American Masters to highlight Charles Schulz

Peanuts creator Charles Schulz will featured on an upcoming episode of PBS’s “American Masters” program. The episode, according to E&P includes interviews with members of the Schulz family, Jules Feiffer, Lynn Johnston and Schulz biographer David Michaelis.

The episode is scheduled for October 29th.

25 thoughts on “American Masters to highlight Charles Schulz

  1. I haven’t read any comments from viewers of the American Masters special on Charles Schulz. I’d be interested in hearing what others have to say.
    I found it both heartening and a bit dismaying for the same reason. I took comfort in the fact that the creator of the most loved comic strip of all time was just like the rest of us, an everyday guy who wrestled with insecurity. What I found unsettling was the realization of just how much his life was represented in Peanuts and in the character of Charlie Brown in particular. I had this image of Schulz being this creator who could tap into his insecurities as a wellspring of material for his strip and at the same time conduct himself with a certain inner strength. Alas, just like his cartoon creation, his grasp of life seemed every bit as two-dimensional as his comic strip.
    Toward the end of the program, his wife mentions how he rarely if ever went to the doctor and that had he done so, the colon cancer which ended his life might have been detected at a treatable stage. This clip is followed shortly by one with Lynn Johnston relating how Schulz was in the hospital saying how he couldn’t understand why this was happening to him and how he had always been a good Christian. There is also part of an interview with Al Roper of the Today Show. Not included in this clip was a statement Schulz made about having the strip taken from him due to these circumstances and that he had not ended it.
    Sorry, Chuck. You did end it. By playing Russian Roulette with your health, you took a chance and lost. To cry, “Why me?” is simply self-pity. You had a long life filled with success and adulation far beyond that which the vast majority of mankind will ever realize for them-selves. Your myopic and self-centered perspective on what is in fact LIFE is a sad commentary on the attitude of a man whose God-given gift was such a source of joy for countless millions. Why couldn’t you be happy with that and leave with a smile?

  2. Mark, good post. Good thoughts. But I don’t think it’s fair to judge somebody, especially so harshly, on just a few quotes from others.

    Everybody says “why me?” when confronted with something like terminal cancer at one time or another. That doesn’t mean that he stayed in that mindset or wallowed in self-pity. It was more likely just one of the weaker moments within a space that had many strong, even heroic, moments. IMO, Lynn Johnston was wrong to publicly repeat something so intimate that was shared privately when he was still coming to grips with dying. Thoughts about our own death to people we consider our closest friends are among the most personal and private conversation that anybody can have and she shouldn’t have betrayed that publicly, IMO.

    Look, you wouldn’t want to be judged on just a few things that come out of you during your most vulnerable times, either. None of us would fair well under public exposure imposed by our closest “friends.”

    Does Lynn Johnston or you or anybody else know that he didn’t die with a smile on his face? No.

    As for him not going to doctors, that was part of his generation. My parents were both the same way and both died needlessly young because of it. I’ve known more people in that generation who are resistent to medical care than not. It seems crazy to us, but who we are is where we were when.

    Schulz had issues, as we all do. But he couldn’t have been “a source of joy for countless millions” as you claim if he didn’t have joy himself. Fruit doesn’t grow from dead trees.

  3. I think Mark’s comments, such as “you took a chance and lost. To cry, â??Why me?â? is simply self-pity ” are ridiculous, needlessly unkind, and stupid.
    My own father died of colon cancer around the same time as Schulz. It’s one of the most curable cancers – 95% success rate if caught early, and it’s true that men in particular don’t go to the doc often enough.

    Women are better at looking after their health because they are always thinking of their children, i.e. “who’ll be around to look after them when I’m gone?”

    Schulz come across more and more as a real human being in the aftermath of his passing, the biography has a lot to do with that. He has flaws, heavens be praised. I wish we had known more about him as a human being (rather than a mere icon) while he was alive.

