Saturday October 2, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Peanuts

On this Day:

In 1950, the 1st strip of Charlie Brown, “Li’l Folks”, later “Peanuts”, by Charles M. Schulz was published in seven nationwide papers.

Peanuts is a syndicated daily and Sunday American comic strip written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz. The strip’s original run extended from 1950 to 2000, continuing in reruns afterward. Peanuts is among the most popular and influential in the history of comic strips, with 17,897 strips published in all, making it “arguably the longest story ever told by one human being”. At the time of Schulz’s death in 2000, Peanuts ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of around 355 million in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages. It helped to cement the four-panel gag strip as the standard in the United States, and together with its merchandise earned Schulz more than $1 billion.

Peanuts focuses entirely on a social circle of young children, where adults exist but are never seen and rarely heard. The main character, Charlie Brown, is meek, nervous, and lacks self-confidence. He is unable to fly a kite, win a baseball game, or kick a football held by his irascible friend Lucy, who always pulls it away at the last instant. Peanuts is one of the literate strips with philosophical, psychological, and sociological overtones that flourished in the 1950s. Peanuts’s humor is psychologically complex and driven by the characters’ interactions and relationships.

Peanuts achieved considerable success with its television specials, several of which, including A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, won or were nominated for Emmy Awards. The Peanuts holiday specials remain popular and had been broadcast on network television for over 50 years before moving to the Apple TV+ streaming service in 2020. In addition, the specials occasionally rerun on PBS and PBS Kids since 2020. Peanuts also had successful adaptations in theatre, with the stage musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown an oft-performed production. In 2013, TV Guide ranked the Peanuts television specials the fourth-greatest TV cartoon of all time. A computer-animated feature film based on the franchise was released in 2015.

The strip began as a daily strip on October 2, 1950, in seven newspapers: Minneapolis Tribune, the hometown newspaper of Schulz; The Washington Post; Chicago Tribune; The Denver Post; The Seattle Times; and two newspapers in Pennsylvania, Evening Chronicle (Allentown) and Globe-Times (Bethlehem). The first strip was four panels long and showed Charlie Brown walking by two other young children, Shermy and Patty. Shermy lauds Charlie Brown as he walks by, but then tells Patty how he hates him in the final panel. Snoopy was also an early character in the strip, first appearing in the third strip, which ran on October 4. Its first Sunday strip appeared January 6, 1952, in the half-page format, which was the only complete format for the entire life of the Sunday strip. Most of the other characters that eventually became regulars of the strip did not appear until later: Violet (February 1951), Schroeder (May 1951), Lucy (March 1952), Linus (September 1952), Pig-Pen (July 1954), Sally (August 1959), Frieda (March 1961), “Peppermint” Patty (August 1966), Franklin (July 1968) Woodstock (introduced April 1967; officially named June 1970), Marcie (July 1971), and Rerun (March 1973).

Schulz decided to produce all aspects of the strip himself from the script to the finished art and lettering. Schulz did, however, hire help to produce the comic book adaptations of Peanuts. Thus, the strip was able to be presented with a unified tone, and Schulz was able to employ a minimalistic style. Backgrounds were generally not used, and when they were, Schulz’s frazzled lines imbued them with a fraught, psychological appearance. This style has been described by art critic John Carlin as forcing “its readers to focus on subtle nuances rather than broad actions or sharp transitions.” Schulz held this belief all his life, reaffirming in 1994 the importance of crafting the strip himself: “This is not a crazy business about slinging ink. This is a deadly serious business.”

While the strip in its early years resembles its later form, there are significant differences. The art was cleaner, sleeker, and simpler, with thicker lines and short, squat characters. For example, in these early strips, Charlie Brown’s famous round head is closer to the shape of an American football or rugby football. Most of the kids were initially fairly round-headed. As another example, all the characters (except Charlie Brown) had their mouths longer and had smaller eyes when they looked sideways.

Schulz received the National Cartoonists Society Humor Comic Strip Award for Peanuts in 1962, the Reuben Award in 1955 and 1964 (the first cartoonist to receive the honor twice), the Elzie Segar Award in 1980, and the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. A Charlie Brown Christmas won a Peabody Award and an Emmy; Peanuts cartoon specials have received a total of two Peabody Awards and four Emmys. For his work on the strip, Schulz has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (as does Snoopy) and a place in the William Randolph Hearst Cartoon Hall of Fame. Peanuts was featured on the cover of Time on April 9, 1965, with the accompanying article calling it “the leader of a refreshing new breed that takes an unprecedented interest in the basics of life.”

