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Good Grief Charlie Brown!

Universal Studios Japan
Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Liaison

Sixty-three years ago a young cartoonist named Charles M. Schulz introduced us to Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroder, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty and the Little Red Haired Girl. The first “Peanuts” comic strip appeared on October 2, 1950 in seven newspapers.

Big Bucks In Cartoons

Charles M. Schulz drew nearly 18,000 strips. At the height of its success the strip appeared in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries in 21 languages. Along with the strips themselves, there were merchandise and product endorsements producing over $1 billion annually. Schultz’s estimated cut is estimated somewhere between $30 and $40 million per year.

Schulz only took one five-week vacation to celebrate his 75th birthday in 1997. It was the only time in 63 years that reruns of the strip were published during his lifetime.

Societal Influence of Peanuts

Charlie Brown touched a chord in all of us as he faced self-esteem issues, low self confidence and trying to make sense of those around him. Whether he was playing the role of the frustrated baseball manager or trying to kick the football that Lucy always pulled away at the last second, Americans felt a kinship toward this iconic underdog.

We wanted him to approach the Little Red Haired Girl successfully. We wanted Snoopy to vanquish the Red Baron. But most of all, the strip showed us that we were not alone. We were not the only ones afraid to approach our own version of the Little Red Haired Girl. We were not the only ones picked last for teams on the playground or played on a lousy ball team. We all had our own version of a flying doghouse winging around our cubical at work. And there are times we would have all gladly coughed up a nickel for a little of Lucy’s sage psychiatric advice to make it through our day.

 Some Final Thoughts

In 2000 Schulz was awarded the Congressional Gold Metal, the highest civilian honor the legislature can bestow on a private citizen. Surprisingly the House vote was nearly unanimous with only Rep. Ron Paul of Texas opposing. The Senate passed the bill unanimously. His wife accepted the award posthumously.

The Peanuts strip is easily the most successful comic strip of all time. It was the forerunner and inspiration to so many to get into the business. On May 27, 2000 more than 100 comic strips honored Schulz and the Peanuts strip by incorporating the lovable characters in their respective strips.

Oh, and the Little Red Haired Girl? That would have been Donna Mae Johnson, an Art Instruction, Inc. accountant that Schulz fell in love with and asked to marry him right after signing his first contract in 1950. She turned him down and married someone else. Art imitates life. The great thing about Peanuts is that the strips are timeless. Few if any have any time or place references. Every football season Lucy will pull the football and every spring Charlie Brown will field the same team. So we can look forward to the gang keeping smiles on our faces from many years to come. Let’s face it, life without the Peanuts gang would be dismal indeed.

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