  4. Thank you both to Dawn and Malc for your comments to my post. First off, I knew that what I said would not be embraced by the cartooning community at large. One person’s objective assessment is another’s judgmental behavior. My father, too, died of colon cancer which had metastasized to his brain. A major stroke and six months of lingering ended his ordeal. My mother contracted Alzheimer’s and not so mercifully lived to an old age, completely oblivious to her surroundings for many years. My family was nearly exterminated at an infamous camp in southwestern Poland during the latter part of World War II. Care to hazard a guess as to its name? My wife and I lost our firstborn due to crib death. So, are there people in this world whose suffering entitles them to cry, “Why me?” I’ve met them. I’ve talked with them. I’ve lived with them. Yet, to a one, NONE of them ever uttered a complaint to those around them, to God or to some other Universal Being. O.K., try and understand this simple truth: To cry “Why me” is an attempt to assign blame. If blame is to be leveled, then it must be leveled at oneself. Whoever said life was fair? Death comes in many forms, from the shrieks in a gas chamber to the imperceptible cessation of a baby’s breathing. Compared to the people I’ve known, Schulz’ life was a walk through the park. His weakness expressed at the end of his life with “Why me?” was no more than the logical conclusion to a life of weakness. As to whether or not he smiled at the time of death I do not know. I was speaking FIGURATIVELY.

  5. Mark, I can see why you would disdain weakness, and I actually agree with you that Schulz displayed a lot of weakness in his life. Then again, he had his own trials, like not getting the love of his life. That couldn’t have been easy; it seemed to have affected him forever after.

    You seem to think that he had is cushy because of the money. Having as much money as he did relative to others of the day is actually a big burden. The show pointed out that he felt proud of it and ashamed of it at the same time. Again, not easy to deal with. Just managing that kind of money is a full-time job, and people come at your from everywhere wanting some of it.

    I certainly don’t think his life was a “walk in the park,” unless it was Central Park after dark.

  6. So, Dawn, you feel that on balance, in terms of life trials, unrequited love and the “burden” of managing wealth is right up there with having witnessed your spouse and children dragged off to a gas chamber? Wow. I won’t even dignify this with a response.

  7. Mark,
    I think Mr. Schulz was simply going through the anger stage of the dying process. Yes, he had an enviable life by any material standard. And I strongly suspect in his rational moments he was well aware of his blessings. But it has been my experience (over a decade of working with hospice patients) that the approach of death can alter someone’s perspective in ways that are not always exactly rational. This seems to be a common experience across cultures. Keep in mind that only a small slice of Mr. Schulz’s feeling’s about his dying was presented. He may very well progressed beyond the anger stage and ultimately found peace and acceptance.
    Having said all that, to an outside observer his life and death are in no way comparable to the horrors of the Holocaust (my family too, lost people to the Weirmacht).

  8. Thank you, Dave, for your heartfelt and intelligent response. A person who gives comfort to those who are about to leave this world is in a unique position to apprehend the bigger picture. I agree with you on every point. But if I gave the impression that I was focusing on his mental state as death became imminent, I apologize. I addressed his statement of “Why me?” simply because it served as the impetus for my post. The documentary only confirmed what I’ve felt for some time now. And whereas “Why me?” is a natural expression of one whose death is approaching, as I said in an earlier post, I believe how he expressed himself at the end was the logical conclusion to a life conducted in much the same mindset. “Why me?” was Charlie Brown’s mantra as it was for Charles Schulz.
    God bless you for the work you do or have done. I’m sure that it has shifted your paradigm about life in a way that countless others in this world need to experience.

  9. “So, Dawn, you feel that on balance, in terms of life trials, unrequited love and the â??burdenâ? of managing wealth is right up there with having witnessed your spouse and children dragged off to a gas chamber? Wow. I wonâ??t even dignify this with a response.”

    Oh, get off it, Mark. I never said that or anything remotely near to that.

    If you want to claim a monopoly on suffering and think that nobody else’s suffering is valid because it hasn’t risen to seeing your family slaughtered, then go ahead.

  10. Such broad-brush pronouncements on the character of a person that you’ve never met based on a snipit of hearsay is bad enough.

    Doing so on a public chat board under the cowardly cloak of anonymity renders such an opinion both moot and pathetic.

