Monte Schultz: Schulz biographer is “arrogant”; book full of errors

Monte Schulz, Charles M. Schulz’s oldest son, has posted a comment over on Cartoon Brew regarding the Schulz and Peanuts biography calling the author, David Michaelis “arrogant” and outlines several small and large factual errors in the book.

So, why didn’t I correct him when I read that first version? Because to change the central erroneous nature of what he’d written would have required a massive re-write and re-thinking of the entire book, something he would never have had time to do, even had he the will and the desire, which he obviously did not. I did not want to clean up the minor errors, only to see the bigger ones remain. Again, I’m only touching on a few issues. If any of you want me to answer anything with greater specificity, I’d be happy to do so. I apologize for rambling like this, but the story is very convoluted. I will tell you that NY Times piece happened because a long interview I did for Time magazine was apparently killed somewhere high above the magazine, up at corporate (I’m not allowed to say more than that), and therefore I was directed to the NY Times reporter who, sadly, hadn’t even read the book when we spoke.

Let me tell you, though, that David never met my father, and basically hid from us what he intended to write. This is very apparent when you read some of the email exchanges we had over the years, and what we spoke about on the phone. I used to ask him not to babble about how Dad was depressed all the time because it wasn’t true, and “don’t write some kind of tabloid novel about Dad’s life.” To which he’d always respond, “I wouldn’t spend six years writing that kind of book.” But he did. Oh, someone asked about any of us carrying on Dad’s legacy. Well, none of us can draw, nor do we have the same sensibility he had toward his characters. The strip was his, but we were the ones who made the decision (by renewal copyright law in the ’70s) have the strip die when he did. We have our own lives and interests, though Dad did tell a friend that he thought my fiction was “raising the level of art in the family.” Thanks for that, Dad! Nor true, of course, but I do my best. Yes, all of this, even responding on here is frustrating, but that biography is so absurdly false in so many ways, I could not just be quiet. I’m mostly disappointed that so many reviewers apparently believe what’s in it. Such is life.

39 thoughts on “Monte Schultz: Schulz biographer is “arrogant”; book full of errors

  1. I haven’t read the Michaelis book yet, but I can’t imagine his effort to write a biography that reveals the “real, human side” of Charles Schulz will have any real effect on how the creator of Peanuts is remembered by his millions of fans. May I suggest to anyone who wants to read about Sparky that they get a copy of Charles M. Schultz: Conversations. Published by University Press of Mississippi and edited by M. Thomas Inge, it features many wonderful and revealing profiles of the man…by people who actually spoke to him.
    I think Bob Harvey’s incredible, exhaustive biography of Milton Caniff, which I’ve just finished, should be, henceforth, required reading by anyone who attempts a bio of a famous cartoonist.

  2. Although I never met Schulz, I have met or had phone or email conversations with a few comic artists. Many have a few quirks here and there but I couldn’t imagine exploting them for the purposes of my own. How can I in good conscience purchase this bio?

  3. Monte Schulz’s comments still leaves me wondering.

    “So, why didnâ??t I correct him when I read that first version? Because to change the central erroneous nature of what heâ??d written would have required a massive re-write and re-thinking of the entire book, something he would never have had time to do, even had he the will and the desire, which he obviously did not”

    If I were concerned with the erroneous nature of what was being written I would have spoken up and demanded a change no matter how much of an extensive re-write would have to occur, and if the author got his panties in a bunch over it, then Oh freakin well, he should have been more fair and balanced in his writing to begin with then.

    What seems to be coming to light more and more as this whole topic unfolds, is that perhaps the writing of the Schulz biography was plagued with problems from the beginning, and if that was the case then perhaps the project should not have moved forward as it did.

    But that being said, I’m still going to read it.

  4. This is the most telling thing that the son said IMO:

    “Why only ten lines or so about the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, which Dad and I attended for more than twenty five years? That was huge interest of Dad’s. He loved books and writing and talking about both. In Davidâ??s first draft, his only mention of the conference was regarding Dad’s “writer’s conference girl-friend, Suzanne Del Rossi,” a completely preposterous page and a half about a woman Dad knew there, someone all of us knew, anyone attended the conference knew, who was married and flirted endlessly, not only with Dad but with many other men there. And nothing ever happened because it was only for fun. Reading that section is what put me over the edge, because I knew then that David had no desire to tell Dadâ??s life, but rather was more interesting in moralizing and psychoanalyzing Dad because David himself loves analysis. That’s his story, but not ours.”

