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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

October 2, 1950

The first Tuesday Timeline of October 2012!  Are you excited?  If you are, that’s wonderful.  And if you aren’t...well, I hope to change your mind.

I suppose I could always bribe you with cookies.

(DISCLAIMER:  Cookies may or may not be a figment of your imagination.)

At any rate, welcome to the second day of October, the first of five Tuesday Timelines this month.  I always said that October was a lucky month!

For this week’s edition, we’re actually going back in time to a year that we have previously visited in a past Tuesday Timeline.  I usually try not to repeat a year in this feature, but the reason why I have is because the subject matter of the blog was too good to pass up.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Anyway, before we turn the dial of the time machine to our destination, I thought that I would go over some other happenings of October 2, just to pass some time and fill up some space.  We’ll start with celebrity birthdays.

Making a birthday wish this Tuesday are Jan Morris, Maury Wills, Dave Somerville (The Diamonds), Don McLean, Eric Peterson, Avery Brooks, Donna Karan, Richard Hell, Annie Leibovitz, Ian McNiece, Mike Rutherford (Genesis), Sting, Robin Riker, Lorraine Bracco, Phil Oakey (Human League), Charlie Adler, Freddie Jackson, Dave Faulkner, Django Bates, Robbie Nevil, Jeff Bennett, Bud Gaugh (Sublime), Gillian Welch, Victoria Derbyshire, Jeff Martin (The Tea Party), Kelly Willis, Mitch English, Kelly Ripa, Tiffany, James Root (Slipknot), Tara Dawn Holland, Lene Nystrom Rasted (Aqua), Simon Gregson, Michelle Krusiec, Sam Roberts, Paul Teutul Jr., and  Mandisa.

(Wow...Sting, Tiffany, Mandisa...October 2 must be the day of the solo named singers.)

Now here are some of the major events that took place on this day.

1535 – Explorer Jacques Cartier discovers area where Montreal, Quebec, Canada would be built

1789 – George Washington sends out The U.S. Bill of Rights for ratification

1835 – The Texas Revolution begins with the Battle of Gonzalez

1864 – The Battle of Saltville takes place during the American Civil War

1889 – Nicholas Creede strikes it rich in Colorado when he finds a deposit of silver in a mine, setting in motion the final great silver boom of the American Old West

1890 – Legendary entertainer Groucho Marx is born in New York City

1895 – Bud Abbott, half of the comedy team “Abbott & Costello” is born in Asbury Park, New Jersey

1919 – President Woodrow Wilson suffers a debilitating stroke, which leaves him partially paralyzed

1925 – John Logie Baird performs the first working test of a television set

1937 – Over 20,000 Haitians are executed in the Dominican Republic as per the orders of Rafael Trujillo

1958 – The nation of Guinea declares its independence from France

1959 – The television series “The Twilight Zone” debuts on CBS

1967 – Thurgood Marshall is sworn in as the first African-American justice of the United States Supreme Court

1970 – A plane crash in Colorado kills the entire Wichita State University football team, as well as administrators and supporters of the team

1985 – Actor Rock Hudson succumbs to complications from AIDS at the age of 59, the first high-profile person to pass away from the disease

1990 – Xiamen Airlines Flight 8301 is hijacked and crashes into two airplanes on the ground, killing 132 people

1996 – Bill Clinton signs the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments

2002 – The Beltway sniper attacks begin in the Washington D.C. area, lasting three weeks in total

2005 – The Ethan Allen tour boat capsizes on Lake George, killing 20

2006 – Five young girls are shot and killed at an Amish school in Nickle Creek, Pennsylvania, gunman later commits suicide

So, what year are we going to visit this week?

The date is October 2, 1950.  If you recall, the very first Tuesday Timeline I ever wrote also went back to the year 1950.  In that entry, we talked about Victoria Principal.

In THIS entry, we’re going to be talking about a comic strip.  This entry isn’t the first time that I talked about this comic though...I wrote three previous entries on this comic strip before.  Two on primetime specials, and one on a series of books that were released during the 1980s.  But I never really got the chance to talk about how the comic was created, and some of the behind the scenes moments of the comic’s 50-year-history.

