Flavin's Corner
2-18-00

Great Grief!

Fe fe fi fi fo fo fum
I smell smoke in the auditorium
Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown
He's a clown, that Charlie Brown
He's gonna get caught, just you wait and see
Why's everybody always pickin' on me?
_"Charlie Brown," 1959, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
 
     Lots of famous folk exited stage-left recently and we lost the likes of Doug Henning,
Screaming Jay Hawkins, Jim "Ernest" Varney, and though they'll all be missed, last
Saturday's passing of Charles "Sparky" Shultz, on the eve of the final installment of his
Peanuts comic-strip, leaves a hole we'll just have to walk around, as the thought of filling
it any time soon is too unimaginable.  We knew he was sick, that he'd retire the strip, but
there was upbeat hope of his doing some further work down the road.  "Good grief!" was
an exclamatory constant in Peanuts (as well as a favorite saying of Shultz), and extending
humbly and without hesitation, to the Peanuts and their creator, Great Grief, I thank you
for the time you shared with us.  You got through, Sparky...

     There was always an appreciation for comics in the house as I was growing up.  My
father was a fan of The Heap, Capt. Marvel, and Will Eisner's The Spirit when he was a
lad, and this probably contributed to his tossing my brothers the necessary funds for them
to purchase comic-books and illustrated "Hot Rod" magazines.  In late 1965 I was
beginning second grade and was already inspired enough by Marvel Comics' Journey Into
Mystery Featuring The Mighty Thor to begin going to the library by myself to investigate
Norse mythology.  While I credit comic-books for much (especially enabling me to win a
third-grade spelling-bee with "amazing," as in The Amazing Spider-Man), I'm a little fuzzy
with any early influence from newspaper comic-strips, as my father was in the Army and
the Stars and Strips newspaper carried some single panel 'toons and Sad Sack, but not the
normal, popular strips, ...like Peanuts. [Note: I don't remember Stars and Stripes carrying
Beetle Bailey in the 60s, an obvious choice for the military, but I may be mistaken.]

     When I first saw "A Charlie Brown Christmas," in December of 1965, the mundane
magic of Peanuts and Shultz reached out and grabbed me in a big way.  The image of the
pathetic Christmas tree and the haunting melancholy of the "Christmastime is Here" tune
stay with me until this day.  Powerful stuff...  Oh, and Schroeder playing Beethoven could
very well have been my first exposure to classical musical (as the brothers were doing The
Beatles and the parents were into Sinatra and Bobby Darrin).  Though I didn't follow the
daily exploits of the Peanuts gang (occasionally a Sunday newspaper would find its way
into the house), with that animated television special I became enamored by the offbeat
world of Peanuts and have remained so ever since.

     It was a cold, snowy January night at Kennedy International Airport in 1966 and my
parents had to threaten violence for me to leave an airport-terminal television and the
series premiere of Batman, as we had a plane to catch for Germany.  Munich had
gummi-bears and cool forests, but no American television programming available, just
German soap-operas for my mother and a weird German-dubbed Rudolph the Red-Nosed
Reindeer for me.  Later that year I missed "Charlie Brown's All-Stars" followed by the
first showing of "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."  Fortunately for my sensitive
child-psyche, I was unaware of what I had missed.

     The end of 1967 found my father (as well as one of my brothers) in Vietnam, the family
living in military housing in Kansas, and I managed to catch a rerun of the Peanuts
Halloween special from the year before.  "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" is to
Halloween what It's A Wonderful Life is to Christmas--inseparable.  Poor Chuck
mumbling "I got a rock" and the innocent wonder of young Linus and his belief in the
Great Pumpkin is classic material!  Authors like L. Frank Baum and J. R. R. Tolkien tried
their hands at Christmas tales, but Halloween?  "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"
is great Americana and has earned Shultz a respected spot in our cultural history books.

     We stayed in the U.S. until late 1969 when my father received orders for Panama.  We
spent a year and a half there and, though we had a few hours of Bonanza and a movie
every night, (with the single exception of the first Ali-Fraser fight) we did without
American television and everyone read a lot.  The year before I had purchased my first
paperback (Ted White's Capt. America novel, The Great Gold Steal), and usually saved
my daily lunch-money to buy sci-fi and horror classics from an english teacher at school.
During the summer between sixth and seventh grades (without the incoming cash of
lunch-money), I started visiting the library and it was there I encountered paperback
collections of the Peanuts daily-strips from the 50s and 60s.  Seeing Snoopy's nose go
from long and skinny in the early strips to its modern fullness was like looking at a family
photo-album.

     Well, ...those were special times for me, but childhood gives way to teenage years and
usually our interests change.  The introduction of Woodstock was cute, but ...the girls
seemed to get a bigger kick out of the little yellow bird than the guys did.  I thought it was
admirable for Shultz to introduce a regular African-American character with Franklin
(1968 in the daily-strip, but not on television until1973's "There's No Time For Love,
Charlie Brown"), however I was soon busy elsewhere and started to lose touch with
Peanuts.  Yeah, it happens; even things you really care about get bypassed when you're off
trying to conquer the world.

     Since the mid-1970s I haven't really followed Peanuts with any regularity.  Oh, I've
caught a daily or a Sunday strip on occassion, but there's a couple of characters that I'm
not familar with and though I can name Snoopy's brother Spike, I can't say the same about
the rest of his family.  Without new Peanuts the Sunday funnies just won't seem the same.
We'll miss you, Sparky!  Great Grief!

     The Official Peanuts Website has online versions of both the last daily and Sunday strip
(as well as a great archive of past ones).  There's "It's The Pied Piper, Charlie," the final
animation special involving Shultzwhich will be released direct-to-video this fall ( a guy
named David Benoit is doing the score), and then there's ...only memories.
 
doing a slow Snoopy-dance,
Rick

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