    Seems pretty clear to me that this author injected himself and his own agenda into this book. He obviously wanted to make it titillating.

    I’m disappointed by Lynn Johnston’s role in this, though I can’t say that it surprises me.

  5. >>>>Iâ??m disappointed by Lynn Johnstonâ??s role in this, though I canâ??t say that it surprises me.

    What an odd thing to say. Do you know Lynn Johnston personally?

  6. Don’t be too quick to judge Lynn in this matter, Dawn. As you said, it was pretty clear the writer (and publisher) had a predetermined agenda going into this project, so whatever Lynn may have said could very well have been taken out of context and blown up into something salacious.

    The point is, given Monty’s account (which rings true to me), the number of egregious factual errors in the book makes everything suspect.

  7. The reason I ask is if you’re willing to dismiss everything in this book that was said about Sparky because it was taken out of context, why would you not extend the same courtesy to Lynn Johnston? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if the author had a “titillating agenda” why would you give any credence to what was said about Lynn?

  8. I have never met Sparky, though I always wanted to.That said I do know people who knew him very well. They are upset about this book. I am upset about it mostly because Peanuts has brought much happiness into peoples lives, especially mine. Sparky was human, like us all and is not perfect.But why go after him and give people a distorted view of a man who just loved what he did, and never hurt anyone. He had a tremendous amount of money,and fame. Yet he never used it for political gain or anything else. He built a ice arena in his town of Santa Rosa for the community with his own money!I like to remember the man for who he was, a great cartoonist who brought so much joy into my world as a child growing up and now even into adulthood. Do we really need to ruin a mans credibility? He has been dead now for over 6 years,why attack someones character when they are no longer here to defend themselves? A great talent doesn’t use slander or volgarity to make money, maybe that is why Peanuts was so successful!

  9. I admit that I probably shouldn’t have written that, especially when it was like 2 am and I knew I was overly tired. I didn’t mean that she had malicious intent. I’m just not surprised that she insinuated herself into the story, providing intimate information to the author as a kind of proof of their close relationship. It follows her longtime “look at me, I’m friends with Sparky” pattern.

    It just really bothers me when so-called friends see the person’s death as a license to dish things they would never say when they’re alive. Providing juicy tidbits is a very common means to inflate one’s own position (as in, “If you want the REAL story, you have to come to me”) vis-a-vis a legendary figure, as Schulz was. It’s a known phenomenon that good biographers watch out for and are careful of.

    But maybe I’m being too hard on her. You’re right…we can’t really be clear about what she really said given the way he’s distorted things. One thing this guy has proven is that he isn’t is a good biographer.

  10. “It follows her longtime â??look at me, Iâ??m friends with Sparkyâ? pattern.”

    I think that’s a bit unfair, Dawn. Whenever she’s been interviewed, she’s invariably asked about Charles Schulz, given the popularity of her strip and that of Peanuts. So when she answers those questions honestly, she gets painted as some sort of sycophant. If she doesn’t answer the questions about Sparky, she gets labeled as being stuck up and ungracious.

    Judging her with such a broad brush over what you’ve seen in print is a natural human response, but try to go beyond that knee-jerk reaction, especially since you’ve never even met her.

  11. I understand that Teacher from the strip has also spoken out on the bio…but I can’t understand her. Same with Woodstock
    Jeff Darcy

  12. I heard this guys working on a Bio on Snoopy’s Uncle in New Mexico in which it revealed he’s an illegal beagle, among other things

  13. “Itâ??s not just what Iâ??ve read in print, Wiley. And how do you know that Iâ??ve never met her? ”

    Granted, that was an assumption on my part, Dawn, but it was one stemming from knowing Lynn for many, many years. As such, I made the reasonable assumption that one coming to the conclusion you have must be due to your not ever having met her.

    Please don’t take anything I’ve said here in anger. Lynn is a personal friend and I’m just trying to keep the record straight in regard to her public image. Rumors are easily spread on the internet about someone’s character, which you and I can personally attest to.

  14. I’m not angry, Wiley, and I’m sorry that I ever said anything. It was wrong of me to even bring it up. I can’t read Lynn Johnston’s motives or anybody else’s.

