Saturday, July 27, 2013

Peanuts come to Life, an homage to Charles Schulz

Acrylic on gessobord, 11 x 14"
painting #215, 2013

Ever wondered how and why the comic strip received the name PeanutsThe origins goes back to the theatre, where the cheapest seats were those way at the bottom floor and where people purchased peanuts because they were the cheapest snack. If they disapproved of the performance, they would throw peanuts at the actors. If they would shout insults, the announcer would reply, "No more comments from the Peanut Gallery". The term Peanut Gallery was later adopted for the children audience featured in the Howdy Doody TV Show that originated in the late 1940's. 

In 1950, Charles Schulz approached the United Feature Syndicate with his best work from a comic strip named Li'l Folks. But since the name Li'l Folks was too close to the names of two other comics of the time: Li'l Abner and Little Folks, and in order avoid confusion, the syndicate settled on the name Peanuts, after the Peanut Gallery featured on the Howdy Doody show. Peanuts was a title Schulz always disliked. In a 1987 interview, Schulz said of the title Peanuts: "It's totally ridiculous, has no meaning, is simply confusing, and has no dignity—and I think my humour has dignity." 

Last year my wife bought a jar of Planters roasted peanuts which immediately ignited the whole concept. A few weeks later while strolling in a local antique shop, I found an issue of LIFE magazine dated March 17, 1967, featuring the protagonist and his dog with the headline reading: "The great Peanuts craze - CHARLIE BROWN and SNOOPY WINNERS AT LAST". This would become the perfect vehicle and element of contingency for my composition. 

The 1967 LIFE article reflected that despite the fact the 'Peanuts' characters who were born to be losers, in contrast, the popularity of the comic strip had attained new heights and had started a craze around the world. 

 "At scores of colleges, Peanuts characters are the biggest people on campus. In Vietnam, pilots fly into combat with Snoopy painted on their planes. Records based on Peanuts have sold millions of copies ("Snoopy and the Red Baron", "Return of the Red Baron" by the Royal Guardsmen). And even before it opened last week, a new off-Broadway hit musical,You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, had sold tickets to admirers as far away as Nebraska. Dolls, cards, clothes and other Peanuts paraphernalia make up a more than $15 million-a-year business. Charles Schulz describes himself as "100% Charlie Brown." But unlike Charlie, who has lost a 123-0 baseball game, Schulz as a youngster pitched a no-hit, no-run game- and is today several times a millionaire". 
- LIFE Magazine - March 17, 1967.

In 1967, the comic strip had a following of 90 million readers a day. Before the passing of Charles Schulz in 2000, it had reached a milestone of 355 million readers in 75 counties.

Needless to say, the popularity of the Peanuts lives on in comic strips reruns. Snoopy is featured on the front of the Metlife blimp.   Most recently, a song entitled Charlie Brown was featured on the 2011 Coldplay album, Mylo XylotoThe musical, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown has been a popular choice for amateur theatre productions because of its small cast and simple staging. It won several theatre awards during it's original 1967 run. During the 1999 Broadway revival, it would receive a Tony nomination for Best revival of a musical and won Tony awards for Kristin Chenoweth as Sally and Roger Bart as Snoopy in the best featured actress/actor categories. It is currently playing until the end of the month at the Woodland Opera House, in Woodland CA, near Sacramento. I am quite certain that the audience won't be throwing peanuts at the actors on stage this time around.

This painting will be included in the upcoming group exhibition, The Still Life at the Elliott Fouts Gallery, October 5-31, 2013.