And our story begins five years before the comic strip printed its first edition on October 2, 1950.

In 1945, a young man by the name of Charles Monroe Schulz had just arrived back home after serving in the armed forces during World War II.  Just twenty-three years old, he moved into a four-room apartment directly above his father’s barber shop.  He had just taken on a job as an art teacher at Art Instruction Inc (he had developed a keen interest in drawing when he was a child, and he even had a drawing of his dog, Spike, published in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not based on Spike’s unusual appetite for thumbtacks and pins), and he was ready to make art a permanent career choice.

His career began with a promising start when he created his first comic strip, a serial known as “Li’l Folks” in 1947.  The cartoons were regularly featured in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and ran for two and a half years, ending its run in early 1950.  For each cartoon he submitted to the newspaper, he earned ten dollars.  Unfortunately, back in those days, the newspaper kept the original copies of the Li’l Folks cartoons, but Schulz managed to cut the comics out of the newspaper and put them in a scrapbook.  The reasons why Schulz pulled the plug were largely due to money issues.  He wanted a pay increase, and the newspaper refused his requests for a raise, so he ended the comic.

Or DID he?

As it turned out, many elements of Li’l Folks were incorporated into his next creation...a creation that would end up becoming his pride and joy.  One of the characters in Li’l Folks was a well-dressed boy with a fondness for classical his new comic strip, he became a blond-haired boy named Schroeder.  In Li’l Folks, there was a dog drawn into the comic that seemed to follow onto the new Charles M. Schulz creation, being given the name of Snoopy.  And would you believe that Li’l Folks was the first source of the name Charlie Brown?  Although in Li’l Ones, as many as three characters were given that name at the same time, in Schulz’s new creation, Charlie Brown was just one boy...a boy who was the son of a barber, always wore a yellow and black shirt, who could never kick a football, who got nothing but rocks on Halloween, and who was probably called a blockhead more than a thousand times over a five decade period.

Have you figured it out yet?  We’re talking about the long-running comic strip “Peanuts”, which debuted exactly sixty-two years ago today.  And here’s that iconic first Peanuts cartoon below!

Okay, just in case you were wondering, the people featured are Charlie Brown, Shermy, and Patty (without the Peppermint).  And, boy, oh, boy does Shermy hate Charlie Brown!  Why?  We don’t exactly know.  You know, come to think of it, Charlie Brown does end up getting quite a bit of abuse from those who are supposed to be closest to him.  I guess that’s probably one reason why I always seem to have a soft spot for the little round-headed kid.  I understand exactly how he felt.

Anyway, when Peanuts first debuted, it started off in only a handful of newspapers...nine in total.  Shortly after Charlie Brown, Shermy, and Patty made their debuts, Snoopy was added in as a character just a few days later.  In fact, here is a list of all of the regular Peanuts characters that appeared in the strip as well as the date they first appeared.

Violet – February 7, 1951
Schroeder – May 30, 1951
Lucy Van Pelt – March 3, 1952
Linus Van Pelt – September 19, 1952
Pig Pen – July 13, 1954

Sally Brown – August 23, 1959
Frieda – March 6, 1961
Woodstock – March 17, 1966

Peppermint Patty – August 22, 1966
Marcie – June 18, 1968
Franklin – July 31, 1968
Rerun Van Pelt – March 26, 1973

TRIVIA:  Schroeder, Sally, Lucy and Linus were first shown as infants and toddlers.

There were quite a few parallels between Charles’ life and the life of Charlie Brown, the most obvious one being that both were shy as children and both were the sons of barbers.  But did you know that some of the characters were influenced by real-life people?  The Little Red-Haired Girl who was the object of Charlie Brown’s affections for decades was inspired by Donna Mae Johnson, a woman who ended up breaking Schulz’s heart by turning down his marriage proposal!  Linus and Shermy were childhood friends of Charles M. Schulz, and Peppermint Patty was based off a woman named Patricia Swanson, who was his cousin on his mother’s side of the family.

And speaking of ages, the ages of the main characters of the comic strip didn’t change that much.  When the comic strip began, Charlie Brown was supposed to be four.  Over the next fifty years, Charlie Brown’s age would only peak at age eight.

