Schulz featured on tonights PBS American Masters program (OPEN DISCUSSSION)

A reminder that tonight’s PBS American Masters program is featuring Charles M. Schulz. Program begins at 9 p.m. EST. Meet back here tomorrow to discuss.

Updated: I’m still watching the program (Mountain Standard Time) while I’m watching those on the East coast beginning to write in. Keep the comments coming. I’ll post my thoughts when it ends. A caution to those on the West coast – reviews in the comments may contain spoilers.

UPDATE #2: A couple of more reactions from cartoonists who watched the documentary:

Marshall Ramsey: “I just got through watching tonight’s episode of American Masters with Charles Schulz on PBS. It was tough to watch because I realized how much pain he had inside — but I found it fascinating how that pain brought us Peanuts. Seeing Schulz (who had put up an emotional wall his whole life) break down and cry during the Al Roker interview weeks before his death was so unbelievably powerful.”

Kevin Church: “Charlie Brown was probably my best friend when I was growing up and despite my years of being a devoted fan, I never realized it until tonight.” Read his whole review.

UPDATE #3: The New York Post notes that last nights documentary and the controversial Schulz and Peanuts biography were independently created. Of interest is the last paragraph that states that Sparky’s son Monte voiced some concern with the tone of this documentary stating, “I think that, like ‘Peanuts,’ this is a film that grapples with the hardest things in life and can be depressing in that way, but there was joy in Charles Schulz’s life and I think there’s joy in the film.”

39 thoughts on “Schulz featured on tonights PBS American Masters program (OPEN DISCUSSSION)

  1. I tuned in too late and only caught the last 20mns. It was sad in those few minutes to see Sparky start to cry as he talked to the interviewer(forgot his name…the fat weatherman on Good Morning America or one of those generic morning shows that got gastric bypass and now has a slimmer body but a huge head). The 20mns I saw had a somber feeling to it.

    Here’s where you can find the next air date in your area. Click on the link and do a zip code search:

  2. Two immediate reactions to the Charles Schulz program: 1)I felt a sense of sadness – it seemed to me they were specifically going for the “he wasn’t a happy man” picture of Sparky; and, 2)wouldn’t it have been nice to see interviews with other cartoonists with more positive remembrances of the man? It’s interesting to me that they made what was, in essence, a companion piece to the Michaelis book, but chose to omit all the “cheating husband” stuff. Despite its agenda, there was someone involved who exercised some restraint.

  3. Most of the program had a very somber feel to it, relating the more negative aspects of Schulz’s life as he used them as the basis for the reoccurring themes in his strip. The show seemed to focus alot on his first marriage and the subsequent divorce.

    I did enjoy the interviews with his children. Although, and I hesitate to say this here because I don’t want to speak negatively of the family, his daughter Amy who went on television and radio to defend her father and criticize the new biography, seemed to portray the most negative view of her father in this program. That was kind of puzzling to me.

    But the ending of the program recounting the end of the strip and Schulz’ illness was very touching and sad.

  4. I thought it was very well done and I cried towards the end.

    Watching all of the footage of Charles made me realize just how much he looked like my grandfather as both a young and old man. The resemblance was truly amazing, which made it even more special to me.

    I felt Charles lonliness for some reason, probably because of Charlie Brown.

    Hope the show makes it to DVD.

  5. You know, Alan, it occurs to me I can do something in response to the Michaelis book/PBS profile, assuming there are cartoonists out there willing to add their 2-cents worth. I’d like to print, in STAY TOONED! Magazine, comments from Sparky’s colleagues regarding their impressions of the book and/or documentary program, and their remembrances of the man himself. I’d like to “hear” what other cartoonists have to say, either here on THE DAILY CARTOONIST, or by e-mailing me at

  6. The show just wrapped up. I missed all but the last 45 minutes. Luckily the local PBS station will be rebroadcasting it on Wednesday evening. If you missed it, check your local affiliate if they’re going to rerun it. I also looked to see if they were going to release the episode on DVD and couldn’t find it among the American Masters that were released. I would certainly buy it if I could.

