s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe
You've read 5 of 15 free articles this month.
Support local journalism and get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app, all starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 10 of 15 free articles this month.
Support local journalism and get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app, all starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Support local journalism and get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app, all starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Support local journalism and get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app, all starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Support local journalism and get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app, all starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

On the daily comics page, Charles Schulz was never one to pass up a happy birthday celebration. There was Snoopy's birthday, occasionally celebrated on different days — August 28 in 1951 (with a hot dog for a candle) and then on August 10 in 1968. Beethoven's birthday could hardly pass without a nod from Schroeder. And sometimes there was no cake for poor ol' Charlie Brown.

But Sparky, as family and friends called him, was never a big fan of his own birthday.

"He wasn't a party guy," says his widow, Jeannie Schulz. "He wasn't the sort who wanted a big celebration on his birthday."

The perfect example was one year when he and his cardiac surgeon celebrated their birthdays together in Oakmont and a scantily clad woman jumped out of the cake.

"That was embarrassing for Sparky because he was aware that there were little kids there," Jeannie remembers.

Today, 11 years after the world-famous, pioneering cartoonist died in Santa Rosa at the age of 77, the Schulz Museum celebrates its namesake's birthday with free admission.

If he were still alive on his birthday (which is actually Nov. 26), "it would be pretty mundane," Jeannie says. "I would ask, shall we have the kids over? Should we go out for dinner?"

A generous soul with family and fellow cartoonists, the "Peanuts" creator would much rather celebrate others' birthdays. One year, he celebrated his daughter Amy's birthday by putting the note "Happy Birthday Amy!" into the strip on August 5. She liked it so much, he did it year after year.

"We have some of his notebooks which have people's birthdays carefully noted in them," Jeannie says. "I think he cared more to be thoughtful than he needed the reinforcement himself. He really loved buying gifts for people and he probably never forgot a birthday because he loved giving gifts so much."

Today, Jeannie Schulz devotes much of her time to keeping the museum fresh and finding different angles of insight into Sparky's genius that haven't been explored. Behind her desk are shelves of books from his home office, including several by World War II cartoonist Bill Mauldin, one of his heroes. A miniature Snoopy car sits nearby on the floor. On the wall is a photo of Charles Schulz sleeping in a recliner with his rescued fox terrier, Andy.

"Sparky wasn't necessarily interested — he was disinterested — in having a museum," she says. "But I think he realized that in order to preserve his comic strips, it was the appropriate way to do it."

Even though they didn't talk too much about museum details before he died, Schulz knew what he didn't want it to become.

"He said it won't be Disneyland," she remembers. "He didn't want it to be a place for people to come and play. The main focus was to have a place to show the original strips. It would be about the cartoons and a place that people could come and draw. It would not be about computers. We would not have computers for people to draw on or look things up on computers. He did not use computers. It was the actual physical act of drawing that was a part of everything he believed in. He had a traditional appreciation of the old-school cartoonists and it was all pen and ink."

More than a decade after his death, that detailed, hands-on influence can still be seen on the comics page, even beyond the daily reprinting of "Peanuts."

"I wouldn't be a cartoonist today if it wasn't for Charles Schulz," says Kevin Fagan, creator of "Drabble." "I grew up reading his work and watching the TV specials like all the kids my age."

One day, while a student at Sacramento State, he mustered the courage to send a letter to Schulz asking for career advice. Several days later, he got a letter back with a list of outlets to contact, including United Features Syndicate, the company that would eventually sign Fagan to his first contract, "all because I got the address from Charles Schulz."

"Shortly before he died, he called my house and left a message on the answering machine — I still have it saved," said Fagan. "He was commenting on how much he liked my most recent book, and I thought about it, and it's really the equivalent of a baseball player getting a pat on the back from Babe Ruth."

One of Schulz's favorite sayings was, "A cartoonist is someone who draws the same thing day after day without repeating himself." As a reminder to fans, it's emblazoned on the wall at the museum.

"One thing people tend to forget with comics is those characters come to your house every day. Snoopy and Charlie Brown were like family. I know pretty much every day I'm at the drawing board I think of him," says "Mutts" cartoonist Patrick McDonnell, who has a panel on his office wall that Schulz drew of Snoopy and Earl from "Mutts."

A pair of documentary filmmakers, working on a film called "Stripped" about the decline of newspapers and ultimately the long-time home of the comic strip, recently dropped by Jeannie Schulz's office for an on-camera interview about her late husband.

"We talked about how he would have hated to see the decline of newspapers today," she said. "It had started but it hadn't really hit during his lifetime. It seems like in the last 10 years, it's really happened much more quickly. But I think he would also look forward to whatever shape it's going to take in the future, whether that's online or whatever."

A lifelong newspaper reader from his early days in Minnesota in the '30s, when his family would get four Sunday newspapers delivered, Schulz would also lament the dwindling space on the modern comics page, she says.

"Some people are saying, &‘Well, Schulz isn't drawing "Peanuts" any more so let's take "Peanuts" out of the paper and make room for some new ones,'" Jeannie says. "And Sparky's answer to that would have been, &‘Fine, if you have some good quality strips to replace it.' I think he would have completely agreed with that."

The last birthday she celebrated with her husband was in the hospital. He blew out the candles on his cake and opened presents in a hospital bed. But the last present she remembers was for Valentine's Day in 2000. Before Sparky died on Feb. 12, he bought her a Valentine's present and had it wrapped, sitting on her bedside table.

She would wait almost a year before finally opening it.

What was the present?

"It was a little Swarovski figurine," she says. "I keep it on the piano with all the others."

Bay Area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014, john@sideshowvideo.com and follow on Twitter @becksay.