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Top Dog: Charles M. Schulz

Charles Schulz's ubiquitous beagle, is the world's preeminent pooch
Neil A. Grauer
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

One might reasonably contend that Snoopy is the world's best-known dog. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to name even a close runner-up. Without question, Snoopy is the most famous canine in the history of the comics. Snoopy has brought solace and laughs to more people around the globe than any flesh-and-blood beagle. The untold number of much-beloved Snoopy dolls stashed away in closets demonstrate a devotion that spans generations--and cultures.  

"The Salvadoran boy, age 7, was new to this country and newly adopted, just off the plane and looking a little bewildered by all the English and good intentions with which he was suddenly surrounded," recalled an editorial writer in The Washington Post last December. "Then his eye fell on a familiar face, and his smile got a little easier as he drew a toy floppy-eared beagle to him and pronounced its name: 'Ess-noopy!'"  

As the editorialist observed, "That's neither Spanish nor English, but something out of a universal language created by Charles Schulz over the span of nearly 50 years during which he has drawn the comic strip 'Peanuts.'" And there has been nothing equal to it in the comics.  

There have been many memorable dogs in the century-plus history of comic strips. In the 1890s' "Yellow Kid," the first regular comic, dogs were almost always part of the mayhem taking place in the Kid's ramshackle Hogan's Alley neighborhood. The best-known comics pooch of the day was Buster Brown's dog Tige (short for Tiger). A precocious, talking boxer, Tige was the constant companion of the mischievous, mop-haired Buster; after 95 years, they can still be found together inside children's shoes.  

Offissa Pupp held an unrequited love for Krazy Kat. In "Blondie," Daisy and her multitudinous offspring regularly run down the hapless Dagwood. Snuffy Smith has his Bullet; Dennis the Menace has his Ruff; Little Orphan Annie has her Sandy; "Beetle Bailey's" Sgt. Snorkle has his Otto, appropriately uniformed; Luann has her Puddles; Dilbert has his Dogbert (or is it the other way around?). The Pattersons in Lynn Johnston's "For Better or Worse" had the heroic Farley, who died (died!) after rescuing little April from a rushing stream. Some dogs even have been the titled stars of strips, including Grimm, from Mike Peters' "Mother Goose & Grimm"; "Fred Basset"; "Marmaduke"; and "Howard Huge," to name but a few.  

All of them pale by comparison with Snoopy, who is far and away the most popular character in "Peanuts," the most popular comic strip in history. When Charles M. Schulz retired in December, "Peanuts" was appearing in an unprecedented 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, entertaining an estimated 355 million readers a day in 21 languages.

According to Mary Anne Grimes, a spokeswoman for "Peanuts" distributor United Feature Syndicate, even before Schulz's death on February 12--the eve of the publication of his last original strip--more than 90 percent of the papers had decided to continue running vintage "Peanuts" comics. They are beginning with strips from 1974, and thus keeping the strip--and Snoopy--going strong.  

With Snoopy playing a key part, "Peanuts" was turned into dozens of animated specials, including the Emmy-winning show "A Charlie Brown Christmas," a network classic for 35 years; "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"; and the Peabody Award-winning "What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?"  

The "Peanuts" characters starred in four feature films and a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. Three "Camp Snoopy" theme parks were opened; "Peanuts" books have sold more than 300 million copies; and merchandise, beginning with a 6-inch-tall plastic Snoopy in 1958, brings in an estimated $1 billion annually.  

Beginning in 1968, Snoopy made five appearances as a multistory floating balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, most recently last November as a 47-foot-tall, 28.5-foot-wide and 64-foot-long "Millennium Snoopy," filled with 15,650 cubic feet of helium. When Lucy (of all people) hugged Snoopy and proclaimed "Happiness is a warm puppy" in 1960, the expression entered the language (and Bartlett's Familiar Quotations), as well as inspired the hit song "Happiness Is...," in the musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." And when Snoopy first assumed the persona of the World War I Flying Ace and did battle with the legendary Baron Manfred von Richthofen in 1965, the fantasy led to the 1966 hit record "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron" by the Royal Guardsmen.  

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