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Once upon a time, the daily newspaper was delivered on grassy lawns, and comic strips made their way into American homes on lazy Sunday mornings, when readers fought over the cartoon pages alongside clacking cereal bowls and sizzling bacon. Charles M. Schulz, the mastermind behind Peanuts, arguably created the finest storytelling of this kind.
Peanuts is the world's most widely syndicated comic strip, having run in more than 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries. From 1950 to 2000, Schultz sketched away, ultimately creating the longest story ever told. He never enlisted an assistant during his prolific career but produced 17,897 published Peanuts strips.
Although most of the originals are on display in the late cartoonist's eponymous museum in Santa Rosa, California, a showcase of 70 originals has made its way to the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood for a summerlong exhibition, "Pop Culture in Peanuts."
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Over the decades, Schulz poked fun at Western TV shows and beatnik fashion (in the 1950s); the surfing craze ('60s); mystic mood rings, punk, and the Pink Panther ('70s); boom boxes in the 1980s; grunge in the '90s; and fiction darling Harry Potter in the aughts.
Schulz died February 12, 2000, at age 77.
Via phone from California, exhibit curator Jane O'Cain said the pop-culture theme "demonstrates Schulz's keen interest in his cultural milieu, his adeptness at finding a way to use these cultural artifacts in ways that are meaningful and funny." She thought her selection of strips "would be an entertaining exhibition for visitors who had lived through the era and a bit of a history lesson for those who had not."
On display are some of Schulz's cutest and cleverest drawings: Snoopy wearing 3-D movie glasses, Peppermint Patty sporting Bo Derek's famed cornrow hairstyle. Charlie Brown and characters' fascination with technology, from flying saucers to the typewriter and cellular phones, can also be seen in the strips.
Art & Culture Center curator Jane Hart has rounded out the comic strips with memorabilia. "On eBay, I found snow coasters still in the original packaging from the '50s," she says. "Coonskin caps, a 1980s ginormous cell phone, a boom box... I got a longboard from my brother who surfs." The whole staff, she says, is "Peanuts-crazed."
And what would a Peanuts celebration be without a Snoopy doghouse? A customized wooden structure stands roughly four feet by four feet wide, large enough for kids to peek inside. There's also a playpen packed with Peanuts books, games, and toys. In addition, the center has partnered with Barker Animation of Hallandale Beach to bring in a series of original animation cells. There are also some video clips of Schulz's life.
Although his comic strip was wildly popular, the cartoonist claimed to never find ease within society. Schulz denied drink invitations with colleagues and once said, "I didn't know if I'd fit anywhere, but it didn't matter. I wanted to be a cartoonist, period."
What captivated audiences was Schulz's cunning use of subtlety in dealing with the human condition. His strips weren't merely punch lines of shallow banter, nor "kapow — in your face!" foolishness. They represented deep, sometimes painful human experiences: loneliness, isolation, melancholy, and, of course, unrequited love.