Charles M. Schulz Remembered
Creator of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the entire "Peanuts" gang
by Beth Rowen
Charles Schulz, creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip, died in his sleep on Feb. 12, 2000, after a battle with colon cancer. He was 77. Refusing to pass the torch to any other artist, he announced his retirement in December, when he was diagnosed with cancer.
In a career that spanned nearly 50 years, Schulz drew more than 18,250 "Peanuts" comic strips, which expressed a droll philosophy through his trademark characters, including the hapless, angst-ridden Charlie Brown; Snoopy, a romantic, self-deluded beagle; piano-playing Schroeder; security-blanket toting Linus; and self-centered Lucy. No adult was ever pictured, though the garbled voice of a teacher or parent occasionally resonated in the background.
50 Years of "Peanuts"
"Peanuts" debuted in 1950 and went on to be the most widely read comic strip in the world, with an audience of 355 million in 75 countries. It ran in 2,600 newspapers and was published in 21 languages, including Serbo-Croatian, Chinese, and Tlingit.
In a tribute to Schulz, President Clinton said, "For 50 years his keen eye, his good and generous heart, and his active brush and pen have given life to the most memorable cast of characters to ever enliven our daily papers."
Schulz died the night before his last strip ran in Sunday papers. In his swan song, he included a signed farewell: "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."
Born to Draw
Schulz was born on Nov. 26, 1922, in Minneapolis. He knew from an early age that he was destined to draw comics. As a child, he always had pen in hand. Schulz used the pen for illustrating, not homework, as he flunked several courses in high school. At age 15, Ripley's Believe It or Not accepted a drawing of his dog, Spike, "a hunting dog that eats pins, tacks, and razor blades."
He served in World War II in France and Germany. After the war, he dabbled in comics, freelancing for several newspapers and magazines. He drew "Li'l Folks," the predecessor to "Peanuts," for the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press. In 1950 the United Feature Syndicate began running the strip as "Peanuts," a name Schulz despised. It took several years for the strip to catch on, but when it did, the fire rapidly spread. He was named outstanding cartoonist of the year by the National Cartoonists Society in 1955 and 1964.
Beyond the Page
The "Peanuts" characters extended to nearly every medium. The first television special, the Emmy Award-winning A Charlie Brown Christmas, debuted on CBS in 1965; it remains a perennial favorite. The "Peanuts" feature films include A Boy Named Charlie Brown and Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown. Schulz wrote dozens of books, including Peanuts, More Peanuts, and Happiness Is a Warm Puppy.
Charlie Brown had a stage career as well. The Off-Broadway musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown debuted in 1967, and was revived on Broadway in 1999. It won two Tony Awards. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich composed the concerto "Peanuts Gallery," which premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1997.
The licensed products also grew. Plastic Charlie Browns and Snoopys debuted in 1958. Hallmark introduced greeting cards in 1960. Now, 20,000 new "Peanuts" products debut each year. The comic strip made Schulz a very wealthy man. Indeed, he reportedly earned between $30 million and $40 million annually.
Devoted to His Work
Despite his success, Schulz remained devoted to the "Peanuts," barely taking a day off in his long career. He remained on schedule after quadruple-bypass heart surgery in 1981. In 1997, he reluctantly took five weeks off for his 75th birthday.
For years he drew with a shaky hand, the result of a series of strokes. In addition, he had lost partial sight in one eye. Schulz died on February 12, 2000, in Santa Rosa, California.