The Peanuts legacy
Craig Schulz has quietly and wisely kept alive his father's work
Published: Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 3:52 p.m.
A company president usually doesn't show up for an interview wearing a Snoopy T-shirt, but for Craig Schulz, it seems appropriate.
PEANUTS ON PARADE
A brief history of the “Peanuts on Parade” statue project:
2000-2004 — Artists decorated and displayed a series of five “Peanuts” statues in St. Paul, Minn., childhood home of Charles Schulz.
2005 — During the kickoff summer, titled “It's Your Town, Charlie Brown,” 55 round-headed Charlie Brown statues greeted locals and tourists alike from street corners and sidewalks all over Santa Rosa. Visitors and Convention Bureau officials estimated tourist traffic nearly doubled, from 15,000 in 2004 to 27,000.
2006 — The city made bird-watchers of us all, as sponsors and artists set up 76 “Woodstocks,” each nested in his own polyurethane tree and individually decorated.
2007 — For “Joe Cool Summer,” the third and final year of the city's “Peanuts on Parade” promotion, local artists decorated 95 statues of Snoopy in his persona as big dog on campus, shades and all.
2010 — “Look Out, It's Lucy” caps the program with an encore, bringing 30 Lucy statues to the streets of Santa Rosa.
Schulz, the son of “Peanuts” comic strip creator Charles M. Schulz, is president and CEO of Creative Associates, the Santa Rosa company that helps manage the licensing and use of Charlie Brown and the gang.
“I want to keep the integrity of the comic strip alive. I want to keep my dad's legacy alive, and keep it on track,” Craig explained.
At its height, the “Peanuts” strip ran in as many as 2,800 newspapers, and even almost 10 years after the cartoonist's death, reprints still run in 1,800 papers, including The Press Democrat.
While the elder Schulz did all the writing and drawing of the strip himself for nearly 50 years, Craig believes he had his own influence on “Peanuts.”
“I think Dad lived vicariously through a lot of the things his kids did,” he said. “If you look at the comic strip, you'll see that when Snoopy surfs, it's from when I was surfing in L.A. When Snoopy's a helicopter pilot, it's from when I was flying helicopters. When he's riding a motorcycle, it's from my moto-cross career.”
Craig, 57, is the cartoonist's middle child of five, and the only one who still lives in Sonoma County, where Charles Schulz lived and worked from 1958 until his death in 2000.
Tall, angular and outwardly shy, like his father, Craig Schulz may be less visible in the community than his stepmother, Charles Schulz's second wife, Jeannie, who maintains an active role in the Schulz Museum and other projects.
But those who know Schulz say he has accomplished a lot in his own quiet way.
“Craig is definitely a very shy individual, but very straightforward, and maybe even a bit more of a Charlie Brown than his father was, in some respects,” said Janet Condron, former mayor of Santa Rosa.
Five years ago, Condron and Craig Schulz brought the “Peanuts on Parade” public art concept to Santa Rosa from St. Paul, Minn., the cartoonist's original hometown.
Since then, some 250 polyurethane statues of “Peanuts” characters, colorfully decorated by local artists, have been displayed all over Santa Rosa, attracting locals and tourists alike. The latest entries, 30 statues of crabby Lucy van Pelt, went up this summer.
Auctions of previous years' statues financed the installation of three permanent bronze statues of “Peanuts” characters — Charlie and Linus at the Charles M. Schulz/Sonoma County Airport, Lucy at Finley Center, and a new figure of Marcie to be placed at Courthouse Square.
“When you're working with a celebrity, you don't know how it's going to go, but Craig made himself available and went out of his way to see that things were done,” Condron said.
Schulz hasn't actively sought celebrity status, even when the opportunity arose.
When author David Michaelis' controversial book, “Schulz & Peanuts: A Biography,” came out in 2007, several of Charles Schulz's grown children spoke out against the writer's portrayal of the cartoonist as an insecure, distant and sometimes depressed man, who had an extramarital affair near the end of his first marriage. Craig's older brother, Monte, and his younger sisters, Amy and Jill, criticized the book in public, but Craig stayed out of the debate.
“Everybody kind of had their opinions, and we left it at that,” Craig said. “I found the book interesting and fascinating, but it did only cover one side of his life. There was a lot missing from the book, and there were some errors. That was the disappointing part, that he didn't cover the whole spread.”
Shyness aside, Schulz still made national news in 1989 when he flew his father's private jet to Mexico, taking a team of Sonoma County Sheriff's detectives to retrieve fugitive mass murderer Ramon Salcido.
“A lot of people say that they went to Charles Schulz, and he authorized the flight and his pilot — that's how they referred to me, ‘his pilot' — took the trip,” Craig recalled.
“Actually, a friend of mine at the airport called me and asked me if I would do that,” he added. “My dad knew nothing about it. We had to leave in half an hour. I knew that was something he would want me to do, but he didn't know about it until he started hearing about it in the press.”
An avid aviator, Schulz ran his own charter flight company out of Santa Rosa for 20 years.
“I was headed for an airline career, and then I started flying my dad around in his airplane, and I had my own air taxi business. I did flight instruction on the side,” he said.
Earlier this year, Craig Schulz found himself in the national news again, when the Schulz family made a $175 million deal with Iconix Brand Group of New York. The new agreement gives the family a 20-percent share in the Peanuts franchise, and greater creative control.
“Our biggest fear has always been somebody buying up the rights and us not having any control,” Schulz said. “We'd rather have this property make $10 million a year for 50 years, than make $100 million in one year and walk away from it.”
The “Peanuts” brand is licensed in more than 40 countries and drives annual retail sales topping $2 billion, with more than 24,000 new products approved every year.
“It's a long-term growing stock that has to be managed properly,” Schulz said.
Working with “Pearls Before Swine” cartoonist Stephan Pastis of Santa Rosa, who also works for Creative Associates, Schulz has also co-written a new animated TV special about Linus and his security blanket, which he hopes will air on ABC this fall.
“These days in animation, there are very few things that are family-oriented and wholesome that people can trust,” Schulz said.
Yet the same man who represents the family's interests in a huge global enterprise also takes time for small-town activities, said Condron.
“Craig has done a lot for the community, and often behind the scenes, like the movie nights they have at the museum, the Great Pumpkin display, neighborhood family events that not everyone knows that much about,” she said.
Despite some similarities, Schulz sees himself as a very different man from his father.
“All he wanted to do was draw comic strips,” Craig said. “I can't imagine doing the same thing for 50 years. I've got to move on to something else. I've done a lot of different things.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or email@example.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
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