  11. Yes, Dawn, Mark, and everyone, please use both your First and LAST name when posting. I’ve found when visitors are properly identified the conversation tends to be more insightful and less incite-ful.


  12. Dawn, you claim that you never said anything approaching what I percieved you as saying. Fair enough. I, too, never said that a person’s suffering is invalid unless experienced at the most excruciating level. The fact that you use the word “suffering”, however, indicates that either you’ve not been paying attention, or more likely, you simply don’t understand.
    Unlike you, I make the distinction between pain and suffering. In life, pain is unavoidable. Pain is part of the bargain. Suffering, however, is optional. If you wish to prolong the suffering, then a “Why me?” attitude is the best way to accomplish this. Mr. Schulz’ pain was every bit as valid as anyone else’s, including my grandfather’s. But to claim he suffered a lifetime over the loss of not getting the girl of his dreams is just pathetic. He might have walked away from her house that day, despondent and not paying attention to an oncoming bus, which upon striking him left him a quad for the rest of his life. That didn’t happen. He may not have won the heart of his one true love, but what did he have? He was healthy, ambulatory, sighted, and let’s not forget his talent. Being able to project oneself into another possible scenario for the purpose of bringing your current situation into perspective is referred to by some as “walking meditation.” I lost my firstborn, but I never had to endure Auschwitz like my grandfather. I had a broken leg as a kid, but it wasn’t amputated because of the damage caused by stepping on a mine left over from a war in my country which ended before I was born. Pain and suffering, two different things.
    My apologies for not using my last name. I have no problem with that.
    I may still feel a momentary sense of loss with the memory of loved ones who’ve died, but then I am able to count my blessings and realize that the life I’ve had is better than most people in this world will ever know. My best honor to them and to the God who gave me this life is to be thankful for every moment. And if I do contract cancer someday, or lose my sight, or my ability to walk, or all three, I will STILL find something to be thankful for and will NEVER utter, “Why me?”
    Oh, and Wiley, I don’t have to fall off a ten-story building to know it’s not good for me. In the same way, I don’t need to know someone personally to be able to know the kind of person they are. My experience of Mr. Schulz is not limited to my viewing the documentary.

  13. “I donâ??t need to know someone personally to be able to know the kind of person they are. ”

    Really? And just how are you able do that with such absolute certainty?

    “My experience of Mr. Schulz is not limited to my viewing the documentary.”

    Perhaps you might want to expand on that. It might give more weight to your stated opinion.
    I’m particularly interested in just what you meant by your “experience OF Mr. Schulz”.

  14. Okay, my last name is back. I don’t know why it ever went away. I didn’t notice that. Sorry.

    Mark, Charles Schulz asked “Why me?” with somebody he considered a close friend when he was dying, and you seemingly want to judge his whole life by that one question. Some of us don’t think that reasonable, but fine, we get it.

    As for the meaning of “suffering,” hey, I’m Catholic, we have entire books on the subject. 🙂

  15. I stated something along these lines in the other topic thread. It’s best to remember Schulz in death how you remembered him in life. If you only knew of Schulz the cartoonist, then remember the cartoonist. If you knew Schulz the man, then remember the man. All of this second hand speculation after the fact in response to biographies and documentaries is pointless. As I said, remember Schulz in death as you remembered him in life.

  16. Hi, Wiley. What I meant is that I had some personal dealings with Mr. Schulz back in 1986. So, now you can launch a new diatribe about how I must have some ax to grind. Be my guest. Frankly, this has all grown a bit tiresome.

  17. Mark-
    Had you called into question the quality of Charles Schulz work, that would be one thing, as your opinion would be every bit as valid as those who would disagree with you. What you did, however, was opine on Charles Schulz’s character from the time he was on his death bed. That is another matter entirely.

    You have every right to hold your opinion and state it publicly. But when you call someone’s character into question, especially when that person is no longer with us to defend himself against such hubris, then you shouldn’t be surprised when someone challenges you on it and asks you to back up your opinion with facts. What is truly tiresome is playing the victim role when faced with a challenge to simply back up your statements. What that really says is that you have nothing to base such an opinion.

    I did know Charles Schulz very well for many years, and I can tell you from my personal perspective that he was eminently human, with all the joys and foibles that makes us human.

