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Schulz family members not happy with ‘depressed, cold and bitter’ biography (UPDATE)

Next week, a highly anticipated biography of Charles Schulz entitled “Schulz and Peanuts” will be released, but some members of the Schulz family are not happy with the way author David Michaelis has portrayed their father as “depressed, cold and bitter man who was constantly going after different women.”

Michaelis argues that extensive research through family papers, the comic strip, and review of numerous interviews of family, friends and media that Sparky was “melancholy” and full of anxieties.

“He was a complicated artist who had an inner life and embedded that inner life on the page,” Michaelis said in an interview. “His anxieties and fears brought him Lucy and the characters in ‘Peanuts.'”A normal person couldn’t have done it,” he said.

Leading the charge against the book is Amy Schulz Johnson, Sparky’s daughter, who contends that Michaelis “wanted to write a book a certain way, and so he used our family.” She notes that to her, her father was “the most amazing Christ-like father” and that the author played up the negative and downplayed the positive.

Sparky’s widow, agrees that Sparky was melancholy but that he loved to laugh – the biography isn’t the full picture.

“David couldn’t put everything in,” she said, but added, “I think Sparky’s melancholy and his dysfunctional first marriage are more interesting to talk about than 25 years of happiness.” She quoted her husband’s frequent response to why Charlie Brown never got to kick the football: “Happiness is not funny.”

UPDATE: Dave Astor has more quotes and details from the Schulz family reaction to the book. They certainly aren’t happy.

Community Comments

#1 Danny Burleson
October/8/2007
@ 10:35 am

Well, so much for a well-rounded exposé. I’m all for hearing the genuine story of these people we put on way too high of pedestals, but to unnecessarily exploit the dark-side is disappointing.

But, “Happiness is not funny.” So, like Charlie Brown, I guess this is just par for the course.

#2 JeffM
October/8/2007
@ 9:44 pm

I too am disappointed and now debating whether or not to read the book. I’ve read many biographies where the writer paints an almost saint-like picture of the person, which does such a disservice to everyone.

Every man is far from perfect and I realize Charles Schulz was just a man, but if his family is upset, then I suspect there is good reason.

If someone ever wrote a book of my father, I expect they include some of the bad with the good. But if there were untruths, I would be upset too.

#3 Guy Gilchrist
October/9/2007
@ 7:43 am

When it comes to learning something about someone from a biography, I found that it is best if possible to read two bios of the same person. Somewhere inbetween the two will lie the truth.
I’m a huge Walt Disney fan, and I’ve read much of what’s been out there. The first book I read was so, so positive about the man. The second book I read was much more negative. Somewhere in between, I suspect, was the true WD.

I never knew Walt, but I did know Sparky. Now, I only knew the Sparky of his last ten years, and, as with all people, only knew the Sparky he wanted me to know.

The Sparky I knew was incredibly generous with his time, talents, opinions, advice. I could not have asked for even half of what he gave…..absolutely amazing to my family, myself, and the charity events I helped put together for The National Cartoonists Society, and other groups. I miss him a lot.

I intend to read at least two books on his life.

#4 Dawn Douglass
October/9/2007
@ 11:59 am

This bio writer says: â??His anxieties and fears brought him Lucy and the characters in â??Peanuts.â??â?A normal person couldnâ??t have done it,â? he said.

Normal people can’t write fictional characters that are different from themselves? Normal people can’t observe and adopt traits in other people that they know or have seen depicted by other creators?

This statement is so ridiculous, such hogwash, and so incredibly ignorant on so many levels, I wouldn’t believe anything this guy says, good or bad Schulz.

Just the fact that he said “normal people” is a warning flag to me that this guy has an agenda to paint Schulz as something bizarre in order to increase his book sales.

Not to mention that ALL people, so that means NORMAL people, have anxieties and fears sometimes in their life.

The author paints himself as an idiot with a forced agenda and stupid preconceived notions. I wouldn’t buy this book.

#5 Wiley Miller
October/9/2007
@ 2:45 pm

Good points, as usual, Dawn. And it begs the question, just what is considered “normal”?

#6 Garey Mckee
October/9/2007
@ 3:58 pm

Was the writer specifically chosen by anyone to write the biography? It sounds as if the family should choose an author to publish their own approved biography. In fact, I would even go so far as to say they almost have to now that this book has been written, if it’s as dark and negative as is being related here.

â??He was a complicated artist who had an inner life and embedded that inner life on the page,â? Michaelis said in an interview. â??His anxieties and fears brought him Lucy and the characters in â??Peanuts.â??â?A normal person couldnâ??t have done it,â?

This passage offends me somewhat. I agree with Wiley, what is normal? But I will say this, Schulz definately was a genius in the field (or any field for that matter) and perhaps that isn’t normal. And only one of such genius COULD bring characters that were so prolific to the comics page.

#7 Rick Stromoski
October/9/2007
@ 4:50 pm

I think the point being made was that a well adjusted, leave it to beaver type individual could not have created the angst ridden, socially poignant, cultural icon that was Peanuts. I tend to agree with that assessment. Far more often than not , creative genius of the type that Schulz exibited comes from one’s darker side.

#8 Clay Jones
October/11/2007
@ 12:15 pm

Cartoonists are not normal people.

#9 Mike Buckley
October/16/2007
@ 2:21 pm

It’s not east to write a biography about someone as popular as Mr. Schulz was. Each of us has our own private image of what kind of man he was. While no one can argue that his legendary melancholy certainly played an important part in his creative efforts, if the man was never happy at all, he would have been utterly miserable. So perhaps it’s just that his happiness was tempered by the events of his life, a notion that apprarently didn’t occur to the biographer.

I’m a writer, and a lifelong fan of “Peanuts”, but when I first heard of this book, and what kind of story it told, my instinct was not to read it. It seemed sensationalistic to me, crossing a line between a reasonable acknowledgement of the human flaws we ALL have to trumpeting Mr. Schulz as some kind of “weirdo”.

He was the cartoonist who single-handedly created, wrote, and drew “Peanuts”. He made millions of people happy.

My God, what a legacy.

Do we really need more than that to tell us what kind of man he was?

Good Grief, no!

#10 Elliot
October/25/2007
@ 10:02 am

Read the book before you make judgments on it.

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