Charles M. Schulz
|Charles Monroe Schulz|
Charles M. Schulz in 1956, drawing Charlie Brown
|Born||Charles Monroe Schulz
November 26, 1922
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
|Died||February 12, 2000
Santa Rosa, California, U.S.
Charles Monroe Schulz (November 26, 1922 – February 12, 2000), nicknamed Sparky, was an American cartoonist best known for the comic strip Peanuts (which featured the characters Charlie Brown and Snoopy, among others). He is widely regarded as one of the most influential cartoonists of all time, cited as a major influence by many later cartoonists, including Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson.
Early life and education
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Schulz grew up in Saint Paul. He was the only child of Carl Schulz, who was born in Germany, and Dena Halverson, who had Norwegian heritage. His uncle called him "Sparky" after the horse Spark Plug in Billy DeBeck's comic strip, Barney Google.
Schulz loved drawing and sometimes drew his family dog, Spike, who ate unusual things, such as pins and tacks. In 1937, Schulz drew a picture of Spike and sent it to Ripley's Believe It or Not!; his drawing appeared in Robert Ripley's syndicated panel, captioned, "A hunting dog that eats pins, tacks, and razor blades is owned by C. F. Schulz, St. Paul, Minn." and "Drawn by 'Sparky'" (C.F. was his father, Carl Fred Schulz).
Schulz attended Richards Gordon Elementary School in Saint Paul, where he skipped two half-grades. He became a shy, timid teenager, perhaps as a result of being the youngest in his class at Central High School. One well-known episode in his high school life was the rejection of his drawings by his high school yearbook, which he referred to in Peanuts years later, when he had Lucy ask Charlie Brown to sign a picture he drew of a horse, only to then say it was a prank. A five-foot-tall statue of Snoopy was placed in the school's main office 60 years later.
Military service and post-war jobs
In February 1943, Schulz's mother Dena died after a long illness. At the time of her death, he had only recently been made aware that she suffered from cancer. Schulz had by all accounts been very close to his mother and her death made a strong impression on him.
Around the same time, Schulz was drafted into the United States Army. He served as a staff sergeant with the 20th Armored Division in Europe, as a squad leader on a .50 caliber machine gun team. His unit saw combat only at the very end of the war. Schulz said that he only had one opportunity to fire his machine gun but forgot to load it. Fortunately, he said, the German soldier he could have fired at willingly surrendered. Years later, Schulz proudly spoke of his wartime service.
After being discharged in late 1945, Schulz returned to Minneapolis. He did lettering for a Roman Catholic comic magazine, Timeless Topix, and then, in July 1946, took a job at Art Instruction, Inc., reviewing and grading lessons submitted by students.:164 Schulz himself had been a student of the school, taking a correspondence course from it before he was drafted. He worked at the school for a number of years while he developed his career as a comic creator until he was making enough money from comics to be able to do that full-time.
Schulz's first group of regular cartoons, a weekly series of one-panel jokes entitled Li'l Folks, was published from June 1947 to January 1950 in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, with Schulz usually doing four one-panel drawings per issue. It was in Li'l Folks that Schulz first used the name Charlie Brown for a character, although he applied the name in four gags to three different boys as well as one buried in sand. The series also had a dog that looked much like Snoopy. In May 1948, Schulz sold his first one-panel drawing to The Saturday Evening Post; within the next two years, a total of 17 untitled drawings by Schulz were published in the Post, simultaneously with his work for St. Paul Pioneer Press. Around the same time, he tried to have Li'l Folks syndicated through the Newspaper Enterprise Association; Schulz would have been an independent contractor for the syndicate, unheard of in the 1940s, but the deal fell through. Li'l Folks was dropped from the Pioneer Press in January 1950.
Later that year, Schulz approached the United Feature Syndicate with the one-panel series Li'l Folks, and the syndicate became interested. However, by that time Schulz had also developed a comic strip, using normally four panels rather than one, and reportedly to Schulz's delight, the syndicate preferred this version. Peanuts made its first appearance on October 2, 1950, in seven newspapers. The weekly Sunday-page debuted on January 6, 1952. After a somewhat slow beginning, Peanuts eventually became one of the most popular comic strips of all time, as well as one of the most influential. Schulz also had a short-lived sports-oriented comic strip called It's Only a Game (1957–1959), but he abandoned it due to the demands of the successful Peanuts. From 1956 to 1965 he contributed a single-panel strip ("Young Pillars") featuring teenagers to Youth, a publication associated with the Church of God.
