Good Ol’ Charlie Brown at 60

“Peanuts” is 60 today.

That does seem a tad jarring, but it’s true. Charles Schulz’s classic cartoon was first published under the name “Peanuts” on Oct. 11, 1950, making Monday the 60th anniversary of the most-loved and successful cartoon strip in American history.

Schulz, a St. Paul, Minn., native, had drawn the strip under the title “Lil’ Folks” before Oct. 11, 1950, but United Feature gave it a new title, which he disliked. But it was a name that caught on and Schulz’s lean style and wry view soon catapulted him to worldwide fame and great wealth.

While the strip was apparently an homage to small people and simple daily matters such as pining for a pretty red-haired girl and feeding a pet beagle, it was also seen as a social commentary. Schulz, according to interviews and biographers, kept his feelings bottled up like so many Midwesterners but expressed them, however subtly, in the strips.

The book “Schulz and Peanuts,” published in 2007, reveals the often-tortured inner life of the artist and the impact of his work. It’s a great read.

A brief aside: While working as an editor in Mankato, Minn., I twice interviewed the real Linus. Schulz based his characters on people he knew and the blanket-hugging Linus Van Pelt was based on Linus Maurer, whom Schulz met in an artists’ school. Maurer is from Sleepy Eye, Minn., and the town bought a statue of the cartoon character and placed it in a prominent spot.

Linus was always a favorite character of mine; to meet the man it was based on was a surreal but enjoyable experience.

Schulz’s life was centered on the strip. He died on Feb. 12, 2000, and a few hours later, the final Sunday strip was published. When he ceased to be, so did “Peanuts.”

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