Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Charles Schulz At The Movies

Anybody who knows me knows I'm only a rabid fan of three things: Stanley Kubrick, The Beatles, and Charlie Brown. Charles M. Schulz's daily comic strip Peanuts began its life on October 2, 1950, and ended just over 50 years later, with the final strip appearing only days after Schulz's 2/12/2000 death (it continues to be printed to this day, the only strip ever to have outlived its author by more than a decade, to my knowledge; it seems that comic strip readers can't conceive of a funnies page without Peanuts). To me, Schulz's body of work is paralleled only by the other two artists I mentioned--Kubrick and The Beatles; they are similar to each other mostly in that all three had ultimate control over and mastery of their respective crafts, and that the general public, as fickle as they sometimes can be, all wisely agreed this was obviously so.

I've been collecting Fantagraphic's magnificent volumes of The Complete Peanuts now for the past decade. Brilliantly edited and designed (by comic artist and fellow fan Seth), and indexed with great, amusing detail, these books--two a year--have been given to me each Christmas by my mother as a sort of "of course, you have to have these" gift, and I look forward to them with sublime anticipation. I spend the first six months of every annum pouring over every detail of Schulz's work, and I still marvel at how so many panels (especially in the 1970s, his peak) really make me guffaw with surprise.

In looking at them recently, I noticed I'd perk up whenever the strips referenced the movies or moviegoing, so I decided to do a little research and collect these strips here, mainly for my own amusement, as each are redolent with personal nostalgia. For instance, I remember looking at the kiddie-show Sunday panels as a child and wishing I had interest in such events (I largely went to the movies with my parents or on my own, and don't think I ever experienced a theater full of kids until, maybe, Star Wars showed up in 1977). And the couple of strips showing Linus looking at the movie ads were something I could relate to vehemently (I collected movie ads amassed in little stapled-taped-and-glued-together books of notebook paper when I was young). And, naturally, I wondered what this Citizen Kane was all about.

Surely, when a movie warranted a mention in Peanuts, the title had fully made its way into the zeitgeist. Schulz, to my knowledge, wasn't a huge cinema fan, but he knew what he liked (hence the many mentions of Kane in his strips), and he knew what the public at large would respond to. Other than the 30 strips I've collected here (which end right before 1975, the point where The Complete Peanuts collection is at now), there were many mentions of cowboys, spacemen, as well as a couple of Dracula references--all obviously movie-inspired. But I've not included them; here, I've only comprised very specific pieces. I've listed them in order of their appearance, and have commented slightly on each. If you're somehow a novice to Peanuts, go here and see if you like them. And you can go here to see my piece on the landmark 1965 TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas. Otherwise, enjoy this movie-centric collection, and click on the individual strips to see them much larger. (PS: Though I wish I could have made the strips sharper, this post was a lot more difficult to achieve than it might look.)

April 26, 1960 (Google Albert Schweitzer, if you must. By the way, Jerome Hill won an Academy Award for his 1957 documentary titled Albert Schweitzer.)

April 30, 1960 (These were the days...)

March 26, 1961 (I love Charlie Brown's face as he's watching the movie!)

June 13, 1961 (This is totally hilarious to me...)

March 8, 1962 (Not really a strip about the movies, but about criticism.)

February 1, 1963 (I guess some things don't really change.)

May 20, 1963 (A Hitchcock joke!)

October 5, 1963 (Into the mythic.)

November 19, 1967 (The first, and possibly most iconic, of Schulz's kiddie-show box office Sunday strips.) 

October 20, 1968 (Peanuts trivia question: what are the names of the twin girls at the head of the line?)

December 18, 1968 (The first of many mentions of Citizen Kane, reportedly Schulz's favorite movie.)

January 5, 1969 (The one time Snoopy gets a ticket.)

May 13, 1969 (It was only a matter of time before this reference dropped near Schroeder's piano.)

June 19, 1969 (Lucy agreed to take care of that stupid beagle for a week.)