At its height, Peanuts was published daily in 2,600 papers in 75 countries, in 21 languages. Over the nearly 50 years that Peanuts was published, Schulz drew nearly 18,000 strips. The strips themselves, plus merchandise and product endorsements, produced revenues of more than $1 billion per year, with Schulz earning an estimated $30 million to $40 million annually. During the life of the strip, Schulz took only one vacation, a five-week break in late 1997 to celebrate his 75th birthday; reruns of the strip ran during his vacation, the only time reruns occurred while Schulz was alive.
The first book collection of Peanuts strips was published in July 1952 by Rinehart & Company. Many more books followed, and these collections greatly contributed to the increasing popularity of the strip. In 2004, Fantagraphics began their Complete Peanuts series. Peanuts also proved popular in other media; the first animated TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, aired in December 1965 and won an Emmy award. Numerous TV specials were to follow, the latest being Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown in 2011. Until his death, Schulz wrote or co-wrote the TV specials and carefully oversaw production of them.
Charlie Brown, the principal character for Peanuts, was named after a co-worker at the Art Instruction Inc. Schulz drew much more inspiration than this from his own life, some examples being:
- Like Charlie Brown's parents, Schulz's father was a barber and his mother a housewife.
- Schulz admitted in interviews that, like Charlie Brown, he had often felt shy and withdrawn in his life. In an interview with Charlie Rose in May 1997, Schulz observed, "I suppose there’s a melancholy feeling in a lot of cartoonists, because cartooning, like all other humor, comes from bad things happening."
- Schulz reportedly had an intelligent dog when he was a boy. Although this dog was a pointer, and not a beagle as was Snoopy, family photos of the dog confirm a certain physical resemblance.
- References to Snoopy's brother Spike living outside of Needles, California, were likely influenced by the few years (1928–1930) that the Schulz family lived there; they had moved to Needles to join other family members who had relocated from Minnesota to tend to an ill cousin.
- Schulz's inspiration for Charlie Brown's unrequited love to the Little Red-Haired Girl was Donna Mae Johnson, an Art Instruction Inc. accountant with whom he fell in love. When Schulz finally proposed to her in June 1950, shortly after he had made his first contract with his syndicate, she turned him down and married another man.
- Linus and Shermy were named for his good friends Linus Maurer and Sherman Plepler, respectively.
- Peppermint Patty was inspired by Patricia Swanson, one of his cousins on his mother's side. Schulz devised the character's name when he saw peppermint candies in his house.
The Charles M. Schulz Museum counts Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates) and Bill Mauldin as key influences on Schulz's work. In his own strip, Schulz regularly described Snoopy's annual Veterans Day visits with Mauldin, including mention of Mauldin's World War II cartoons. Schulz (and critics) also credited George Herriman (Krazy Kat), Roy Crane (Wash Tubbs), Elzie C. Segar (Thimble Theatre) and Percy Crosby (Skippy) among his influences. In a 1994 address to fellow cartoonists, Schulz discussed several of his influences. His biographer Rheta Grimsley Johnson said, however:
It would be impossible to narrow down three or two or even one direct influence on [Schulz's] personal drawing style. The uniqueness of Peanuts has set it apart for years... That one-of-kind quality permeates every aspect of the strip and very clearly extends to the drawing. It is purely his with no clear forerunners and no subsequent pretenders.
The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center has stated that Schulz watched the movie Citizen Kane (1941) 40 times. The character Lucy van Pelt also expresses a fondness for the film, and in one strip she cruelly spoils the ending for her younger brother.
In April 1951, Schulz married Joyce Halverson (no relation to Schulz's mother Dena Halverson Schulz). Later in the same year, Schulz and Joyce moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. Their first child, a son named Monte, was born in February 1952, and three further children were born later, in Minnesota.
Schulz and his family returned to Minneapolis and stayed until 1958. They then moved to Sebastopol, California, where Schulz built his first studio. (Until then, he'd worked at home or in a small rented office room.) It was here that Schulz was interviewed for the unaired television documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Some of the footage was eventually used in a later documentary, Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz. Schulz's father died while visiting him in 1966, the same year Schulz's Sebastopol studio burned down. By 1969, Schulz had moved to Santa Rosa, California, where he lived and worked until his death. While briefly living in Colorado Springs, Schulz painted a mural on the bedroom wall of his adopted daughter Meredith Hodges, featuring Patty with a balloon, Charlie Brown jumping over a candlestick, and Snoopy playing on all fours. The wall was removed in 2001, donated and relocated to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California.
By Thanksgiving 1970, it was clear that Schulz's first marriage was in trouble. He was having an affair with a 25-year-old woman named Tracey Claudius. The Schulzes divorced in 1972, and in September 1973 he married Jean Forsyth Clyde, whom he had first met when she brought her daughter to his hockey rink. They remained married for 27 years until Schulz's death in 2000.