Of course, Charlie Brown and the gang certainly didn’t act like eight year olds I knew.  Back when I was eight, I certainly didn’t possess the incredible vocabulary that the Peanuts gang did.  For eight year old children, the Peanuts gang were remarkably sophisticated and cutting edge.  In fact, a lot of the reason why the Peanuts were so well-received by the public was because of the social commentary that was present within each gag drawn by Schulz.  Some of the topics that were discussed in the comic over the years were “The Vietnam War”, “The New Math”, capitalism, and politics.  There were also little inside jokes inserted into the comics as well.  During the 1960s, a new character was introduced who went by the name of “5”.  His siblings were named “3” and “4”, and his family name was the same as their zip code...a clever way of presenting the point that numbers were taking over people’s identities.  Another new character, a little girl named Tapioca Pudding, was introduced in the 1980s, poking fun at the concept of merchandising popular characters.

It was a bit ironic, considering that Charles M. Schulz became rich and famous by merchandising his own creations.  There were no less than 45 television and holiday specials made of the Peanuts gang where they celebrated Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Years Eve, Arbor Day, and Valentine’s Day.  The Peanuts comics were also collected in various books and treasuries.  There was a Charlie Brown Dictionary, and two editions of the reference series “The Charlie Brown ‘Cyclopedia”.  And that’s not even counting all of the stuffed Charlie Brown and Snoopy toys, the 1985 CBS Saturday Morning cartoon “The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show” and the various Peanuts Happy Meal toys that McDonald’s released on a few occasions.

Believe it or not, the Peanuts gang became the official mascots for Knott’s Berry Farm in 1983, had an ice show, a musical, and did commercials for A & W Cream Soda and MetLife.

At the peak of the strip’s popularity, Peanuts ran in over 2,600 newspapers and was translated into twenty-one different languages.  In total, Charles M. Schulz ended up illustrating and writing 17,897 Peanuts strips between 1950 and 2000!  That’s a lot of ink!  And, of course Schulz was well rewarded from his contributions.  Aside from the television specials being nominated for several Emmy Awards, Schulz ended up earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1996 (located adjacent to Walt Disney’s).  He won the National Cartoonists Society’s Humor Comic Strip Award in 1962, the Elzie Segar Award in 1980, and was a two-time winner of the Reuben Award in 1955 and 1964, and won the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.

For nearly 50 years, Charles M. Schulz made Peanuts his whole career...but by late 1999, he knew that it would soon be time to retire the Peanuts gang once and for all.  In November 1999, he discovered that he had colon cancer that had metastasized, and the chemotherapy he was undergoing prevented him from reading or seeing clearly, making drawing the Peanuts strip quite difficult to do.  Compounding the problem was the fact that Schulz also suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, which caused his hand to tremor and shake (this was one of the reasons why the comic shrunk from four-panels to three-panels in the late 1980s).

On December 14, 1999, Schulz sadly announced his retirement, and said that the last Peanuts comic would run sometime in early 2000.  And, true to his word, it did.  Tragically, Schulz wouldn’t live to see the day.

On the morning of February 12, 2000, Charles M. Schulz died of a heart attack at the age of 77.  It seemed almost fitting then that his final strip also worked as a bit of a eulogy, running on February 13, day after he died.  Have a look.

Very poignant, no?

Just three months after he died, cartoonists all over the world paid homage to Schulz.  Over one hundred comic strips paid tribute to the cartoonist in their strips dated May 27, 2000.  To this day, many newspapers still run classic Peanuts comics in the cartoon pages, and almost all of the Peanuts television specials can be found on VHS or DVD, so his legacy continues on twelve years after his death.

But there’s one lingering question that many people asked when Charles M. Schulz drew his final cartoon.  Why didn’t he let Charlie Brown kick the football for once?

Well, according to Schulz, he felt that it would be a terrible disservice to Charlie Brown if he drew him kicking the ball after fifty years.  But at the same time, in one of his final interviews, he seemed choked up over the idea of Charlie Brown never having the chance to kick the football.

Personally, I was kind of hoping that he would have kicked Lucy Van Pelt instead...but maybe that’s just me.

At any rate, that’s our look back on October 2, 1950...and a comic strip that is still well-loved by generations of people.

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