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Lisa Napoli: Who’s the richest dead person (after Elvis Presley, of course)? The guy who created Snoopy and Charlie Brown.
David Michaelis just wrote a biography about Charles Schulz. He says the late cartoonist was a master not just of storytelling, but he was an early pioneer of modern merchandising and cross promotion.
David Michaelis: The most produced Broadway musical in the history of Broadway musicals is “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Up to 70 animated specials. There is endless numbers of products — literally 24,000 Peanuts products around the world right now. He loved the idea of Snoopy being turned into a plush toy. He saw them romping out of the comic strip and into Eastman-Kodaks ads, and into the Ford Falcon ads of the 60’s, and was thrilled.
Napoli: You say in the book that he reshaped the way whole industries sold products. How do you mean?
Michaelis: The idea that we’re going to take Snoopy and put him on blimps. The idea that we’re gonna take Snoopy and sell life insurance. The idea that we’re going to have Peanuts the world over. There was no question that Peanuts was the leader in the field.
Napoli: Hmmm. But was he involved in cutting these deals, like with Ford, with you know, with Hollywood?
Michaelis: Absolutely. He was involved after a certain point, especially with the syndicate, into the 70’s, and especially in the explosion in the 80’s — this is the era of ninja turtles and Pokemon and all that. Peanuts was still a leader. Charles Schulz was extremely generous and interested in giving people a fair shake.
Napoli: And consequently, he was making a lot of cash himself.
Michaelis: One point two billion a year is what Peanuts became by the 90’s. Schulz was making an enormous salary every year, and the comic strip was only one part of that, of course.
Napoli: Now, he claimed he had no head for business, but I was really intrigued about the fight that he had with United Syndicate over control of the strip. Again, that’s something that was really prescient with today, ’cause now, everybody wants control of their own . . . you know, big successful artists want control of their own work. But he was fighting for such a thing at a time when that wasn’t common, right?
Michaelis: Well, when cartoonists . . . when he started, cartoonists were usually 50/50 partners with the syndicate. And United Features Syndicate was the owner and in the copyright of Peanuts. Schulz, by the 70’s and 80’s realized, like he should — like so many others in the business who had gotten their own copyrights and/or a greater portion of the control of licensed products — should have that himself. Peanuts was an enormous part of United Features Syndicate’s annual income.
Napoli: David Michaelis is the author of the new bestseller, “Schulz and Peanuts.” In Los Angeles, I’m Lisa Napoli. Enjoy the day.
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