  18. Mark, in reading this whole post from start to finish, it seems that Dawn and Wiley have been quite reasonable in their response to your comments. If you read your posts together, it seems that you have had some dealing(s) with Schulz that is the real basis of your opinion, but you won’t share them. Without that, your arguments don’t really make a lot of sense to me. Are you worried that if you share them, that we may come to your own pronounced conclusion about having an ax to grind? I’d say quite the opposite is generally true with this group – if your gripe seems legit, then I think most here are reasonable enough to readily admit it. I have no reason to idolize nor despise Schulz. Seems like those that knew him reasonable well, think he was an okay guy … what do you know that says otherwise?

  19. Wiley,
    I hope that you’ll be one of the contributing cartoonists for John Read’s Stay Tooned issue of cartoonists and their opinions/interactions with Sparky(John mentioned in one of these threads that he wanted to do an issue of such perspectives).

    I always enjoy reading about the syndicated cartoonists that actually knew or were offered advice/help by Sparky over the years.

    Over the last few weeks I’ve been re-reading some older books about Sparky and Peanuts and I look forward to more…when are you going to have that issue of out John?? LOL

    Someone needs to fill the void left by Cartoonist Profiles.

  20. “remember Schulz in death as you remembered him in life.”
    Well said Mr. Mckee. I think the strong emotions evoked here are a testimonty to the impact Mr. Schulz had on our lives. I pulled out a copy of “Peanuts 2000” recently. I found the strips as hilarious as the ones from the sixties. Perhaps Mr. Schulz did experience “the dark night of the soul”. I did not know the man beyond his cartoons and TV specials. He is one of my heroes. But if his soul was tortured, he found a way to turn that to a great good, by entertaining millions, if not billions of people. Personally, I hope he is currently writing more strips in whatever afterlife he attained. That would be something to read!

  21. “>>>As for the meaning of â??suffering,â? hey, Iâ??m Catholic, we have entire books on the subject. 🙂

    The Baltimore Catechism is a good start.

    At one of my earliest Reubens, Sparky was in attendence and everyone was at the pre-awards cocktail party. Along the perifery of the room the NCS places samples of the nominees work on display for everyone to admire and comment on. I was moving from board to board and struck up a conversation with a petite woman who looked to be in her early sixties. The subject of Peanuts came up and I told this woman that my earliest exposure to Peanuts was from a book my Mom had entitled “The Gospel according to Peanuts” ( My mother taught catechism to adults and teens back then and had an extensive library on all things theologically based). I said I was preferred the drawings in the book since they were larger and much crisper ( the blacks were true blacks and the line art was much more legible than what one saw in newsprint) in addition to the strips were some of the very best from the early sixties. I realized were weren’t introduced and she told me her name was Jeannie Schulz. I said “Oh are you related to Charles Shulz”? She replied “He’s my husband.”

    I’d never met Sparky and wanted to meet him but didn’t want to fawn over him like most people do…he probably gets a lot of that I thought. So I thought I’d engage him in something else he’s interested in …like Hockey. The Stanley cup playoffs are always going on around Reuben time so I thought that would be a great way to break the ice. As I approached him I extended my hand and introduced myself. I then asked him “Who do you think will win the cup this year?”..”What cup?’ he replied. “The Stanley cup” I offered. “I don’t really concern myself with such things”.. was his reply. Completely at a loss as to what to say next I slinked away confused and a bit embarrassed. After thinking about it though, I realized he is probably inundated at these things with people interrupting him for autographs or pictures, telling him how great he is etc etc. I could see how that could wear on you you and sometimes you just want to be left alone… and I thought better of what happened.

    Either that or he just thought I was a dork.

    Jeannie is always glad to see me at these things though and a nicer person you couldn’t meet.

  22. Rick, cool encounter story. You sound like me at these kind of social gatherings … you always want to meet these folks (the pillars of the industry) but also don’t want to pester them AND it’s always hard to know what to talk about! Thanks for sharing it. I always appreciate it when they make it easier on you though. Hopefully he was just a huge introvert rather than a dork 😉

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