On Sunday, May 8, 1988, two gunmen wearing ski masks entered the cartoonist's home through an unlocked door, planning to kidnap Jean Schulz, but the attempt failed when Schulz's daughter Jill drove up to the house, prompting the would-be kidnappers to flee. She saw what was happening and called the police from a neighbor's house. Sonoma County Sheriff Dick Michaelsen said, "It was obviously an attempted kidnap-ransom. This was a targeted criminal act. They knew exactly who the victims were." Neither Schulz nor his wife was hurt during the incident.
Schulz had a long association with ice sports, and both figure skating and ice hockey featured prominently in his cartoons. In Santa Rosa, he owned the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which opened in 1969 and featured a snack bar called "The Warm Puppy". Schulz's daughter Amy served as a model for the figure skating in the television special She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown (1980). Schulz also was very active in senior ice-hockey tournaments; in 1975, he formed Snoopy's Senior World Hockey Tournament at his Redwood Empire Ice Arena, and in 1981, Schulz was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to the sport of hockey in the United States. Schulz also enjoyed playing golf and was a member of the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club from 1959 to 2000.
In 1998, Schulz hosted the first Over 75 Hockey Tournament. In 2000, the Ramsey County Board voted to rename the Highland Park Ice Arena the Charles M. Schulz-Highland Arena in his honor.
In addition to his lifelong interest in comics, Schulz was interested in art in general; his favorite artist in his later years was Andrew Wyeth. As a young adult, Schulz also developed a great passion for classical music. Although the character Schroeder in Peanuts adored Beethoven, Schulz's personal favorite composer was reportedly Brahms.
Declining health and retirement
In July 1981, Schulz underwent heart bypass surgery. During his hospital stay, President Ronald Reagan phoned to wish him a quick recovery.
In the 1980s, Schulz complained that "sometimes my hand shakes so much I have to hold my wrist to draw." This led to the erroneous assumption that Schulz had Parkinson's disease. However, according to a letter from his physician, placed in the Archives of the Charles M. Schulz Museum by his widow, Schulz had essential tremor, a condition alleviated by beta blockers. Despite this, Schulz insisted on writing and drawing the strip by himself.
In November 1999, Schulz suffered several small strokes along with a blocked aorta, and later it was discovered that he had colon cancer that had metastasized. Because of the chemotherapy and the fact that he could not see clearly, he announced his retirement on December 14, 1999. This was difficult for Schulz, who was quoted as telling Al Roker on The Today Show, "I never dreamed that this was what would happen to me. I always had the feeling that I would probably stay with the strip until I was in my early eighties. But all of a sudden it's gone. It's been taken away from me. I did not take this away from me."
Schulz was asked if, for his final Peanuts strip, Charlie Brown would finally get to kick that certain football after so many decades (one of the many recurring themes in Peanuts was Charlie Brown's attempts to kick a football while Lucy was holding it, only to have Lucy pull it back at the last moment, causing Charlie Brown to fall on his back). His response, "Oh, no. 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, in a December 1999 interview, holding back tears, he recounted the moment when he signed the panel of his final strip, saying, “All of a sudden I thought, 'You know, that poor, poor kid, he never even got to kick the football. What a dirty trick — he never had a chance to kick the football.'”
Schulz died in his sleep at home on February 12, 2000, at around 9:45 pm, from colon cancer. The last original Peanuts strip was published the very next day, on Sunday, February 13. Schulz had previously predicted that the strip would outlive him, with his reason being that his comic strips were usually drawn weeks before their publication. Schulz was buried at Pleasant Hills Cemetery in Sebastopol, California.
As part of his contract with the syndicate, Schulz requested that no other artist be allowed to draw the Peanuts comic strip. United Features had legal ownership of the strip, but honored his wishes, instead syndicating reruns of the strip to newspapers. New television specials have also been produced since Schulz's death; however, the stories are based on previous strips, and Schulz always stated that Peanuts TV shows were entirely separate from the strip. New stories have also been produced for publication as licensed comic books.
Schulz received the National Cartoonists Society's Humor Comic Strip Award in 1962 for Peanuts, the Society's Elzie Segar Award in 1980, and was also the first two-time winner of their Reuben Award for 1955 and 1964, and their Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. He was also an avid hockey fan; in 1981, Schulz was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding contributions to the sport of hockey in the United States, and he was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993. On June 28, 1996, Schulz was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, adjacent to Walt Disney's. A replica of this star appears outside his former studio in Santa Rosa. Schulz is a recipient of the Silver Buffalo Award, the highest adult award given by the Boy Scouts of America, for his service to American youth.
