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Early life and education
Charles Monroe Schulz was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and grew up in Saint Paul. He was the only child of Carl Schulz, who was German, and Dena, who was Norwegian. His uncle nicknamed him "Sparky" after the horse Spark Plug in the Barney Google comic strip.
Schulz loved drawing and sometimes drew his family dog, Spike. Spike ate unusual things, like pins and tacks. Schulz drew a picture of Spike and sent it to Ripley's Believe It or Not! His drawing appeared in the comic published by Robert Ripley, 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 St. Paul's Richard Gordon Elementary School, where he skipped two half-grades. When he was in first grade, his mother helped him get valentines for everybody in his class, so that nobody would be offended by not getting one; but he felt too shy to put them in the box at the front of the classroom, so he took them all home again to his mother.
He became a shy timid teenager, perhaps as a result of being the youngest in his class at Central High School. One episode in his high school life was the rejection of his drawings by his high school yearbook.
After his mother died in February 1943, he was drafted into the United States Army and was sent to Fort Campbell in Kentucky. He was shipped to Europe two years later, departing Boston on February 5 and arrving in Le Havre, France on February 18, 1945 to fight in World War II with the U.S. 20th Armored Division. The unit spent its first month in unit training. It saw combat at the very end of the war. Elements of the 20th Division participated in the liberation of Dachau concentration camp. Schulz's unit was near but did not actually enter the camp. Schulz attained the rank of Staff Sergeant and was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB). Years later he would say his proudest possession was his CIB and when speaking of his wartime service he would simply say, "I was a foot soldier."
Schulz served at various camps in the United States in late 1945 and was home in time for Thanksgiving, but was not formally discharged until January 1946. After leaving the army in 1945, he returned to Minneapolis where he took a job as an art teacher at Art Instruction, Inc. — he had taken correspondence courses before he was drafted. Schulz, before having his comics published, began doing lettering work for a Catholic comic magazine titled Timeless Topix, where he would rush back and forth from dropping off his lettering work and teaching at Art Instruction Schools, Inc.
Career as cartoonist
Schulz's first regular cartoons, Li'l Folks, were published from 1947 to 1950 by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; he first used the name Charlie Brown for a character there, although he applied the name in four gags to three different boys and one buried in sand. The series also had a dog that looked much like Snoopy. In 1948, Schulz sold a cartoon to the Saturday Evening Post; the first of seventeen single-panel cartoons by Schulz that would be published there. In 1948, Schulz 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 in January, 1950.
Later that year, Schulz approached the United Feature Syndicate with his best strips from Li'l Folks, and Peanuts made its first appearance on October 2, 1950. The strip became one of the most popular comic strips of all time. He also had a short-lived sports-oriented comic strip called It's Only a Game (1957 – 1959), but abandoned it due to the demands of the successful Peanuts. From 1956 to 1965 he also contributed a single-panel strip ("Young Pillars") featuring teenagers to Youth, a publication associated with the Church of God (Anderson).
Charlie Brown, the principal character for Peanuts, was named after a co-worker at the Art Instruction Schools; he drew much of his inspiration, however, from his own life:
- Like Charlie Brown's parents, Schulz's father was a barber and his mother a housewife.
- Schulz and Charlie Brown were shy and withdrawn.
- Schulz had a dog when he was a boy, although unlike Snoopy the beagle, it was a pointer.
- 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 "Little Red-Haired Girl" was Donna Johnson, an Art Instruction Schools accountant with whom he fell in love. Schulz was planning to propose to her, but before he got an opportunity to do so, she agreed to marry another man.
- Linus and Shermy were both named for good friends of his (Linus Maurer and Sherman Plepler, respectively).
- Peppermint Patty was inspired by Patricia Swanson, one of his cousins on his mother's side.
In 1951, Schulz briefly moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado.That same year Schulz married Joyce Halverson. His son, Monte, was born at this time, the rest of his children being born in Minnesota. He painted a wall in that home for his daughter Meredith, featuring Patty, Charlie Brown and Snoopy. The wall was removed in 2001 and donated to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. The restored artwork by Schulz is printed in the paperback edition of Chip Kidd's book Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz.
Schulz's family returned to Minneapolis and stayed until 1958. They then moved to Sebastopol, California, where Schulz built his first studio. 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 titled Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz. The original documentary is available on DVD from the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
Schulz's father died while visiting him in 1966, the same year his Sebastopol studio burned down. By 1969, Schulz had moved to Santa Rosa, California, where he lived and worked for more than 30 years.
Schulz had a long association with ice sports, as both figure skating and ice hockey featured prominently in his cartoons. In Santa Rosa, he was the owner of the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which opened in 1969, which featured a snack bar called "The Warm Puppy". Schulz's daughter Amy served as a model for the figure skating in the 1980 television special She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown. 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. In 1998, he hosted the 1st ever Over 75 Hockey Tournament (although goalies could be younger - 60). In 2001, Saint Paul renamed The Highland Park Ice Arena the "Charles Schulz Arena" in his honor.
