Schulz, Charles Monroe (American, 1922-2000)
Cartoonist and creator of Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz was the winner of two Reuben, two Peabody, and five Emmy awards and a member of the Cartoonist Hall of Fame.
Charles Monroe Schulz was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 26, 1922, the son of Carl and Dena Halverson Schulz. His father was a barber. Charles loved to read the comics section of the newspaper with his father and was given the nickname "Sparky" after Sparkplug, the horse in the Barney Google comic strip. He began to draw pictures of his favorite cartoon characters at age six. At school in St. Paul, Minnesota, he was bright and allowed to skip two grades, which made him often the smallest in his class. Noting his interest in drawing, his mother encouraged him to take a correspondence course (in which lessons and exercises are mailed to students and then returned when completed) from Art Instruction, Inc., in Minneapolis after he graduated from high school.
In 1950 the United Feature Syndicate of New York decided to publish Schulz's new comic strip, which he had wanted to call Li'l Folks but which was named Peanuts by the company. In 1950 the cartoon began appearing in seven newspapers with the characters Charlie Brown, Shermy, Patty, and Snoopy. Within a year the strip appeared in thirty-five papers, and by 1956 it was in over a hundred. The Peanuts cartoons were centered on the simple and touching figures of a boy, Charlie Brown, and his dog, Snoopy and their family and school friends. Adults were never seen, only hinted at, and the action involved ordinary, everyday happenings.
Schulz insisted that he was not trying to send any moral and religious messages in Peanuts. However, even to the casual reader Peanuts offered lessons to be learned. Schulz employed everyday humor to make a point, but usually it was the intellectual comment that carries the charge, even if it was only "Good Grief!" Grief was the human condition, but it was good when it taught us something about ourselves and was lightened by laughter.
By this time Schulz was famous across the world. Peanuts appeared in over twenty-three hundred newspapers. The cartoon branched out into television, and in 1965 the classic special A Charlie Brown Christmas won Peabody and Emmy awards. Many more television specials and Emmys were to follow. An off-Broadway stage production, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, was created in 1967 and ran for four years (it was also revived in 1999). Many volumes of Schulz's work were published in at least nineteen languages, and the success of Peanuts inspired clothes, stationery, toys, games, and other merchandise. Schulz also wrote a book, Why, Charlie Brown, Why? (which became a CBS television special) to help children understand the subject of cancer (his mother had died of cancer in 1943).
Besides the previously mentioned awards, Schulz received the Yale Humor Award, 1956; School Bell Award, National Education Association, 1960; and honorary degrees from Anderson College, 1963, and St. Mary's College of California, 1969. A "Charles M. Schulz Award" honoring comic artists was created by the United Feature Syndicate in 1980.
The year 1990 marked the fortieth anniversary of Peanuts. An exhibit at the Louvre, in Paris, France, called "Snoopy in Fashion," featured three hundred Snoopy dolls dressed in fashions created by more than fifteen world-famous designers. It later traveled to the United States. Also in 1990, the Smithsonian Institution featured an exhibit titled, "This Is Your Childhood, Charlie Brown … Children in American Culture, 1945–1970." By the late 1990s Peanuts ran in over two thousand newspapers throughout the world every day.
Schulz was diagnosed with cancer in November 1999 after the disease was discovered during an unrelated operation. He announced in December 1999 that he would retire in the year 2000, the day after the final Peanuts strip. Schulz died on February 12, 2000, one day before his farewell strip was to be in newspapers. Schulz was twice married, to Joyce Halverson in 1949 (divorced 1972) and to Jean Clyde in 1973. He had five children by his first marriage.
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