This is starting to sound like a bad Marx Brothers routine. “Well, lasta issue you remember I said I no do the part four of the Mama’s and the Boys on account of my mother, she’s in Florida on a vacation. Well, my mother she come back from vacation just-a few days ago. But, guess what? Now I’m-a go to Florida on vacation, and my mother she stays here. So, I’m-a no finish part four of the Mama’s and the Boys like 1 ‘rn-a said I would. I’m-a finish it in wry head, but Kim Preney he say I’m-a no can print what is in your head, Dave, and guess what? Thatsa true.”
Fortunately, I ran across this in the Charles Schulz interview in The Comics Journal’s 200th issue, which emphasizes one of the central points of the “Mama’s Boy” series of essays. Congratulations to Gary Groth and the Legion of Gloom on their anniversary. Quotes reprinted without permission:
Just to set this up, Gary is trying to get Mr. Schulz to indict himself for agreeing to have lunch with Ronald Reagan, when Reagan was governor of California, since Schulz has identified himself in the interview as a liberal. Always interesting to read someone confronting Gary’s singular notions of integrity for the first time. Gary offers that Jules Feiffer would not have gone — or might not have gone, appearing to imply that there is integrity in not agreeing to have lunch. with someone you disagree with politically. “But that’s... insulting,” Mr. Schulz replies. “That’s beyond politics, isn’t it?” It is only good manners to accept an invitation from someone who is ahead of you in society’s pecking order, and the Governor of the state in which you reside is, well, ahead of you in the pecking order if you are a cartoonist. Mr. Schulz is clearly caught flat-footed. Good manners are... what is the word?.., beyond politics? above politics? supersedes politics? Mr. Schulz quotes a story from Joanne Greenberg’s I Never Promised You a Rose Garden wherein her father instructed her to stand up when a man was coming by, saying, “This is Senator So-and-So coming by,” and telling her after-the-fact that “the position deserves respect.” I can well imagine the blank Grothian stare that greeted this little tidbit. Mr. Schulz attempts to amplij5’ the observation. “I think to use your own personal views to say to the President of the United States, I’m not going to come, that’s childish.” Mr. Schulz attempts, I would speculate, to deflate the blankness of Gary’s reaction by extrapolating the Ca4fornia pecking order into a United States of America pecking order. Clearly the look on Gary’s face states eloquently that f the President’s views did not match Gary’s own (and who could picture any President measuring up to Gary’s idiosyncratic notions of integrity?), the President would find himself one short for dinner on the night in question. “Again, I don’t want to get into that,” Schulz concludes his immediate thought. One empathizes with his situation. Where to from here? Why am I having to defend going to lunch with the Governor of my state when he asked me to? What can I say after I say that it would be insulting not to go? Gamely, Mr. Schulz gives it a try: “I would have given anything in the world to have met Genera] Eisenhower. What an honor: What a tremendous feat he had commanding D-Day. The decisions he had to make were just unbelievable.” Blank blank blank look from across the tape recorder. Mr. Schulz is forced to fall back on a generalization: “And a lot of other people I’d like to meet just for that...”“reason,” I suspect he was going to say, but it would appear that the blankness of Gary’s reaction had finally sunk in. Mr. Schulz had gone from discussing the Governor of California to the President of the United States to the most rarefied heights of the Charles Schulz Pecking Order — Dwight David Eisenhower — and nothing was having an impact. Nothing. Mr. Schulz retreats from the loftiest heights to the practical necessities of the question, his lunch with Governor Reagan: “Reagan was a very thoughtful person.” Gary ‘s opening he’s been waiting for. “That’s hard to believe (laughs).” Mr. Schulz is reputed to have the patience of a saint, and certainly at this point it was — to this reader’s eyes — being tried to the breaking point for any lesser man. “No, extremely thoughtful. Very personable, and he would never forget you. Now, just in the little bit of contact I had... Joyce and I had ‘lunch with him and Nancy didn’t arrange it, he didn’t arrange it — some press secretary’ said, ‘They should have a Peanuts day in California or something.’ So we went up there and had lunch with them.” It is interesting to me, and I think very admirable, that it takes this much time for Mr. Schulz to bring up that he was being considered for an honour by the Governor of his state. Such a genuinely modest spirit. Did it take place? What exactly was involved? What did Charles Schulz and Ronald Reagan talk about that led Mr. Schulz to characterize Mr. Reagan as “thoughtful “? Gary’s follow-up question: “Now, would you have done that with a public figure with whom you completely disagreed?” Schulz’s reply: “Like Barbara Boxer? (laughter)” Groth: “There you go.” If you can’t get Charles Schulz to criticize Ronald Reagan, hey, any port in a storm. “I don’t know because she’s never invited me. I suppose, just out of curiosity The thought remains unfinished. Schulz has too good a grasp on his own reality, as I read it, to spend any amount of time or effort answering hypothetical questions. Back to the factual: “— well, I went down to s Clinton, and I’ve attended things for Senator Feinstein, and things like that.” By my. inference, Charles Schulz is saying that he completely disagrees with President Clinton and Senator Feinstein — or, more probably, he is in greater disagreement with Clinton and Feinstein than he was with Governor Reagan. Safe from Gary’s hypotheticals for the moment, Mr. Schulz appears 1o remind himself that this is (theoretically, anyway) his interview. “But getting back to Reagan just to show what I’m talking about, several months later, after he was no longer governor, he and I and a few other people were honored as fathers of the year. We went down, and he was surrounded by some people. And I was lead (sic) over there. And he looked down and he said, ‘Sparky. It’s good to see you.’ He said, ‘Nancy. Come over here. Look who’s here. Sparky’s here.’ Now, how many politicians and governors are going to do that? He remembers.” What a wonderful story. One of those happy little accidents that inexplicably makes its way into every Gary Groth interview. I mean, can you just picture Charles Schulz being welcomed by Ronald Reagan, picture them smiling at each other, giants in their respective fields in the 20th century? You ‘11 have to just picture it, because Gary’s turning the wheel hard-to-port “I don’t want to sound too cynical, but couldn’t that just be the kind of professional schmoozing the politicians (Even the patience of a saint has its limits, and Schulz interrupts, though I for one would have completely understood f he had asked Gary and his tape recorder to leave his office at that point.) “No, that’s just the way he was. And he called me when I was in the hospital and had heart surgery.” “Wow,” I’m thinking at this point, “is that right? What year was that? How long before the White House? Hold it. Was Reagan in the White House?!” Hard-to- port, Mr. Groth, sir. “So you think it was genuine.” Can I add a (sneer) stage direction in my copy? Oh, wait. There ‘s no question mark on the end, so the sneer is implied. Sorry, Gar. You’re right.
“He’s taken a terrible beating from the press and other people, just nastiness. (Jimmy) Carter was the same way. I was the Easter Seals Chairman. We went to Washington and had some friends that went with us, and they had to hang back, as I went in to meet Carter. We had our picture taken, with the little girl who was on the poster. And then we said thank you. He asked if there were any folks with me. And I said, “Oh, this is my wife. And her son. And some friends.” And he said, “Well, I’d like to meet them.” He went over and shook hands with them. Again that was the sort of person he was.” Now, I’m no mental giant, but I think I can see the linking theme of the two stories. Both men impressed Mr. Schulz because they both treated him very nicely, and they treated him very nicely for the exact reason that they were nice beyond the bounds of what was required of them in the situation — especially f one considers the disparity of their respective places in the societal pecking order. Schulz was impressed. Reading about it, I am impressed. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Gary at least allows Schulz to steer his way out of a very awkward exchange without another gratuitous slight. “I don’t think I’ve met any others.” Presidents, Gary. “Shook hands with Clinton. I talked with Bush on the practice tee at the AT&T.” But he had lunch with Ronald Reagan. Just the two couples, Gary. There might even be a nice little anecdote or two since it was, like, an intimate lunch. You ‘ye spent two columns of type denigrating the whole thing; why not take, oh, say, a paragraph or two and see if Ronald Reagan didn’t tell Charles Schulz a funny story or express interest in some aspect of Peanuts? Just, you know, something.
Sorry, I got carried away there. Anyway, here we are at “Mama’s Boy” part four. Charles Schulz shook hands with Clinton and talked with Bush on the practice tee: “But I’m out of that whole realm. Comic-strip artists are not regarded as celebrities in that way. We don’t get the medal of freedom and all that sort of thing. They proposed it for me; I don’t think we even came close. Last year on the 100th anniversary of the comics, all the cartoonists wrote to Senator Feinstein to promote it.”
“But that’s all right. I know my place. (laughs) And it doesn’t bother me.”
Charles Schulz. Knows. His. Place. He is a multimillionaire, possibly a billionaire, Snoopy and Charlie Brown went to the moon, he is read by 200 million people every day. But. He knows his place.
Okay, I’m off to Florida. You kids play nice. Don’t have the TV on too loud, and don ‘t answer the phone after 11 o ‘clock.