Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's almost Thanksgiving!

Since Thanksgiving is drawing near, let’s take a look at one of the traditions we’ve been enjoying since the 1950s. I’m referring to the Peanuts characaters created by Charles Schulz. We’re going to go back in time again and see how it all began.

Charles Monroe Schulz was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and grew up in Saint Paul. Schulz loved drawing and sometimes drew his family dog, Spike. He 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 year book.

After his mother died in February 1943, he was drafted into the United States Army. Two years later shipped to Europe arrving in France on February 18, 1945 to fight in World War II. 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. Before having his comics published, he 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.

Schulz first made money for his comics when he sent in a drawing to The Saturday Evening Post. Schulz received $40 for the first drawing, and was asked to send more. Schulz sent in more comics similar to the first one. He received $40 for each of those. After sending a total of 13 cartoons in, Schulz ended his partnership with SEP.

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. The series also had a dog that looked much like Snoopy. In 1950, 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.

Schulz drew much of his inspiration from his own life:

Charlie Brown, the principal character for Peanuts, was named after a co-worker at the Art Instruction Schools

• 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.

• 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.

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.

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