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Peanuts Turns 60
The lovable gang of kids and dog came from the imagination of a man who adored children
Fall 2010 | Volume 60, Issue 3
As time passed, Snoopy began to have dreams and thoughts; he “took on a personality that was very different from that of any previous cartoon dog,” Schulz explained. “He was slightly superior to the kids in the strip, although he did suffer a few defeats; you might say, at his own paws. But most of the time he won out over the kids.”
If Charlie Brown was a sort of hapless everyman, representing a core of self-doubt that we each wrestle with, then Snoopy might be called an anyman. He could, through the help of his imagination and the occasional item of clothing, transform into any role, whether that was a fighter pilot, a chariot racer, or a grocery clerk. His aeronautical ambitions even landed him on a commemorative Apollo mission patch, above left. But whatever persona he took on, he was never run-of-the-mill.
Lucy appeared in early 1952 as an oddly goggle-eyed toddler. Her younger brother, Linus, showed up later that year as a baby. By the mid-1950s, they were the centers of the strip’s energy. Lucy played the loud, dominant older sister who sometimes showed her love for her brother by teaching him (usually with misinformation) and otherwise expressed her scorn by bullying him. She was an ardent feminist who clearly believed in no woman more than herself, illustrated in a 1972 mock campaign postcard, right. She was quick to suggest that the world should bend itself to her vision, although her outspokenness hindered attempts to woo the deeply sensitive and artistic Schroeder, below.
Linus, in contrast to his sister Lucy, was introverted, spiritual, and contemplative. In his younger days, he bordered on magical, able to blow up a half balloon and even a cubical balloon. Through the late 1950s and 1960s he was a prodigy, playing outstanding outfield, left, and erecting impressive houses of cards and sand sculptures. His most recognizable quirk was a comforting square of blue flannel that he carefully protected from Lucy, his blanket-hating grandma, and Snoopy (inviting the thrill of the chase).
Breaking New Ground
Peanuts was known as a smart, insightful, but also safe strip. Perhaps that’s why it could tackle some of the more controversial issues of the day so effectively.
In November 1962, two months after Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book Silent Spring documented the environmental devastation caused by pesticides, Peanuts started depicting her as a hero. Lucy mentioned that her baseball bat was signed not by Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays but by Carson. Later Snoopy would act as a spokesdog for the Rachel Carson Council’s campaign against chemical lawn pesticides.
In the late 1960s the strip ruffled some feathers when it introduced the character of Franklin at a time when integration of the public schools was still meeting strong resistance in parts of the United States. Schulz took the advice of schoolteacher Harriet Glickman, who wrote Schulz a letter in April 1968 encouraging him to integrate the strip’s cast.
Seeing African American Franklin playing with Caucasian Charlie Brown, below in a 1968 cartoon, or in class alongside white students in the school district he attended with Peppermint Patty, discomforted some readers, and the move received coverage in Newsweek and elsewhere. Glickman remains proud of the results of her encouragement: “I always refer to Franklin as my fourth child.”
The End, Sort of
When Schulz fell ill in late 1999, his 50-year run of more than 17,000 installments came to an end. The final daily appeared on January 3, 2000; it was a typeset goodbye note from Schulz to readers and his characters. TV networks ran tribute shows saying farewell to Peanuts, with old favorites such as 1966’s It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, right.
After he died in February 2000, fellow cartoonist Steve Kelly best captured the mood with his single-panel cartoon, below right, which ran in the San Diego Union Tribune.
While some comics outlive their original creators, the Peanuts strip and Schulz could not be separated. Readers immediately made it clear to the newspapers that they wanted to see Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the crew every day, even if the installment wasn’t brand-new. Today Peanuts reruns continue to enjoy a prominent place in more than 2,200 newspapers.