Schulz's sensitivity to what he disdainfully refers to as "the so-called cutting edge," may stem from the fact that he suspects people judge not only the original production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" as out of step, but also his half-century-old comic strip. And on this subject he can be as crabby as Lucy on a bad--or is it good?--day.
"I don't know what the 'cutting edge' is," Schulz complains, "but if it means political and vulgar and all that sort of thing that's damaging, I don't want to be cutting edge.
"I think the strip is better than it's ever been," Schulz says. "Who else do you know who's read by 200 million people?" Schulz asks, back on track.
Actually, the syndicate gives his readership as 350 million; he's published in 2,600 newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. Millions of copies of "Peanuts"-inspired books have been sold, and there have been 50 animated television specials, which are constantly replayed on Nickelodeon.
Dialogue Balloon Over His Head Reads, 'Sigh!'
So with all this balm to salve any perceived slights, one might wonder why Schulz appears so thin-skinned about some things. It's because that's exactly what he is--and he's beguilingly upfront about it, incorporating it into his overview of his strip's success: "Winning isn't funny," he's often said. And who's to argue? It's easier to envision a big "Sigh" floating above his head as it often does with Charlie Brown, the character who is most like his creator.
Schulz holds grudges. Look no further than Charlie Brown's romantic nemesis, "the little red-haired girl," inspired by an early Schulz love who rejected his proposal of marriage. For inspiration, Schulz mined his own childhood as the son of a barber, borrowed from his five children, and he now has 18 grandchildren should he run out of ideas. "The character who's giving me the most ideas right now is Lucy and Linus' little brother, Rerun," he says. "I've got so many grandkids starting school, and they hide under the bed all the time."
A 1989 biography, "Good Grief," by Rheta Grimsley Johnson, a news columnist, deals with Schulz's ongoing battles with depression--although he now says "that really isn't the right word. It's too complicated to talk about. I suppose I'm an anxious person, but it's not debilitating except in not wanting to go places."
Which, it turns out, is yet another example of turning a negative into a positive--at least for his fans. Of cartooning, Schulz says, "This couldn't be done by someone who has to be out flying all over the world. If it's anxieties that confine me, well, OK, this is where I belong."
* "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" opens Thursday in New York at the Ambassador Theatre, 219 W. 49th St. Telecharge: (800) 432-7250.