"The Peanuts Movie" opened Friday, introducing a whole new generation to a cast of characters many of us grew up with: Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, Schroeder and, of course, Charlie Brown. The new film uses 3-D, computer-generated animation, but its roots are far more humble: Creator Charles M. Schulz drew the comic strip by hand for nearly 50 years.
60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft profiled Schulz, known as "Sparky," in 1999, just four months before he died (see video above) and discovered a man deeply connected to his characters. "If you were to read the strip, oh, for just a few months, you would know me, because everything that I am goes into the strip," Schulz told Kroft. "All of my fears, my anxieties, my joys, and almost, even, all of my experiences go into that strip."
Take Charlie Brown's crush, the Little Red-Haired Girl. Schulz told 60 Minutes she was modeled on a red-haired woman, whom he adored and eventually proposed to. She turned him down and that feeling of rejection became part of the world-weary angst that defines Charlie Brown.
"I'm a cartoonist. There's nothing wrong with being just a cartoonist."
In fact, Kroft explains, all of the characters were, in some ways, outlets for different facets of Schulz's personality: Lucy vented his crabbiness; Linus reflected his spiritual side; and Snoopy fulfilled his fantasies.
Based on a dog Schulz once had, Snoopy was drawn somewhat realistically, at first. But 10 years into drawing "Peanuts," Schulz decided to let the beagle walk on his hind legs, which opened up a world of possibilities. "Snoopy can do anything. He can be a dog, a flying ace. He can be a baseball player, a hockey player," Schulz said. "Undoubtedly, that's the best thing that I ever thought of."
Schulz told Kroft he never accepted anyone else's ideas for "Peanuts" or let anyone help him draw it, even though that meant producing seven strips per week on his own.
"Arnold Palmer doesn't have anyone hit his nine irons for him, does he?" Schulz explained. "No. It's a very personal, wonderful medium. It's unlike anything else and this is where I belong, doing it. I wouldn't want anyone else to touch the strip."
The new movie was produced and written by a team that included Schulz's son Craig and grandson Bryan. Craig Schulz has said he wanted to honor his father's legacy and incorporate the surprisingly deep questions about life that children have, and which the original comic strip addressed.
That mixture of joy and self-doubt is what made the strip -- and its creator -- so memorable.
"Are you an artist? Are you a writer? Are you a philosopher? Or are you a combination of all of those?" Kroft asked Schulz in 1999.
"I'm a cartoonist," he answered. "There's nothing wrong with being just a cartoonist."