June 28, 1970 (I like Snoopy's "smoothy" face.)

July 27, 1970 (Nominally a reference to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but mainly to the Oscar-winning Hal David/Burt Bacharach songwriting team.)

February 7, 1971 (Rejected again...)

March 7, 1971 (More unrequited love, and anger at the sometimes secondary nature of the movie's quality; somewhere, Pauline Kael is smiling.)

May 10, 1971 (The blockbuster of its era.)

September 21, 1971 (A movie with green rats and purple vampires is definitely one I have to see.)

May 21, 1972 (These treeside talks about love and life between Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty were nearly always profound. By the way, I LOVE how Snoopy's ears pop up at the botched revelation. How could anyone mistake Susan Hayward for Anne Baxter???)

October 14, 1972 (A long series of strips chronicling Snoopy's investigation into the whereabouts of the Head Beagle's Beagle-in-the-Field Thompson--who was overrun by 10,000 rabbits--concludes with a reference to The Godfather, of course.)

October 29, 1972 (More Kane...)

December 9, 1973 (...And yet more Kane, with the ultimate in spoilers; perhaps the finest movie-related comic of all time.)

February 20, 1974 (An unanswered movie trivia question.)

February 22, 1974 (I wish this trivia thing had been a regular feature; these are great questions.)

March 24, 1974 (The first Gone With The Wind reference; Snoopy's Pawpet Theater goes on to feature a few more movie touchstones.)

April 29, 1974 (Schulz's funniest movie-related strip is clearly about The Exorcist, and about a lot more, too.)

June 30, 1974 (I believe I've read that William Wellman's 1939 production of Beau Geste is another of Charles Schulz's favorite movies)

July 16, 1974 (...and this is what it all boils down to.)


Steven Boone said...

Very nice, Dean. As someone who grew up reading Peanuts collections in paperback, I dig this. It kind of brings out a certain aspect of Schulz's personality, same as isolating another interest, like sports or music, might do.

Unknown said...

I'm more of a casual PEANUTS fan (read it religiously as a kid, watched all the TV specials) but I had no idea that Schultz was such a hardcore CITIZEN KANE fan and referenced it repeatedly. Consider my mind officially blown.

This is an excellent, indepth look at why this comic strip worked so well. Schultz kept it simple, look-wise, yet there's a lot going on under the surface, at times. There is also a timeless quality that I like about a lot of these strips.

Great stuff!

Ryan W. Mead said...

Great collection of strips. The first kiddie-show strip was actually based on a real incident in Schulz's life, according to Schulz himself- the first 100 kids in line would get a free candy bar. He was the 101st.

And the twin girls are named 3 and 4. They, along with their brother 5, were named such by their father in protest of all the numbers in life- Social Security numbers, ZIP codes, etc. A good example of a Schulz joke that is still relevant today, if not more so.

Dean Treadway said...

Good job, Ryan! You got the right answer! That's an EXTREMELY obscure trivia question. You must be a fan!

handelsaurus said...

I spent many hours reading and re-reading Peanuts volumes at the public library as a kid. I specifically remember the Linus and Lucy Citizen Kane spoiler comic! And it was before I'd ever seen Citizen Kane, so it was spoiled for me also ... Rats

Joel Bocko said...

I first saw Citizen Kane at a friend's house when I was a kid and in the last minutes of the movie my friend's dad walked into the room and something to the effect of, "I can't believe Rosebud was his sled!" So that big reveal was ruined, but at least the mystery was preserved for most of the film...

Dean Treadway said...

Somwhow I had read these Peanuts comics, including the references to KANE and Rosebud, way before I saw the movie. But, when watching the film, I didn't make the connection until seeing the final reveal. That's a really funny story, though, Movieman--one that's reflected in one of Schulz's comics. I have a feeling it's an instance that a lot of people out there can relate to, since KANE probably found its greater audience on TV than in the theaters.