The strip was declared second in a list of the “greatest comics of the 20th century” commissioned by The Comics Journal in 1999. The top-ranked comic was George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, a strip Schulz admired (and in fact was among his biggest inspirations), and he accepted the ranking in good grace, to the point of agreeing with it. In 2002 TV Guide declared Snoopy and Charlie Brown tied for 8th in its list of the “Top 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time”, published to commemorate its 50th anniversary.

Schulz was included in the touring exhibition “Masters of American Comics”. His work was described as “psychologically complex,” and his style as “perfectly in keeping with the style of its times.”

Despite the widespread acclaim Peanuts has received, some critics have alleged a decline in quality in the later years of its run, as Schulz frequently digressed from the more cerebral socio-psychological themes that characterized his earlier work in favor of lighter, more whimsical fare. For example, in an essay published in the New York Press at the time of the final daily strip in January 2000, “Against Snoopy,” Christopher Caldwell argued that Snoopy, and the strip’s increased focus on him in the 1970s, “went from being the strip’s besetting artistic weakness to ruining it altogether”.

Robert L. Short interpreted certain themes and conversations in Peanuts as consistent with parts of Christian theology, and used them as illustrations in his lectures on the gospel, as explained in his book The Gospel According to Peanuts, the first of several he wrote on religion, Peanuts, and popular culture.

Giant helium balloons of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and Woodstock have been featured in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City since 1968. This was referenced in a 2008 Super Bowl XLII commercial for Coca-Cola, in which the Charlie Brown balloon snags a Coca-Cola bottle from two battling balloons (Underdog and Stewie Griffin).

Snoopy has been the personal safety mascot for NASA astronauts since 1968, and NASA issues a Silver Snoopy award to its employees or contractors’ employees who promote flight safety. The black-and-white communications cap carrying an audio headset worn since 1968 by the Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle astronauts was commonly referred to as a Snoopy cap.

The Apollo 10 lunar module’s call sign was Snoopy, and the command module’s call sign was Charlie Brown. While not included in the mission logo, Charlie Brown and Snoopy became semi-official mascots for the mission. Charles Schulz drew an original picture of Charlie Brown in a spacesuit that was hidden aboard the craft to be found by the astronauts once they were in orbit. This drawing is now on display at the Kennedy Space Center.

The December 1997 issue of The Comics Journal featured an extensive collection of testimonials to Peanuts. Over 40 cartoonists, from mainstream newspaper cartoonists to underground, independent comic artists, shared reflections on the power and influence of Schulz’s art. Gilbert Hernandez wrote, “Peanuts was and still is for me a revelation. It’s mostly from Peanuts where I was inspired to create the village of Palomar in Love and Rockets. Schulz’s characters, the humor, the insight … gush, gush, gush, bow, bow, bow, grovel, grovel, grovel …” Tom Batiuk wrote: “The influence of Charles Schulz on the craft of cartooning is so pervasive it is almost taken for granted.” Batiuk also described the depth of emotion in Peanuts: “Just beneath the cheerful surface were vulnerabilities and anxieties that we all experienced, but were reluctant to acknowledge. By sharing those feelings with us, Schulz showed us a vital aspect of our common humanity, which is, it seems to me, the ultimate goal of great art.”

Cartoon tributes have appeared in other comic strips since Schulz’s death in 2000 and are now displayed at the Charles Schulz Museum. In May 2000, many cartoonists included a reference to Peanuts in their strips. Originally planned as a tribute to Schulz’s retirement, after his death that February it became a tribute to his life and career. Similarly, on October 30, 2005, several comic strips again included references to Peanuts and specifically the It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown television special.

Peanuts on Parade is St. Paul, Minnesota’s tribute to Peanuts. It began in 2000, with the placing of 101 five-foot-tall (1.5 m) statues of Snoopy throughout the city of Saint Paul. The statues were later auctioned at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. In 2001, there was “Charlie Brown Around Town”, 2002 brought “Looking for Lucy”, and in 2003, “Linus Blankets Saint Paul”. Permanent bronze statues of the Peanuts characters are found in Landmark Plaza in downtown St. Paul.