    The producers did a great job of showing the totality of just how much Sparky was his feature and how much the feature was Sparky. I saw the sad irony that the man achieved such a high level of success, yet seemed so unfulfilled. Knowing what we know about how intertwined his life and his feature are and the personal cost that exacted for his success – would you wish that upon someone else? I don’t think I would.

  7. “Knowing what we know about how intertwined his life and his feature are and the personal cost that exacted for his success – would you wish that upon someone else? I donâ??t think I would.”

    That’s a very interesting question Alan. I would think that the inseperable connection of Schulz’s life and strip are unique to Schulz and there for that seemingly great personal cost would be unique to Schulz as well. So I don’t know if it’s even POSSIBLE to wish that type of success on someone else.

  8. I thought it was well done. It painted a very human picture of the man and you could really see the connection to his work. The interviews with his kids were great. I felt that their balanced perspectives towards both of their parents really gave a lot of credibility to their disappointment with the latest biography.

  9. The saddest part of this documentary, to me, was the fact that newspaper comics are no longer a part of the daily conversation. I think that comics will always be with us, but now the folks who read them are only those who are interested in or like comics. The newspaper is no longer a family ritual, and thusly comics have lost their relevence to the mass public. They have become a niche market, whereas, at one time, people were writing songs about them and cartoonists appeared in mainstream media. Sadly, that time has passed, never to return. The daily newspaper habit has been broken by the internet, and comics have become watered down by the millions of options available online. You can almost literally find a webcomic that suits your very individual, personal taste and interests. That’s nothing against webcomics, that is the future like it or not, but there was something comforting about knowing that everybody else was looking at the same PEANUTS strip on a given day, and now that time is gone forever.

  10. I did find it very interesting when the juxtaposition of Peanuts on the comics page was discussed, surrounded by depression era comics and contrasting their style with Schulz’s minimalist drawings. But Mark is right, the reading of the newspaper isn’t the family ritual it used to be. That is very sad to think about. I don’t think that will ever return.

  11. >>They have become a niche market, whereas, at one time, people were writing songs about them and cartoonists appeared in mainstream media. Sadly, that time has passed, never to return.

    I don’t agree with this at all. Yes, comics are a niche market online, but there will always be room for comics with mass appeal, newspapers or no.

    Everything is going to change next year. I’m getting lots of funding for my new syndicate. We’re even going to be mentioned in a major national business magazine soon. You’ll see. Comics are going to be rejuvenated soon.

    Now, I’ve got to watch this program! I was busy, but I recorded it.

  12. As a Christian, I was a little dismayed when Charles questioned God so to speak after getting cancer. Not to retread the whole cancer subject, but I feel Charles was blessed immensely by God. I could only hope to acheive just a small part of his success with my cartooning.

  13. The comment by Meredith that Sparky refused to go to counseling during the breakup of the marriage because he was afraid it would hurt the strip is a poignant comment on the creative link to depression or bipolar disorder. (I’m a poor example, but my writing output dropped to almost zero once I went on Paxil. But when the alternative is suicidal depression, it’s not much of a choice, and it sure wasn’t going to effect my career, as the writing was my escape, not my livelihood.) He could have been happier, but his legacy was Peanuts, not being Father of the Year.

    After he died, I heard an interview with his wife (Jeannie) where she mentioned, as she did last night, about how they’d be driving and he would become silent, and she finally realized that he had gone back to the characters; that the strip was where he lived. For many of us who grew up with the strip, that was a feeling we had too. Craig spoke of the two best places to live being “Disneyland or the Peanuts neighborhood.” I never really wanted to live in Disneyland.

    My other great love is baseball, and the current fuss about Alex Rodriguez is reminiscent of Sparky’s seeming unwillingness to believe in his own success.

    The Bill Melendez comments were interesting too.

    Definitely a show to be watched at least one more time, as you can get more out of it each time, even to the old home movie footage.