Schulz was a keen bridge player, and Peanuts occasionally included bridge references. In 1997, according to Alan Truscott, the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), awarded both Snoopy and Woodstock the honorary rank of Life Master, and Schulz was delighted. According to the ACBL, only Snoopy was awarded the honor.
On February 10, 2000, two days before Schulz's death, Congressman Mike Thompson introduced H.R. 3642, a bill to award Schulz the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor the United States legislature can bestow. The bill passed the House (with only Ron Paul voting no and 24 not voting) on February 15, and the bill was sent to the Senate where it passed unanimously on May 2. The Senate also considered the related bill, S.2060 (introduced by Dianne Feinstein). President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law on June 20, 2000. On June 7, 2001, Schulz's widow Jean accepted the award on behalf of her late husband in a public ceremony.
Schulz was the inaugural recipient of The Harvey Kurtzman Hall of Fame Award, accepted by Karen Johnson, Director of the Charles M. Schulz Museum, at the 2014 Harvey Awards held at the Baltimore Comic Convention in Baltimore, Maryland.
Multiple biographies have been written about Schulz, including Rheta Grimsley Johnson's Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz (1989), which Schulz authorized.
The lengthiest biography, Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (2007) by David Michaelis, has been heavily criticized by the Schulz family; Schulz's son Monte stated it has "a number of factual errors throughout ... [including] factual errors of interpretation" and extensively documents these errors in a number of essays. However, Michaelis maintains that there is "no question" his work is accurate. Although cartoonist Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin and Hobbes) feels the biography does justice to Schulz's legacy, while giving insight into the emotional impetus of the creation of the strips, cartoonist and critic R.C. Harvey regards the book as falling short both in describing Schulz as a cartoonist and in fulfilling Michaelis' stated aim of "understanding how Charles Schulz knew the world"; Harvey feels the biography bends the facts to a thesis rather than evoking a thesis from the facts. Dan Shanahan's review, in the American Book Review (vol 29, no. 6), of Michaelis' biography faults the biography not for factual errors, but for "a predisposition" to finding problems in Schulz's life to explain his art, regardless of how little the material lends itself to Michaelis' interpretations. Shanahan cites, in particular, such things as Michaelis' crude characterizations of Schulz's mother's family, and "an almost voyeuristic quality" to the hundred pages devoted to the breakup of Schulz's first marriage.
In light of Michaelis' biography and the controversy surrounding his interpretation of the personality who was Charles Schulz, responses from Schulz's family reveal some intimate knowledge about the Schulz's persona beyond that of mere artist.
On July 1, 1983, Camp Snoopy opened at Knott's Berry Farm, a forested, mountain theme area featuring the Peanuts characters. It has rides designed for younger children and is one of the most popular areas of the amusement park.
When the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota opened in 1992, the amusement park in the center of the mall was themed around Schulz's Peanuts characters, until the mall lost the rights to use the brand, in 2006.
The Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center at Sonoma State University opened in 2000 and now stands as one of the largest buildings in the CSU system and the State of California, with a 400,000-volume general collection and with a 750,000-volume automated retrieval system capacity. The $41.5 million building was named after Schulz and his wife donated $5 million needed to build and furnish the structure.
In 2000, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors renamed the county airport as the Charles M. Schulz - Sonoma County Airport in the cartoonist's honor. The airport's logo features Snoopy in goggles and scarf, taking to the skies on top of his red doghouse.
Peanuts on Parade has been St. Paul, Minnesota’s tribute to its favorite native cartoonist. It began in 2000 with the placing of 101 5-foot-tall (1.5 m) statues of Snoopy throughout the city of St. Paul. Every summer for the following four years, statues of a different Peanuts character were placed on the sidewalks of St. Paul. In 2001, there was Charlie Brown Around Town, 2002 brought Looking for Lucy, in 2003 along came Linus Blankets St. Paul, ending in 2004 with Snoopy lying on his doghouse. The statues were auctioned off at the end of each summer, so some remain around the city, but others have been relocated. The auction proceeds were used for artist's scholarships and for permanent, bronze statues of the Peanuts characters. These bronze statues are in Landmark Plaza and Rice Park in downtown St. Paul.
The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa opened on August 17, 2002, two blocks away from his former studio, celebrating his life's work and the art of cartooning. A bronze statue of Charlie Brown and Snoopy stands in Depot Park in downtown Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa, California, celebrated the 60th anniversary of the strip in 2005 by continuing the Peanuts on Parade tradition beginning with It's Your Town Charlie Brown (2005), Summer of Woodstock (2006), Snoopy's Joe Cool Summer (2007), and Look Out For Lucy (2008).
