Sorry, Charlie!

The Twin Cities mark the occasion of Charles Schulz's retirement by scrambling to turn him into a hometown hero

Fans laud Schulz as the man who changed cartooning forever, who spoke to human nature with his cast of introspective children. Yet while Snoopy may be one of the world's most recognized images, the man who crafted him has gone all but unnoticed in the Twin Cities. Lindbergh has his airport terminal, and Fitzgerald his theater, but the Twin Cities have done next to nothing to publicly embrace Schulz.

Until now. After the cartoonist's decision last month to retire, Mruz suddenly found that his decades-long quest had transformed into a popular cause. Around the Twin Cities, and especially in St. Paul, citizens and city officials are scurrying to lay claim to Schulz as a hometown hero. Which, of course, raises the question, Why now? Why hasn't this place, suddenly so eager to grab hold of its forgotten son, embraced the Peanutscreator before? After all, Schulz has always been from here, and Peanuts has been a cultural mainstay for decades. Could it be that we simply want to be part of the legacy, of something that mattered to so many? Or could this newfound enthusiasm be less a matter of paying homage to Schulz's success, and more a way to exploit the moment to our best advantage?

 

On December 14 Charles Schulz, from whose hand and mind sprang Charlie Brown's round head, Snoopy's World War I flying ace, Linus's security blanket--and a slew of characters recognized and loved virtually around the globe--announced he would end an almost 50-year run of Peanuts in daily newspapers. The news was instantly the top story around the nation. His last new daily comic ran January 3, and the last new Sunday cartoon will run February 13. In the days that followed the announcement, hundreds of writers at publications around the nation paid tribute to the cartoonist in prose tinged with fondness for the gang of wise, world-weary kids, sadness at the end of an era, concern for Schulz's health.

Before that media onslaught, many Twin Citians didn't even realize that Schulz was from here. "If 50 percent of the people in St. Paul were aware that Charles Schulz was from St. Paul and had a history here, I'd be surprised," declares Erich Mische, Mayor Norm Coleman's director of strategic initiatives. "We all know Prince is from Minnesota because Prince is out there, he's The Artist. Charles Schulz was never out there, publicly performing. The interest level in the artist isn't nearly as high as in his product."

But in the wake of the announcement and with the media's gaze trained on Schulz, Mische--who has an uncanny knack for seizing nearly any opportunity to boost the city's profile--has kicked into high gear: He's leading the charge for St. Paul to honor the native son it never much bothered to claim before.

For that matter Charles Schulz never much bothered to celebrate the incidental fact that he hails from the Twin Cities. (He has returned a couple of times, including a visit to the opening of Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America in 1992). He was born in Minneapolis, in an apartment behind his father's barbershop, on November 26, 1922. According to the biography Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz, Schulz's family moved to St. Paul, where they stayed for most of his formative years (except for their brief relocation to California when Schulz was six). Interested in drawing throughout his childhood, Schulz enrolled in 1940 in drawing-by-mail classes from Federal Schools, a Minneapolis institution still doing business as Art Instruction Schools. Only after a stint in the army--he entered in 1943, and his division fought in Germany and Austria--did he return to St. Paul and start searching for jobs as an artist.

Eventually, he worked as an instructor at his alma mater and did lettering for Timeless Topix, a comic magazine owned by the Roman Catholic Church. Between 1948 and 1950, he sold several panel cartoons to the Saturday Evening Post, and also during that time created the cartoon L'il Folks for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The cartoon ran weekly for a couple of years, in the women's section; when Schulz asked for a daily commitment, the paper refused.

In 1950 Schulz went to New York to meet with the United Feature Syndicate (now United Media), which had the good sense to promptly snap up L'il Folks, change its name to Peanuts, and start marketing it around the nation. The strip debuted October 2, 1950, in seven newspapers, the Minneapolis Star among them. (Syndication rules allow only one newspaper in a metro area to run a cartoon; United Media officials say the Pioneer Press was offered Peanuts first, but chose not to run it, and never has.)

During the early years of the strip, Schulz married Joyce Halverson. The two first lived with Schulz's father, who had remarried, then moved briefly to Colorado Springs in 1951. After a year they returned to Minneapolis, where they lived for six years before settling in California in 1958. Schulz has since divorced Halverson and married his wife Jeannie, and still lives in Santa Rosa.

By the time he relocated to the coast, Peanuts was already taking off in popularity--not just the newspaper comic, but the merchandising. By 1984 the strip had been sold to its 2,000th newspaper and recorded as the most popular strip of all time in the Guinness Book of World Records. Today the Peanuts merchandising business--clothes, calendars, toys, videos, knickknacks--pulls in $1 billion each year.

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