SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — Charlie Brown and his friends from the “Peanuts” comic strip turned 70 years old Friday.
The late Charles Schulz debuted the Peanuts comics in seven American newspapers on October 2, 1950. In the very first Peanuts comic strip, Charles Schulz drew Charlie Brown without his trademark zig-zag shirt — that would come later.
In the strip, Charlie Brown walks by some unidentified kids who say “Good ol’ Charlie Brown.”
“And when he’s passed, they say how ‘I hate him.’ And it’s kind of a shock,” Schulz’s widow, Jean Schulz, said.
In fact Mrs. Schulz tells me her late husband — better known as Sparky — later expressed regret over that first cartoon.
“Somebody asked him about it, and he said, ‘I wish I’d never drawn that.’ And he didn’t say why, but I think that it’s kind of obvious because it’s very sharp and harsh,” said Schulz.
Mrs. Schulz shared some of her memories about the popular Peanuts gang at the Charles Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa.
Through the years, Sparky’s creations have evolved into the beloved characters we know now. For example, the first renderings of Lucy featured wide, curious eyes. Snoopy also morphed quite a bit over time, having started as a beagle which stood on all four legs.
What would Sparky himself say about the 70th anniversary of his comic strip?
“Oh I think he’d be delighted,” Schulz said. “Sparky always said that it’s not art unless it lasts a century or over generations.”
Whether it’s the Great Pumpkin in the well-known holiday cartoon, or Lucy pulling away the football, the Peanuts remain timeless and relatable, from Snoopy’s imagination to Charlie Brown’s insecurity:
Schulz says many people can identify with the characters: “Charlie Brown’s feeling he’ll never, he’ll really never succeed and no matter how hard he tries, but he’s still worth trying, and Lucy’s crabbiness and Linus’ philosophical side.”
Jean says Sparky was simply observing life, and he found inspiration everywhere.
“I called him, ‘Sweet Babboo,’ and instead of saying, ‘O, that’s clever, I think I’ll use that,’ it just showed up six weeks later in the comic strip!” Schulz chuckled.
That phrase became what Sally called her crush Linus.
“She torments Linus with it. And he said, ‘I’m not your sweet babboo. So it’s very funny,'” Schulz said.
Though Sparky’s last original newspaper comic was published 20 years ago, the day after his death, the cartoon’s popularity hasn’t faded and Schulz says a new video series is in the works.
Besides the Schulz museum in Santa Rosa, which draws 90,000 visitors a year, Japan recently expanded its Schulz museum and even opened a Snoopy-themed hotel.
“The fact that he created characters that meant something to people, and gave them comfort, and laughter and solace, he would be happy,” said Schulz.
And with a decades-long legacy, it’s a happiness that might only be rivaled by a warm puppy.
During the pandemic, the museum has been mostly closed to the public. It’s scheduled online events, including a live virtual discussion of Charles Schulz’s legacy and celebration with Jean Schulz and cartoonist Stephan Pastis (creator of Pearls Before Swine & Timmy Failure) at 5pm on Saturday, Oct. 3.. Advanced registration is required through the museum’s website.