    When Craig talked about how Meredith had been sent to private school in Switzerland and he and Monte were sent along so she wouldn’t feel picked on, it blew my mind! Because of the feeling Sparky had when he had to go off to war as his mother was dying, I found it hard to believe that he would force his own kids out like that. Did he consider it tough love? An expedient way to solve a “problem”? Or did he feel that, since he had had to experience that kind of thing, his own kids should go through it too?

    Definitely a show to make you think about an American icon.

  14. I only saw the first few minutes last night, but the intro definitely set an unexpected tone. I was ready to hear a jazz piano welcome the audience with a rendition of “Linus and Lucy” … Instead, I was immediately reminded me of the Comics Journal audio interview, where Schulz mentions the first time he saw Citizen Kane.

    Based on the above responses, I look forward to watching the rest!

    On a side note … I’m not sure if others have suggested it this way before, but perhaps the Little Redhead Girl = Schulz’s “Rosebud” ??

  15. >>>As a Christian, I was a little dismayed when Charles questioned God so to speak after getting cancer. Not to retread the whole cancer subject, but I feel Charles was blessed immensely by God. I could only hope to acheive just a small part of his success with my cartooning.

    Not to have this thread derial into another God vs atheists free for all, I do think the point has to be made that if you’re going to claim that “God” was responsible for Sparky’s success, he’d also have to be responsible for giving him Parkinson’s disease and the cancer that slowly and painfully killed him.

  16. I just posted the following on the Wisenheimer board, but I wanted to contribute it to this discussion too, so I apologize to our shared members.

    I’ve started watching the PBS program this morning over breakfast … I’m about half way into it, but need a refill in my over-sized teacup.

    A mid-point thought/observation … I was born in the mid 70’s, so Peanuts was already an established phenomenon. Always fond of cartooning, my only real knowledge of the Schulz was what I got from reading the Peanuts strip, books, or watching the animated specials. I never saw an interview or television show about him until he died … and most of those were rightfully glorifying.

    I mean this with the up-most respect to his family … I’ve always wished I could be like Schulz, meaning my lifelong dream has always been to make a living as a cartoonist. Would I ever want to experience some of the other things brought-up in this documentary?

    Probably not.

    But we all have our hang-ups.

    Like many cartoonists, I’ve always seen Schulz as a hero for what his work meant to me. I was your typical geek that wore glasses, stunk at sports, and was picked on at school … (haven’t changed much either!) … The only thing that this particular show has done, so far, is reinforced the fact that even our greatest heroes are only human.

    Now, where’s that teacup??

  17. I saw it, enjoyed it and found Schultzâ??s interview at the end, with Al Roker, heartbreaking. The piece definitely shed some more light on Shultz, but I would caution anyone about thinking itâ??s a conclusive piece of evidence about the book or anything else. You can paint any picture you want about anyone with the right editing. Think of all the people you know and what kind of devastating or angelic biopic could be put together with excerpted statements from the right arrangement of your friends and family.

    I missed the part where he commented on questioning god after getting cancer, but there isn’t one person of faith that doesn’t question god or have their faith challenged, especially in that type of circumstance. We will never know whether it ultimately weakened, strengthened, or left his faith as it was.

    My favorite line was when Schultz was asked why he doesnâ??t arrange his working schedule so he can do a whole bunch of cartoons ahead of time and then take some time off, and he answered something like, â??Why would I work so hard to land the job of my dreams only to find ways NOT to be doing it?â?

  18. I think Schulz’s comment that he would feel guilty if he wasn’t creating the strip is the most telling thing that came out of that program. Why would he feel guilty, of all things? Only because Peanuts was his life’s mission, and he knew it.

    I don’t feel sad for Charles Schulz at all. Remember, joy and happiness aren’t the same thing. Joy and sorrow are actually more akin. He knew he was fulfulling what he was put on this earth to do, and that made his life one of true joy, even through all the pain.

    And God rewarded him for it. But no, not with the material stuff…God isn’t Santa Claus. (And, no, Rick, he’s not the angel of disease, either.) Cancer patients don’t normally die as peacefully and suddenly as he did. It’s not a coincidence when he died. That was Providential. He fulfilled what he was put on this earth to do, and God mercifully took him home when that job came to an end. He finally got what he always yearned for, to be filled with pure love. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Sparky’s mailbox runneth over.