Although Schulz authorized a biography, Rheta Grimsley Johnson's Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz during his lifetime, the first full-scale biography since his death, Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, by David Michaelis, was released in October 2007. The book has been heavily criticized by the Schulz family, with son Monte stating it has "a number of factual errors throughout... [including] factual errors of interpretation" and extensively documenting these errors in a number of essays; for his part, Michaelis maintains that there is "no question" his work is accurate. Although artist Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin & Hobbes) feels that 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 in both describing Schulz as a cartoonist and in fulfilling Michaelis' stated aim of "understanding how Charles Schulz knew the world", feeling the biography bends the facts to a thesis rather than evoking a thesis from the facts. A review of Michaelis' biography by Dan Shanahan in the American Book Review (vol 29, no. 6) faults the biography, not for factual errors, but for "a predisposition" to finding problems in Schulz 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' mother's family, and "an almost voyeuristic quality" to the hundred pages devoted to the breakup of Schulz' first marriage.
In light of David Michaelis' biography and the controversy surrounding his interpretation of the personality that was Charles Schulz, responses from his family reveal some intimate knowledge about the Schulz's persona beyond that of mere artist.
Peanuts ran for nearly 50 years without interruption and appeared in more than 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries. In November 1999 Schulz suffered a stroke, and later it was discovered that he had colon cancer that had metastasized. Because of the chemotherapy and the fact he could not read or see clearly, he announced his retirement on December 14, 1999. This was difficult for Schulz, and he was quoted as saying to Al Roker on The Today Show, "I never dreamed that this would happen to me. I always had the feeling that I would stay with the strip until I was in my early eighties, or something like that. But all of sudden it's gone. I did not take it away. This has been taken away from me."
Schulz died in Santa Rosa of complications from colon cancer at 9:45 p.m. on February 12, 2000. He was buried in Sebastopol's Pleasant Hills Cemetery.
The last original strip ran the day after his death. In it, a statement was included from Schulz that his family wished for the strip to end when he was no longer able to produce it. Schulz had previously predicted that the strip would outlive him, with his reason being that comic strips are usually drawn weeks before their publication. As part of his will, Schulz had requested that the Peanuts characters remain as authentic as possible and that no new comic strips based on them be drawn. United Features has legal ownership of the strip, but his wishes have been honored, although reruns of the strip are still being syndicated to newspapers. New television specials have also been produced since Schulz's death, but the stories are based on previous strips.
Schulz had been asked if, for his final Peanuts strip, Charlie Brown would finally get to kick that football after so many decades. 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."
He was honored on May 27, 2000, by cartoonists of 42 comic strips paying homage to him and Peanuts.
Schulz received the National Cartoonist Society Humor Comic Strip Award in 1962 for Peanuts, the Society's Elzie Segar Award in 1980, their Reuben Award for 1955 and 1964, and their Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. He was also a 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. On January 1, 1974, Schulz served as the Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.
On February 10, 2000, 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 (410-1) on February 15, and the Senate passed S.2060 (introduced by Diane Feinstein) on May 2. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law on June 20. On June 7, 2001, Schulz's widow, Jean, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband in a public ceremony. Schulz was inducted into the United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2007.
In 2000, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors rechristened the Charles M. Schulz - Sonoma County Airport in his honor. The airport's logo features Snoopy in goggles and scarf, taking to the skies on top of his red doghouse.
The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center: The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa opened on August 17, 2002, two blocks away from his former studio and celebrates his life's work and art of cartooning. A bronze statue of Charlie Brown and Snoopy stands in Depot Park in downtown Santa Rosa.
The Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center at Sonoma State University is one of the largest libraries 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. The library opened in 2000 and now stands as one of the largest buildings in the university.
Peanuts on Parade has been Saint Paul, Minnesota’s tribute to its favorite native cartoonist. It began in 2000 with the placing of 101 five-foot tall statues of Snoopy throughout the city of Saint Paul. Every summer for the next 4 years statues of a different Peanuts character were placed on the sidewalks of Saint Paul. In 2001 there was Charlie Brown Around Town, 2002 brought Looking for Lucy, then in 2003 along came Linus Blankets Saint 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. Permanent, bronze statues of the Peanuts character are also found in Landmark Plaza in downtown Saint Paul.
In 2006 Forbes ranked Schulz as the third highest-earning deceased celebrity, having earned $35 million in the previous year. 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.
Schulz 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. Schulz, reared in the Lutheran faith, had been active in the Church of God (Anderson) as a young adult and then later taught Sunday school at a United Methodist Church. From the late 1980s, however, Schulz described himself in interviews as a "secular humanist":
|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 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.
Schulz counted George Herriman (Krazy Kat), Roy Crane (Wash Tubbs), Elzie C. Segar (Thimble Theater) and Percy Crosby (Skippy) among his influences.
|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.
— Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz, Rheta Grimsley Johnson, p. 68