Friday, February 1, 2013

Charles Schulz Was Kind of a Cruel Bastard

Imagine this scene: the Lincoln Theater in Freeport, Illinois, 1977. A packed house full of excited children. The curtain slowly starts to open, because they really did have a curtain in front of the screen. And the feature begins. It's Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown. The movie is exciting and fun. Disney was all but dead in 1977 so The Peanuts were a huge deal. I know in my life they were. But a huge deal in a traumatic way. But that's not unusual because looking back The Peanuts are a franchise based on scapegoating a small boy named Charlie Brown for all the problems of the world, created by a man who by all reports was a miserable and cruel father and husband, Charles M. Schulz. In fact, here's the first Peanuts strip ever.

What the hell? And forever after Charlie Brown was the butt of everyone's anger. What the hell kind of warped crap was that? Even as a child I really did not like The Peanuts, and as it turns out my intuition that this was cruel and cold and needlessly mean was verified when I learned Charles M. Schulz was indeed exactly that as a person.

If you want to inflict crippling depression on a child, make them sit through Bon Voyage Charlie Brown. (And Don't Come Back). 

It turns out Schulz was a serial cheater who wasn't very well liked by anyone who had to deal with him. He was described as mean, aloof, arrogant, bitter, and cheap. Here is how one person described him...

2 Well...I grew up in the front row on this one! I knew Sparky, his wife Jean ( a very well respected and well loved woman in the community), their sons Craig and Monty, daughter Jill... 
Sparky was very uncomfortable socially. He held an annual Senior Olympics Hockey tournament at his ice rink in Santa Rosa, and many of the people in attendance didn't like him at all. He was described as aloof and arrogant; I think it was more his social ineptness that cast him in that light, though aloof was fitting. My own personal experience was that he was a grumpy sourpuss of a man who rarely smiled (when he did it seemed pained), was very picky, demanding, and didn't like us (the kids who played hockey there). He liked the figure skaters (Jill was quite accomplished and a very nice person), and let them get away with murder. Their messes and bullshit always got blamed on us. 
I liked 'Peanuts' as a kid. I didn't care for Sparky.

You can find dozens of anecdotes like this with a simple search. I also saw a lot of people defending him and saying his work outweighed whatever type of person he was in real life, but my point is I always found the work itself cruel. I never learned anything positive from Charlie Brown or went away feeling anything but depression. Maybe a lot of people liked Peanuts because they identified not with Charlie Brown, but those who heaped the abuse on him. They were the bullies and selfish, greedy users for whom nothing was good enough. I don't know, but even this song destroys me and I can never be objective about Charlie Brown. "He's only a boy named Charlie."

I hope you found a calm, happy place in the afterlife, Charles M. Schulz, but regardless of the positive impact you seem to have made in the life's of many there's never an excuse for cruelty, so I'm still inducting you into The Hall of Bad Dudes

Writer's Note: I did not enjoy writing this blog. My feelings of ennui about this subject are valid. Charlie Brown was a big deal when I was a kid and watching him get kicked around wasn't at all funny for me and didn't teach me anything about adversity. It just made me sad. For my fourth birthday my mother went all out. I had been sick most of my early life and we were dirt poor and she wanted to do something nice. I remember this magnificent Charlie Brown cake she had made and how she was inconsolable as the cake slid down the side of the refrigerator. Seems appropriate but I had the blanket I got that day which read "Happiness is friends" for many years. So, if anyone thinks I want to discover someone who had a very big impact on my life was a rather miserable person who treated others badly you're wrong. It's just who he was.


  1. I always liked Snoopy, but I agree that Peanuts was a real downer. I'm not sure why it's so well liked.

  2. Thank you for not calling me an $&#hole, which what I've always gotten in the past when I offered my opinion about Schulz. The fact of the matter is I think life is too dang short for cruel people. Also, it was a downer, interspersed with some great bouncy music by Vince Guaraldi.

  3. Schulz was not a "serial cheater." All reliable sources can verify that he did have one affair to a woman in the last months of his first marriage of 20 years, but that marriage was in all probability going downhill anyway (I'm not defending his affair for that reason, just trying to get things into perspective). He was always faithful to his second wife, to whom he was married for the last 27 years of his life. Many females who knew Schulz in the last decades of his life seem to agree he was quite a charming fellow, but that's something else than having romantic affairs.