    God is the ultimate artist.

  19. I will resist the temptation to yet again get into a protracted discussion on the divine here… let’s just say I understand how belief gives one comfort but with the complete lack of evidence to back it up, to definitively say his career, his life and even the timing of his death was due to divine intervention is just complete nonsense….

  20. …In other words, “I don’t like it when others express their faith-based beliefs because according to MY beliefs they’re wrong, so I’ll dismiss it all as nonsense, while ironically providing no evidence to the contrary.”

    But then, ‘I don’t want to get into this discussion’, which roughly translates as, “You shouldn’t rebut my comments because I’m automatically smarter than you because you believe differently than me. Says me.”

    Seriously though, Rick, why do you feel the need to so, um, ‘directly’ rebut comments people make about their spiritual beliefs? It’s one thing to say, “Well, I don’t believe it that, but to each their own.” Instead you come blasting in basically saying, “You are dead wrong on this issue because I don’t believe God exists, and you should instead bow to my greatness by letting me have the last word on the matter.” I mean, not that I want to ironically, and hypocritically, harp on you for not having any particular spiritual belief, but frankly, it’s getting rather annoying that you basically seem to want to shoot fish in a barrel while we are, how shall I put it… ‘encouraged’ to remain silent.

    Disagreement it a simple fact of conversing, but unless you have indisputable proof that God doesn’t exist, you can’t definitively say someone is wrong. Not any more than I can say you are definitively wrong unless I back it with indisputable proof God does exist. And the key word there is ‘indisputable’, because folks have argued about this for centuries, I doubt we’ll come to an end all be all solution on The Daily Cartoonist.

  21. Let me just say this. I’ve very much enjoyed the discussion we’ve had about this documentary and I really don’t want a religious flame war to hijack this thread. Rick, Dawn, Danny, I think we all know you’re position on religious matters. I’m asking politely that we not continue this religious discussion – no matter how much we’d like to rebut, defend, clarify, opine on the matter.


  22. I have a friend who has worked 41 years as a nurse. She has reinforced my experience (see below) that a patient can exert some control over their time to let go. My Mom had inoperable kidney cancer, and though drugged into a coma, was expected to live several more months. She died after only two and a half weeks of being hospitalized. And she died at 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 31 (1987). Think about that: had she lived another day, all new Medicare deductibles would have kicked in; all kinds of paperwork. Our tax person said she was not surprised by the timing, based on her experience with other clients. And my friend the nurse says that many people seem to hang on until a certain milestone: a 100th birthday, an anniversary, or even someone arriving from a distance in time to say good-by.

    Oh, and 4:30 a.m. was when my Dad had to get up every day to milk the cows. He died in 1957. I figure he was finally able to come back and get her. You can believe all this was coincidence, or a mercy that she didn’t continue to live/suffer, or that ultimately some force took a final step.

    One of the kids last night said they were surprised that Sparky seemed to echo his Mother’s goodbye when they last saw him. He may have done that consciously.

  23. I thoroughly enjoyed the show [if no one minds me getting back on track 🙂 ], but I, too, was puzzled by some of the comments by family and friends. With all due respect to them, they do have to understand how a lot of their anecdotes could be taken as evidence of Schulz’s struggle with pain, sadness, and depression. Yes, he’s human, and the show did a good job of showing his frailties as well as his strengths, but it seemed that almost everyone who was interviewed shared a story about his emotional distance. I wonder what they think of the show, viewing it after the release of the book.

    Also, whether or not the show was intended to be a companion piece to the book, the fact remains that David Michaelis was credited as a consultant. Could that have played a part in the editing?

  24. Alan,

    I’ll abide by your wishes because I respect you and this forum, but frankly, I think it’s unreasonable that I and others can’t express our insights about a comic strip with spiritual undertones and a documentary that has religious connotations and a life that was perceptibly encompassed by the divine because one person here can’t wait to pounce on anything and everything that mentions God — as an excuse to go off on yet another one of his rants and personal flame wars.

