CONFESSIONS OF A TOKEN
CARTOON CHARACTER: PART I
 
BY FRANKLIN
 

I first met Charles Schulz in 1968. He was at the beach working on the latest episode of "Peanuts," and one of his extras didn't show up. I think it was that red-headed girl, but I'm not sure. It was supposed to be a pretty basic episode. Schulz's star, Charlie Brown, is at the beach playing. He loses his beach ball. The girl returns it, and Brown gets all hot for her or something. Pretty basic. But, without the girl, there's no story.

I was minding my own business, building a sand castle or what not, and Schulz comes up to me and says, "Hey kid, you want to be in a comic strip? I'll buy you some ice cream." Now, I wasn't much interested in showbiz, but I always have had a fondness for ice cream. So I agreed to do the strip. Everything went pretty smoothly, and Schulz asked me what flavor of ice cream I wanted. I told him vanilla, and he just kind of snickered. He was like, "Vanilla? You sure you don't want chocolate? Isn't that more your style kid?" I didn't think much of it at the time, I just wanted my damn ice cream. Now, looking back, it seems to mean a lot more.

About nine months later, I get a call from Schulz. He tells me people loved my appearance, and he wants to make me a reoccurring character in his strip. He says I'll be able to get all the ice cream I can stomach. I guess I was pretty naive at the time, but it sounded like a great deal. Little did I realize, I wasn't a reoccurring character, I was a token character. C'mon, the strip had lots of women, a dog, hell, even a bird, but did you notice any minorities in the cast other than me? Hell no. I was it. Schulz's little token black boy.

Despite my insignificant part, I continued to do the work, even turning down offers from competing strips. Hell, if I would have taken a gig with "Mary Worth" or "Blondie," I still would have just been a token character. Besides, Schulz was doing movies at this point, and I guess I was blinded by the bright lights. It's one thing to see your face in the papers, but words can't begin to describe the feeling you get once you make it onto the big screen.

Since I wasn't a regular character, like Lucy or Linus, I also had time to pursue other interests. I worked on a few blaxsploitation flix in the '70s, but none of them really broke through. It was good experience, and I started to learn all the behind-the-scenes work. Before too long, I was writing and producing. Now I don't want to say it was because of my skin color, but none of the studios wanted to get behind my ideas. I even tried some writing for television, but it wasn't really my bag. I put together a few scripts for "Diff'rent Strokes" - finally, a show with some black kids. I even filmed an episode, but for some reason, it never aired.

That was a turning point in my career. I was a little bitter. OK, actually I was super pissed. Nobody wanted to support my work, and no one would take me seriously as a writer or an actor. After my work on "Diff'rent Strokes," I started hanging out with Todd Bridges. You can imagine the rest. Drugs, alcohol, whores, I couldn't get enough of any of them. And, I wasn't exactly rolling in the green. I was hardly ever doing anything with "Peanuts" anymore. I think Schulz was upset because I was trying to be my own man. Anyhow, I needed to make some cash, so I put together a little stable of bitches and started pimpin'.

I know pimps have a bad reputation, but I was good to my girls. I kept them fed and clothed and disease free. Because I ran such a high-class operation, I started landing some pretty famous clients. These weren't street hos I was running. I had the finest pussy out there for a while. Pimpin' was exciting, but it was nothing compared to showbiz. Along the way, I don't want to say exactly how, but I met Arsenio Hall. He was trying to take over that Joan Rivers show on Fox, but his material was weak. What he needed, was a good writer, and I just happened to know the best - Me!

Follow this link to Part 2 of Confessions of a Token Cartoon Character.



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