In 2006, Forbes ranked Schulz as the third-highest earning deceased celebrity, as he had earned $35 million in the previous year. In 2009, he was ranked sixth. According to Tod Benoit, in his book Where Are They Buried? How Did They Die?, Charles M. Schulz's income during his lifetime totaled more than $1.1 billion.
Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson wrote in 2007: "Peanuts pretty much defines the modern comic strip, so even now it's hard to see it with fresh eyes. The clean, minimalist drawings, the sarcastic humor, the unflinching emotional honesty, the inner thoughts of a household pet, the serious treatment of children, the wild fantasies, the merchandising on an enormous scale—in countless ways, Schulz blazed the wide trail that most every cartoonist since has tried to follow."
According to a 2015 "spiritual biography," Schulz's faith was complex and personal. He often touched on religious themes in his work, including the classic television cartoon, A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), which features the character Linus van Pelt quoting the King James Version of the Bible Luke 2:8–14 to explain "what Christmas is all about." In personal interviews Schulz mentioned that Linus represented his spiritual side, but the spiritual biography points out a much wider array of religious references from Schulz than just what Linus spoke.
Schulz, reared in a nominally Lutheran family, had been active in the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) as a young adult and then later taught Sunday school at a United Methodist Church. In the 1960s, Robert L. Short interpreted certain themes and conversations in Peanuts as being consistent with parts of Christian theology, and used them as illustrations during his lectures about the gospel, as he explained in his bestselling paperback book, The Gospel According to Peanuts, the first of several books he wrote on religion and Peanuts, and other popular culture items.
I do not go to church anymore... I guess you might say I've come around to secular humanism, an obligation I believe all humans have to others and the world we live in.
In 2013, Schulz's widow said about his religious views:
I think that he was a deeply thoughtful and spiritual man. Sparky was not the sort of person who would say "oh that's God's will" or "God will take care of it." I think to him that was an easy statement, and he thought that God was much more complicated.
When he came back from the army he was very lonely. His mother had died and he was invited to church by a pastor who had prepared his mother's service from the Church of God. Sparky's father was worried about him and was talking to the pastor and so the pastor invited Sparky to come to church. So Sparky went to church, joined the youth group and for a good 4–5 years he went to Bible study and went to church 3 times a week (2 Bible studies, 1 service). He said he had read the Bible through three times and taught Sunday school. He was always looking for what those passages REALLY Might have meant. Some of his discussions with priests and ministers were so interesting because he wanted to find out what these people (who he thought were more educated than he) thought.
When he taught Sunday school, he would never tell people what to believe. God was very important to him, but in a very deep way, in a very mysterious way.
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- Primary sources
- Schulz, Charles M. (1980) Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Me. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company ISBN 0-385-15805-X
- My Life With Charlie Brown by Charles M. Schulz, edited by M. Thomas Inge (University Press of Mississippi; 2010) 193 pages
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- Go Fly a Kite, Charlie Brown. 1959. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
- Peanuts: A Golden Celebration: The Art and the Story of the World's Best-Loved Comic Strip Ed. David Larkin. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
- Inge, M. Thomas (ed.) (2000). Charles M. Schulz: Conversations. Jackson, MS: Univ. Press of Mississippi ISBN 1-57806-305-1
- Secondary studies
- Bang, Derrick. 50 Years of Happiness: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz. (1999) Santa Rosa, California: Charles M. Schulz Museum. ISBN 0-9685574-0-6
- Bang, Derrick (ed.) (2003) Charles M. Schulz: Li'l Beginnings. Santa Rosa, Charles M. Schulz Museum. ISBN 0-9745709-1-5
- Caron, James E. "Everybody Deserves a Security Blanket," Studies in American Humor, 2008, Issue 17, pp 145–155
- DeLuca, Geraldine. "'I Felt a Funeral in My Brain': The Fragile Comedy of Charles Schulz," The Lion and the Unicorn v.25#2 (2001) 300–309
- Johnson, Rheta Grimsley (1989). Good Grief: the story of Charles M. Schulz. New York: Pharos Books. ISBN 0-88687-553-6.
- Kidd, Chip (ed.) (2001) Peanuts: the art of Charles M. Schulz. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42097-5
- Michaelis, David (2007). Schulz and Peanuts: a biography. New York: Harper. ISBN 0-06-621393-2.
- Short, Robert L. The Gospel according to Peanuts Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1964.
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