earned $10 for each submission.

After 7,000 panels of Li'l Folks and a cartoon published in the Saturday Evening Post, Schultz and the Pioneer Press parted company in 1950 over a denied pay raise and better page position for the comic strip. But you know that saying about "when one door closes, another door opens?" Schultz does, because later that same year, he negotiated a deal with United Feature Syndicate ... a mega player in the publishing industry then and today. And after some character and concept refinements, Peanuts was launched on October 2, 1950 ... 60 years ago today!

Original Peanuts strips ran for nearly 50 years, allowing readers in 2,600 newspapers in more than 75 countries to fall in love with the family values-driven antics of Charlie Brown (shy, like Schultz himself), rowdy beagle Snoopy (Schultz's pet Spike was a pointer), friend Linus van Pelt (named after Schultz's childhood friend), nemesis Lucy van Pelt, sister Sally, bossy Peppermint Patty (inspired by Schultz's cousin Patricia), and the rest of the gang. In fact, except for a five-week vacation break in 1997, Peanuts ran uninterrupted for close to half a century.

During those five decades, Schultz received numerous honors, including multiple awards from the National Cartoonist Society, the Silver Buffalo Award ... high adult honor given by the Boy Scouts of America, a "star" on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (adjacent to Walt Disney, which I think is pretty cool!), and the Congressional Gold Medal ... the highest civilian honor granted by the U.S. Legislature!

Schultz and his family were also very charitable to educational and civic organizations. They were ice sports enthusiasts ... in fact Schultz was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame and the United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame for outstanding contributions to those sports.

I occasionally read the Peanuts strip in the newspaper growing up, but, like millions of other youngsters, Peanuts was all about the TV specials. I don't care how "mature" you were growing up ... you cringed a little with Linus in the pumpkin patch waiting for the "Great Pumpkin" to appear. You cheered for the rafting teams when the gang went to summer camp. Or you asked your parents why Franklin had darker skin than the other kids ... it was very "white" where I grew up. And I bet every reader out there had a first apartment with a sad little Christmas tree that made you think of the Charlie Brown Christmas special . At the very least, you wondered why the school nurse didn't talk to Pigpen's parents about that noxious cloud that followed him everywhere he went. Give the kid a bar of soap and a hygiene pamphlet, public school system!

Unfortunately, dynasties come to an end. In late 1999, Schultz suffered a debilitating stroke that affected his eyesight and general health. And it was later discovered that he had advanced colon cancer. With a heavy heart, Charles Schultz announced his planned retirement for December 14 of that same year.

Schultz died in his home on February 12, 2000. Just hours after his death, Sunday papers began hitting newsstands and people's homes featuring the last original Peanuts comic strip. On May 27, 2000, cartoonists of more than 100 comic strips published special strips dedicated to Charles Schultz, one of the most popular American cartoonists in the history of the medium.

In interviews toward the end of his career ... and life ... Schultz was asked if Charlie Brown would finally get to kick the football. He replied, "... Definitely not! I couldn't have Charlie Brown kick that football; that would be a terrible disservice to him after nearly half a century. ..." Yet later, after just signing the last panel of the strip, he was reported as saying, " ... You know, that poor, poor kid, he never got to kick the football. What a dirty trick - ..."

POINT OF RANT: Charlie Brown understands ... we all do! Rest in Peace!!

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps having him actually connect with the football would have killed the magic of the whole thing. Or perhaps it's like they say about racing dogs (not that I support that, but still...) that if they ever catch the (fake) rabbit, they're done as racers. It always has to stay just out of reach!

    Whatever the story with Charlie Brown, Mr. Schultz lived quite a life, and he brought so many smiles to so many people! Not a bad way to live one's life!