As most Snoopy-philes know, it was on August 10, 1968, that Charlie Brown’s beagle trotted into a surprise party thrown by the Peanuts gang, marking what would then become celebrated as his official birthday.
So, in honor of the best good boy ever (introduced into the comic strips in 1950) and his crew, we thought it would be sweet as a babboo to chat with Jeannie Schulz, the widow of the late Charles Schulz — his real-life sweet babboo — about her beloved “Sparky,” the enduring cartoon joys he gave the world us and the insightful Apple TV+’s documentary, “Who Are You Charlie Brown?”
I adored this movie. How did the documentary come about?
Jeannie Schulz: Well, the documentary was decided by Apple and Imagine and creative people in Wild Brain. And by the time I got looped into it, they had decided to tell the story of Sparky through a Charlie Brown animated story. So it’s a little bit like The Peanuts Movie, in that the first 15 minutes was introducing all the characters, because some people…if you were young, you didn’t know about them.
It really is such a great way of introducing people to this world, which so many fans love, and to give us more insight into what Sparky was about.
Oh yes, But of course, it doesn’t cover everything of Sparky, but what can you do in an hour? [Laughs]
So what did you think of it?
It did exactly what they wanted. It was an animation piece that showed the characters and how they evolved and told people where the characters come from. I think it was in some of the other interviews and documentaries, Sparky’s famous quote: “All the characters are parts of me.” And it’s true because you could not draw continuously about somebody if it wasn’t part of you. But I think that here, it’s kind of a direct translation of that [where] you see directly how the characters came from him as opposed to just having him say something like that. And I like that it didn’t pretend to be a total documentary of his whole life. After all, they’ve been done before and more will be done.
Obviously Snoopy and the gang have famous fans. Do you know how they went about picking the people that showed up in this special, like Drew Barrymore, Al Roker…
…Billy Jean King, Kevin Smith, Karen Johnson, who was the Charles M. Schulz Museum director since 2004. I think those were all natural people who had long relationships with Sparky and could speak to that. And the others, I think, were deep fans as was the narrator Lupita Nyong’o. And I think Apple wanted also to show that Peanuts has a range of cool people who loved it, young people who loved it, middle-aged people who loved it, intellectuals who loved it. So it was indeed showing the breadth of it, I guess.
As the person who knew him best, did you have any concerns about the film being too personal? He was pretty private.
I don’t think so. I don’t think there was anything there that delved into anything that he would have squirmed about. One thing that I did pick up though and this was something that I want to write a little more about was [how] he talked about his first cartoon in the Saturday Evening Post. He says, “You think when you get something published, that’s the beginning…everything is going to take off from there.” But he pointed out that doesn’t always happen. You look at a 50-year career like his and you think, “Oh yeah, sure. Oh, yeah.” But he had to struggle a little bit. He really lived through a lot of “Charlie Brown” moments in that time when he came out of the Army and tried to find jobs. He took dead-end jobs that he thought would lead somewhere and then they wouldn’t. And then he would go on to something else. So it wasn’t, “Oh, cute drawings, get one published, and then everything is fine.” He worked hard all that time.
And the other thing, you probably remember this story, that when he had Li’l Folks in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he went to the editor, and he said, “I’ve been doing this for over a year now and do you think I could get more money?” They said, “No.” He asked, “Do you think I could get a better placement?” Again, “No”. And another question, “Could I have it five days a week?” “No.” And so Sparky said, “Well, then I quit.” So those things to me, just show his determination and his stick-to-it-iveness.
Nice. And I see that the Museum is doing an exhibit with drawings from the vault of the Peanuts gang potentially as grownups?
Yes, yes. I don’t know whether people understand the significance. To find these strips [is huge]. We only knew of one or two of them that we had seen, they somehow leaked from wherever they were in Sparky’s studio to somebody, maybe a visitor to the studio or someone who might’ve worked with him. Anyway, they got into the hands of a collector and we happened to have one, but we didn’t know what it signified nor did we know there were more. And so gradually, they showed up at auction and we bought them so that we now have seven of them. It’s kind of fun. I mean, it’s a wonderful thing for us and for the Museum.
It really is so cool that there’s still so much interest in his works and that people are still finding things. This is really just the enduring legacy of Sparky.
Well, that’s right. And the other thing that is very exciting is we now have a research person in the research department going through all the United Features letters who is discovering little tidbits…and those tidbits add up to a lot. As I said, it’s really exciting for us. And we can link things from the strips to letters that people wrote to Sparky and to strips that people asked for and he signed to them. So it’s a lot of fun.
There really does seem to be a Peanuts renaissance going on. So many brands are doing Peanuts collections, there is all the new content Apple is producing with The Snoopy Show and you also have this amazing global initiative, Take Care with Peanuts. The idea of using these characters to stress the messages of Take Care of Yourself, Take Care of Each Other and Take Care of the Earth is really just a lovely concept.
And the wonderful thing is, Melissa Menta and her marketing people have been conceiving that and working on it since back in 2019. So it’s not a jump-on-the-bandwagon thing at all, even though it plays right into what people are talking about now. And I agree, it’s wonderful. If you look at the little videos on the site, they’re so sweet and they’re so natural to who the characters are, that you don’t even realize that you’re being given a message,
Which I feel has always kind of been the secret sauce of Peanuts. They all have something to teach us. Even Pigpen!
Yep. One of the lessons I learned from Sparky is to never sell anyone short. [Laughs]
Who Are You, Charlie Brown?, Streaming Now, Apple TV+