Charles Monroe Schulz (1922-2000) Charles Schulz was the creator of Peanuts, one of the most influential and universally loved of comic strips. The central character of the strip’s cast of children is purportedly the eternal loser Charlie Brown, though he is constantly upstaged by his pet dog, the popular Snoopy. It has been best known in Britain through appearances in the Daily Mail and as an animated television series. Charles Schulz was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on 26 November 1922, the only child of German-born Carl Schulz and his wife, Dena Halverson. Soon after he was born, he received the nickname Sparky, an uncle saying that he was to be named Spark Plug, after the racehorse character in the popular newspaper comic strip, Barney Google. At the age of five, he moved with his parents to an apartment in St Paul, which was closer to his father’s business, The Family Barbershop, and attended kindergarten at the Mattocks School. In 1929, the Schultz family travelled across country, and settled in Needles, California.
Carl worked at the barbershop of his brother-in-law, while Charles attended the D Street School. However, a year later the family returned to St Paul, Carl re-establishing The Family Barbershop and Charles enrolling at the Richard Gordon Elementary School. He reminisced, in 1983, that, during this period, he enjoyed ‘Saturday afternoon serials at the movie houses, the late afternoon radio programs’ and especially ‘the comic strips’. As a result, he grew up with only one career in mind, to draw his own comic strip. As a shy teenager, at Sanford Junior High School (1936) and then the Central High School (1937-40), Schulz failed to shine academically, but progressed with his drawing skills. He was encouraged both by his parents and his art teacher, Minette Paro, and, in spring 1940, enrolled in a correspondence course with the Bureau of Engraving in Minneapolis, which placed an emphasis on cartooning. He continued this after he graduated from high school, in summer 1940, and was working in odd jobs. Schulz was drafted into the United States Army in 1942. He joined the 20th Armored Infantry Division in Europe and, by February 1944, was a sergeant with responsibility for the First Platoon’s machine-gun squad. He served in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany between February and May 1945. On his return to St Paul, Schulz began to work as an instructor with the Art Instruction Schools of the Bureau of Engraving. At the same time, he began to employ his artistic skills, first as a letterer of the work of other cartoonists, and then, from February 1947, as a cartoonist in his own right, contributing to the comic book, Topix. Work for Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post soon followed. The genesis of Peanuts began in June 1947, when Schulz contributed two cartoons entitled Sparky’s Li’l Folks to the Minneapolis Tribune. Li’l Folks soon began to appear on a weekly basis in the other major local newspaper, the St Paul Pioneer Press. Three years later, he achieved a syndication contract for Li’l Folks with United Feature Syndicate. However, the syndicate decided to change its title to Peanuts in order to avoid confusion with an earlier strip called Little Folks. It then appeared six days a week in seven newspapers nationwide. From 1952, most newspapers also ran a full colour Peanuts strip on a Sunday. In 1951, Schulz married Joyce Steele Halverson, the sister of a colleague at the Art Instruction Schools, and adopted Meredith, her daughter from a previous marriage. Following their honeymoon in Colorado, they bought a house in Colorado Springs, with Charles renting a downtown office to use as a studio. However, soon after the birth of their son, Charles Monroe, known as ‘Monte’, in 1952, they returned to Minneapolis, and would live in a series of increasingly impressive homes. A year later, Schulz took over the penthouse of the Bureau of Engravers building to use as a studio. He and Joyce had three further children: Craig Frederick (born 1953), Amy Louise (born 1956) and Jill Marie (1958). Eventually, in 1958, the family moved to California, and settled in Sebastopol, in Sonoma County. The studio there would be ravaged by fire in 1966. By 1969, the Schulzes had moved to Santa Rosa, and this remained Charles’s home for the remainder of his life. He divorced Joyce in 1972, and married Jeannie Clyde in 1973. The success of Peanuts led to the publication, from 1952 to 1964, of Peanuts comic books, with Schulz employing three former colleagues at the Art Instruction Schools to produce additional comic strips. Also in 1952, the original newspaper comic strips were also collected in a volume aimed at an adult readership. Many further collections followed, and from the late 1950s, the cast of Peanuts characters began to be used for merchandising and advertising. Schulz was the first cartoonist to twice receive the Reuben award for ‘Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year’ from the National Cartoonists Society, doing so in 1955 and 1964. The popularity of his creations further increased from the 1960s, with animations and dramatisations, beginning with the animated television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), the stage musical, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown (1967), and the feature length animated film, A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1967). The first of those won both an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement and a Peabody award for Outstanding Children’s and Youth’s Program. Other awards included the National Cartoonists Society’s Humor Comic Strip Award in 1962, the society’s Elzie Segar Award in 1980 and its Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. Despite developing essential tremor, Schulz continued to write and draw the Peanuts strip into the 1990s. It was only following treatment for colon cancer that he announced his retirement on 14 December 1999. He died at home, at Santa Rosa, California, on 12 February 2000. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honour that the United States legislature can bestow. The Charles M Schulz Museum and Research Center opened in Santa Rosa, California, in 2002.
Further reading: Ann T Keene, ‘Schulz, Charles M (26 Nov 1922-12 Feb 2000)’, Paul Betz and Mark C Carnes (eds), American National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2002, supplement 1, pages 549-550