    What if it were music? Some people get music. It either comes naturally to them in youth, or they get it after years of experience and devoted attention. I’m a moron about music, because Iâ??m not musically inclined and havenâ??t cared much about it, much less committed myself to it. But if I were to declare that I donâ??t believe anybody can really play music by ear, that Beethovenâ??s talents were all a myth perpetuated by delusional people, if I consistently and aggressively harassed those who had something to express about the mystery of music, you would think that I was being foolish, ignorant and arrogant and you would tell me to stop picking fights. If I didnâ??t, you would ask me to leave, and all reasonable people would cheer you for doing so.

    You wouldnâ??t ban the whole forum and everybody in it from bringing up the subject of music!, esp. if this had been a documentary about John Lennon!

    And if a musician here did give her opinion about Johnâ??s musical life, you wouldnâ??t let somebody who not only understands nothing at all about music but is himself a music-hater and an anti-music evangelist tell her that sheâ??s talking nonsense and then condone the guyâ??s remarks by asking her, even politely, to shut up!

    I totally understand your note based on the flame wars that he always starts, but for the record, I think it stinks that youâ??re letting him censor God out of topics where Heâ??s obviously applicable.

  25. Dawn, I agree. We should be able to discuss religion within the context of cartooning, but history has demonstrated that we can’t seem to keep within that context.

  26. I concur that on the one hand, Alan, you have every right to do what you want with this blog. But you do presently present this blog as an open forum for people to discuss topics. So, on the other hand I find it unfathomably unfair that the flame starters get to have their way by default to prevent problems. Thus, as I said, we’re ‘encouraged’ to remain silent. If Schulz weren’t Christian, then all of this would indeed be out of place, but he was so it’s not. And as far as I’ve ascertained, the very documentary that is the topic of this post mentions this fact. Therefore, someone else’s apparent problem with religion is the issue at hand, not religion being brought up in the first place.

    There’s a huge difference between disagreeing with an opinion and attacking it. While I’m not one to perfunctorily look for openings to interject religious rhetoric into my comments anyway, I don’t think it’s right that I should have to watch my P’s and Q’s EVERY TIME to avoid offending someone by mentioning religion AT ALL, especially when it’s in context.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to perpetuate the derailment of this thread, Alan. It’s just, despite and BECAUSE of your warning, I needed to point out that the bringing up of religion in this particular thread technically wasn’t out of place going by the general rules of “staying on topic”. He who shall remain unnamed taking the opportunity to once again denounce religion was.

  27. Danny, re-read my post. I’m open to discussions regarding religion in the context of cartooning, but the thread was being hijacked. Let’s replay this in slow motion (and I’m paraphrasing):

    1. Dawn opines that divine providence played a role in Sparky’s life and death.

    2. Rick responds that it is complete nonsense, without evidence, to suggest that divinity played a roll in Sparky’s life.

    3. Danny writes a 4 paragrapher – not mentioning Sparky or the documentary. At this point the discussion is heading off track. I could let it go in hopes that it would come back, but history is not your side – it would have taken over the thread.

    Yes this is my blog. I own the domain, pay for the hosting, and put in the time to find worth-while news to talk about, but this is really a community site for those who love the art and business of cartooning. I absolutely encourage discussion and I HATE the fact that I have to shut down a thread or tell people to dial back on the dialog.

    There is a concept of signal vs. noise. When you tune into a radio or TV station (think back in the days of bunny ears), if the music or picture isn’t clear (noise), you change the channel and tune into something else. When the signal is clear, you watch/listen to the program. Noise, regarding blogs, is an off-topic discussion or an uncontrolled flame-war. I’m only asking visitors to keep the signal strong and the noise low.

    The signal on this thread was a collective experience we shared watching a documentary about a man we all deeply admire. A discussion on religion would have been noise.

    Okay, rant over. I apologize now for having thrown up a lot of noise, but I hope you all understand my motivation for often stepping into these discussions like I do.

    Back to the topic: Jim Borgman related a personal experience he had visiting Sparky.