A Peanuts World War I Flying Ace U.S. commemorative postage stamp was released on May 17, 2001. The value was 34 cents, first class.

In 2001, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors renamed the Sonoma County Airport, located a few miles northwest of Santa Rosa, California, the Charles M. Schulz Airport in his honor. The airport’s logo features Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace (goggles/scarf), taking to the skies on top of his red doghouse (the Sopwith Camel). A bronze statue of Charlie Brown and Snoopy stands in Depot Park in downtown Santa Rosa. (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

How did Snoopy know Linus was calling him?  Collar ID…

Second, a Song:

Vincent Anthony Guaraldi (July 17, 1928 – February 6, 1976) was an American jazz pianist noted for his innovative compositions and arrangements and for composing music for animated television adaptations of the Peanuts comic strip including their signature melody, “Linus and Lucy” and the holiday standard, “Christmas Time Is Here”. He is also known for his performances on piano as a member of Cal Tjader’s 1950s ensembles and for his own solo career. His 1962 composition “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” became a radio hit and won a Grammy Award in 1963 for Best Original Jazz Composition. He died of a sudden heart attack in February 1976 at age 47 moments after finishing a nightclub performance in Menlo Park, California.

In 1963, while searching for music to accompany a planned Peanuts documentary entitled A Boy Named Charlie Brown, television producer Lee Mendelson heard “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” on the radio while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. Mendelson then contacted Ralph J. Gleason, who put him in touch with Guaraldi. Mendelson offered Guaraldi the job of composing the score for the documentary, which Guaraldi gladly accepted. Within several weeks, Mendelson received a call from an excited Guaraldi who wanted to play a piece of music he had just written. Mendelson, not wanting his first exposure to the new music to be marred by the poor audio qualities of a telephone, suggested coming over to Guaraldi’s studio. Guaraldi enthusiastically refused, saying “I’ve got to play this for someone right now or I’ll explode!” He then began playing the yet-untitled “Linus and Lucy” for Mendelson, who agreed the song was perfect for Schulz’s Peanuts characters. Reflecting on the song in 2008, Mendelson said, “it just blew me away. It was so right, and so perfect, for Charlie Brown and the other characters. I have no idea why, but I knew that song would affect my entire life. There was a sense, even before it was put to animation, that there was something very, very special about that music.”

The documentary soundtrack, entitled Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, was recorded by Guaraldi’s current trio (with bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey) in October 1964 and released in December of that year. Although the documentary was ultimately shelved due to Mendelson’s inability to secure sponsorship, Schulz and Mendelson retained Guaraldi for the upcoming Peanuts Christmas special, A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). The soundtrack album was recorded by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, this time featuring drummer Jerry Granelli and bassist Fred Marshall, and contained the songs “Christmas Time Is Here”, “Skating” and “Linus and Lucy”. Both the seasonal television special and accompanying soundtrack were very successful.

Derrick Bang, Guaraldi historian and author of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano, commented that, “the importance of Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown and its successor, the score to the Christmas special, cannot be overstated; rarely has an entertainment icon been so quickly—and firmly—welded to a musical composition…indeed, to an entire body of work from one individual. Guaraldi defined the Peanuts sound, and it’s just as true today as it was in the 1960s. The compositions themselves are uniformly sparkling; it’s as if the jazz pianist and his trio were waiting for this precise inspiration.” Mendelson concurred: “There’s no doubt in my mind, that if we hadn’t had that Guaraldi score, we wouldn’t have had the franchise we later enjoyed.” (per Wikipedia).

Here is “Vince Guaraldi – The Man Behind the Music of Peanuts” from courtesy of Matt Draper.  I hope  you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“I remember that Charles Schulz, at the end of his life, had eyes full of tears for Charlie Brown. I thought about the reason for all his emotion: he had lived for 50 years with them.” – David Mazzucchelli

Further to the Stanford University Smile, Russ Waugh of Siglavik, Manitoba, Canada writes:

“Hi Dave & Colleen,

What an amazing Address Jobs gave to the Grad Class.  I think all students should hear this, and  have sent it along to my grandchildren in High School and University.  Keep these coming.   Now retired, still learning, and really enjoy your daily smiles. Stay safe.  

Russ Waugh”

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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