PBS’ American Masters, The Life of Charles Schulz: Good Ol’ Charles Schulz was a show that could do no wrong in this viewer’s eyes. It’s what I’ve come to expect with most everything PBS’ award-winning American Masters series covers. Whether it’s been Charlie Parker, Norman Mailer, or Charlie Chaplin, PBS’ American Masters series always delivers high-quality programming in covering our most outstanding cultural artists. Again, The Life of Charles Schulz: Good Ol’ Charles Schulz was no exception. The film biography brilliantly, succinctly, yet thoroughly, delves into the iconic Schulz’s life from beginning to end.
Sparky, that’s what his mother called him, and wound up sticking with him throughout the remainder of his life, described himself as “a nobody, an uncomplicated man with ordinary interests.” And as the chronicle of his life worked its way out, he lived from 1922 to 2000, paradoxically it didn’t always seem so. How else could a man so simple and ordinary manage to have his very last comic strip Peanuts run the same day in the newspapers as the day he dies? Yet, therein lied the answer to what he knew and professed of himself his entire life. He never worked ahead of himself, i.e, he never sought to create a few weeks worth of the Peanuts strip ahead of time that he might have time off from working everyday. He was quoted as saying, (paraphrasing) “I don’t work at something so that I can get away from it someday. I work at something so that I can do it everyday.” His work on the comic strip was his life-long love.
Charles Monroe Schulz was born in St. Paul Minnesota and died in Santa Rosa, California where he lived most if his adult life. Earlier, he briefly lived in California as a small child, and later in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was married twice, once to Joyce Halverson, and then through the second part of his life to Jean Forsyth Clyde. His first marriage slowly unraveled and didn’t last because the two of them drifted apart. He became more and more introverted, if you will, although the description hardly accurately describes the man during the time, while Joyce did more and more publicly. While Schulz was well-known for his charitable endeavors around Santa Rosa, it actually was Joyce that brought Santa Rosa an ice arena. One of quite a few endeavors she accomplished during their seemingly, slowly unraveling marriage. The five children’s names they raised were Monte, Craig, Meredith, Jill, and Amy.
A particularly poignant, tear-jerking moment in PBS’ comprehensive and somewhat unexpected portrait of Mr. Schulz’s life comes early on in his life and early on in the film. Schulz was but a young man when his mother died. He had lived with her cancer since from the time he was a boy, although he was kept from knowing exactly what it was that was keeping his mother ill. The year was 1943, and he’d not long been drafted when he was allowed a weekend pass back to see his ailing mother. When it was time for him to go back to the call of the war, he told his mother “well I guess it’s time to go.” At which she replied, “yes, I guess it is. I suppose we should say good-bye.” Yes,” she said, “I suppose we should say good-bye. Well, good-bye Sparky. We’ll probably never see each other again.” And, as both of them knew at that moment, they never saw each other again after that day. She died shortly after his leaving again to go back to the calling war.
Good Grief Charlie Brown! Charles Schulz would go on to create arguably, although there isn’t much arguing it, the best, most popular, and most culturally significant comic strip ever.
PBS’ American Masters The Life of Charles Schulz: Good Ol’ Charles Schulz is a must-see.