  28. After watching the complete program, he’s some of my final thoughts …

    Many of us have dreamed about becoming a syndicated cartoonist, not for the guts and glory, but rather, to be able to make a living doing something we truly love.

    No matter what this PBS program (or recent “biography”) may try to suggest/interpret via clever editing, there’s no denying how much Schulz was going to miss cartooning. You can literally see it in his eyes during the conclusion of the video … Schulz loved cartooning from the time he was a boy, and that’s a powerful motivation in itself.

    Of course, Schulz had several cartooning heroes of his own who had inspired his childhood dream of being a cartoonist. After all, if the funnies had withered and died before he was born, we probably never would have known the names of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy … or Schulz for that matter.

    After watching the complete program, Schulz remains one of my heroes.

  29. You know the part where they were talking about the Christmas special? I wonder if it’s true that Schulz literally wrote that story in a day.

    I’m glad that he kept control of the project. Can you imagine it with a laugh track? AARGH!

  30. Anne wrote, “Garey, the daughter in the PBS piece was Meredith, not Amy.”

    Anne you are absolutely correct. I apologize. That’s what I get for rushing onto TDC right after the program to post my reactions. LOL!

  31. For anyone in MA, the show is on again today at 3:30pm on channel 2.

    Figures…I waited all week for this show and it’s going to overlap the Pats@Colts!

    I need two tv’s in my crib sigh

  32. Just some quick thoughts on the special:

    1. The negative tone seemed to be set by Sparky’s children more than anyone else. I know that a few of them have posted on other forums about their dislike of the new biography, but to me, they set more of a negative tone than Michaelis, at least in this special. Did the kids hold a grudge against Sparky for their parents divorce?

    2. Michaelis has a horrendous 80’s mullet!

    3. Lynn Johnston seems like a really, really, nice lady.

    4. I’m not surprised that Sparky seemed to put more of himself into Peanuts than perhaps his family. From the many biographes of famous, successful peeps that I’ve read, it seems that that’s a common trait: artistic excellence at the expense of family and friends.

    5. Sparky’s first wife Joyce seemed like quite a woman, one deserving of more time on future specials. She seemed to really creative an insular world for Sparky to creative in. Maybe too insular? It seems like she wanted him to be stronger and more open socially, to grow, and when he wouldn’t or didn’t seem able to she moved on. I got the impression that Sparky tried to over-compensate for the failure of his first marriage during his second marriage to Jeannie. More forceful with his clout.

    6. I loved the special. It was great just getting a glimpse into the life of the man that redefined a medium. His persoanl flaws only made him more enduring to me, as I’m not perfect and I’ve never looked for my heroes to be perfect, either.

    Sparky looked alot like my dad, and watching him choke up in his int with Roker made me real sad, like watching my dad dying all over again.

    I can’t stand Al Roker, so that’s the lead-in to #7…

    7. Al Roker’s a joke of a journalist and it was a slap in the face to have him be one of the last to interview such an artistic icon. Is it fitting that even at the end of his great, inspirational life, that Sparky was shown such disrespect worthy of Charlie Brown?

    Roker’s a weatherman, and not even a very good one…not that any of them are really any good. Sparky deserved more respect than being interviewed by Roker

    8. The special brought back many happy memories of reading Peanuts as a kid and all the joy the strip and toys brought me as a shorty…

  33. She seemed to really creative an insular world for Sparky to creative in.
    I meant create an insular world…cripes…and I guess it wasn’t really “some quick thoughts”, was it?

  34. Eric, I thought the most negative person was his wife.

    I agree with you about Roker. A Barbara Walters special would have been more fitting.

  35. Al Roker is not a journalist, nor does he pretend to be. But he is a real comics buff, so it was more fitting at the time to have him do that interview for the Today Show than Matt Lauer or Katie Couric.
    And I don’t think they knew it would be his LAST interview.

  36. I received a DVD of “Good Ol’ Charles Schulz” on Christmas and have watched it three times in as many days. It’s interesting how I pick up a bit more with each viewing.

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