Charles Schulz believed that America likes decency.
It is an idea that may seem far-fetched in a society that embraces edgy and vulgar entertainment on a daily basis. But according to his daughter, Amy Schulz Johnson, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip “never swore a day in his life.”
“He always said, ‘“Rats” covers everything,’” Johnson said. “That’s why he always had Charlie Brown say ‘Rats’ when things went wrong.”
It's also why in the nearly 18,000 comics Schulz published between 1950 and 2000, the "Peanuts" characters never uttered anything objectionable.
It would seem that Schulz’s faith in America was not misplaced. Although he died of colon cancer in 2000, Schulz will earn $40 million this year, placing him behind only Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley in posthumous earnings, according to Forbes. Friday marks the release of “The Peanuts Movie,” which is projected to earn more than $56 million at the box office during its opening weekend.
Still, perhaps more important than money earned or the number of adoring fans, past or present, is how a man is remembered in the eyes of those who knew him best. It takes only a few minutes speaking with his daughter to recognize that Schulz’s comic strip characters were a reflection of his own personal character.
Johnson, who lives in Alpine, remembers her father as "a normal, nice dad who was a good person" and a man who always had time for his children. Schulz and Joyce Halverson, Amy's mother and Schulz's first wife, created an environment that Johnson compares to "living at Disneyland." She witnessed the impact her father's character and the childhood he provided had in the lives of others. It was her parents' influence that prepared Johnson to later join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Now a mother of nine, Johnson said Schulz never talked about himself or his profession and would stop everything he was doing when his kids entered his office. His availability led her to conclude that he didn't have a job.
“I distinctly remember walking into the room, where he would be in the middle of drawing a strip, and he would immediately stop drawing,” Johnson recalled. “He would say, ‘Hi, Amos,’ and would just sit and talk to me; therefore, I assumed he was never busy. He never acted like he was too busy for any of his children.”
The Schulz family lived on 28 acres in Sebastopol, California. Over the years, the Schulzes added a swimming pool, baseball fields, a park and a golf course, making it a place where their children — and their friends — wanted to be.
“Some of my friends didn’t tell me until they were in their 40s the things that were happening in their homes,” Johnson said. “And … I can’t really word this properly, but they said, and this had everything to do with Dad, that coming to our house every weekend is what saved them emotionally. … Seeing a normal, nice dad who was a good person helped them survive what they were going through themselves. … Our home was a shelter from the storm for them.”
Johnson refers to her adolescence as “wonderful, happy and clean-cut.” She often tells people, “If you think Utah Valley Mormons are sheltered, you should’ve been a Schulz!” Johnson believes the Schulz residence was a place where God's influence could be felt because “the Spirit is in homes of goodness.”
Johnson feels her home life prepared her to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when she was 22 years old. She summarizes her conversion with a quote from LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who said, “We say to the people, in effect, you bring with you all the good that you have, and then let us see if we can add to it.”
“I see my life as taking all the good that I had, how I was raised from this great mom and dad, and then adding the gospel to the family that my husband and I are raising,” Johnson said.
Johnson learned about the LDS Church while dating a Latter-day Saint. The Word of Wisdom caught her attention because the commandment to abstain from alcohol was something she already observed. Her parents never told her not to drink alcohol, but because they never drank, she didn’t either.
“Our great life prepared me because I didn’t have to change much of anything,” Johnson said.
Upon learning that Johnson is a member of the LDS Church, some have commented, “I knew your dad was a Mormon because all of his strips were always so decent.”
While Schulz did not believe in the LDS faith himself, he was always supportive of his daughter. When Johnson opened a full-time mission call a year and a half after she was baptized, she immediately went up to her dad’s office. She announced, “Dad, I got my mission call. I’m going to England.”
“He got up from his desk, walked around to where I was standing with his arms outstretched, gave me big hug and said, ‘Even Jesus didn’t get to go to England,’” Johnson remembered.
Schulz spoke at her mission farewell, and as his daughter served, Schulz never missed a week of sending handwritten letters that Johnson now considers her biggest treasure.
“It’s funny because if I read you parts of them, you would think that my dad was a stake president in our church or something,” Johnson said. “He would have the most beautiful things to say about Christ and the scriptures.”
Schulz's support for Johnson continued when she was married in the Oakland California Temple. Schulz stood outside the temple on a cold and windy day, waiting for his daughter.
“He would never want me to feel anything but happiness for my new life,” Johnson said.
He also attended the Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple open house with Johnson in 1996. And once, as Johnson's daughter, Stephanie, played hymns on the piano in a room full of Schulz’s family, he leaned over to Johnson and said, “Isn’t it too bad that you and I are the only ones who can appreciate this?”
Today, Schulz’s legacy lives on in the lives of his children and grandchildren. Johnson is particularly proud of her brother, Craig Schulz, and his efforts to honor their father with the release of “The Peanuts Movie,” which he wrote and produced along with his son, Bryan, and friend Cornelius Uliano. The film is a four-generation family affair as Johnson’s grandson, Micah Revelli, provides the voice of “Little Kid.”
“They absolutely have it perfect,” Johnson said. “You just want to reach out and grab these characters. You want to jump through the screen and live in their neighborhood. They’re all just so beautifully done.”
Johnson says her brother fought to maintain the wholesome quality of the "Peanuts" brand, avoiding any kind of bathroom humor or innuendo.
For 50 years, Schulz offered something decent, and the world loved it. This weekend, "The Peanuts Movie" will test the appeal of Schulz's work once again.
When asked whether the movie is something her father would endorse, Johnson answered without hesitation: “He’d be immensely proud; he’d be stunned.”