    Gossip is evil, and that is what I was reacting to. And here I went and started some myself! Not good at all.

    I apologize to her and everybody else.

  15. Amazing, Dawn defends her dad, Wiley gets upset about something said about LJ! So would Wiley want David to do the Bio on Lj 7 years after her death?

  16. I think you need to read the posts a little more carefully, Bud.
    I wasn’t upset with Dawn, just trying to keep assumptions about Lynn’s character in check. And you don’t think I was defending the biography, do you?

  17. Wiley, I re-read your posts, my mistake, I did think at first that you were defending the biography. I guess I need to go back to school and learn reading comprehension again! Please except my apologies, I am sorry.

  18. I just wanted to jump in here (at 1am) to reply to one question/comment:

    “If I were concerned with the erroneous nature of what was being written I would have spoken up and demanded a change no matter how much of an extensive re-write would have to occur, and if the author got his panties in a bunch over it, then Oh freakin well, he should have been more fair and balanced in his writing to begin with then.”

    The answer is that David Michaelis was under no obligation to change even one word in that manuscript. We didn’t hire him to write the book (nor did we seek him out); we just approved of his desire to write it. His “boss” in this project was Harper Collins, and when we did approach them with our “concerns” they put us off. And I mean that literally. They refused to talk to us at all, saying something to the effect (and this is a very close paraphrase) that the family is never going to like a biography anyway.” That’s optimistic, isn’t it? So, we were never in any position to demand anything except that they not use the trademarked script with which my dad signed his name on the title of the book (which was originally to be called “Schulz: A Life.” Good title, too. But, angered by the first draft, and understanding clearly David would never change the central thesis of his biography. So when you see him say that I was given the chance to make corrections, all that means is that he hoped I’d point out small factual errors, and endure what I and the rest of the family, friends, etc. saw as the hugely false tenets that filled those six hundred pages. And honestly, had I been persuaded that David really wanted to get it right (though why would he change in three months what he’d been developing for six years?), I would absolutely have worked with him to make his biography the best it could be. As I’ve said many places this month, I really liked David personally –but his book is stupid. He does, however, write really wonderful emails.

  19. The lesson here seems to be “Darned if you do, darned if you don’t” . If the family of any famous person refuses to “authorize” a biography, they are seen as unco-operative and the bio author can claim they have “something to hide” thereby creating a lot of controversial buzz about said bio. This is, of course, done with the intention of driving sales.

    If the family goes ahead and authorizes the bio, then everything in it “must be true” because of perceived family co-operation. I have absolutely no problem believing Mr. Schulz’ son and other family members when they say they had no control over the book’s content and I believe it quite possible that this is true of all bios.

    In hindsight, perhaps denying authorization would at least have put the book in the “Kitty Kelly” tell -all zone even before publication and robbed it of any credibility, but how could the family know that ahead of time.

  20. Mr. Monte Schulz,
    I learned to read by reading “Peanuts” books in the sixties. Your father was nice enough to sign a card for my daughter when she was born. I am buying everything Fantagraphics is putting out, and I own just about every “Peanuts” video. Your father was a great man, and nothing can denigrate his memory in my eyes.

  21. Today on my 1st day off in six weeks(retail manager with understaffed store. Insert punchline here_______ , Norm), I went down to the library and took out two older books about Charles Schulz:

    The first is one I’ve read years ago, Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Me by Charles M. Schulz. I sat on my back deck on a nice, warm, october day listening to old Springsteen cd’s and re-discovering my alltime favorite comic strip and all the subtleties that made me love the strip, as well as want to learn about the cartoonist behind all the insecurities and relatable emotions that the characters exhibited.

    It’s a great, quick, read that offers some really personal insight into the man and his strip…

    Charlie Brown and Charlie Schulz by Lee Mendelson from 1970, which offers up some nice photos of the Schulz family, rink and the office where Peanuts was created. I’ve only flipped through this book so far but it looks good…

    There’s Conversations, too, so before you pick up the disputed new book, just know that there are already a few good books out there to be read on ol’Sparky…

  22. Monte,

    Thanks so much for coming on and answering our questions. It was unclear to me how much, if any, influence the family had in approving the content of the book as the project was progressing. It’s now clear that the publisher and author had their own agenda from the very beginning.

    I must echo the sentiments you must receive constantly from others. Your father’s work has been a huge and happy influence on me from a very very young age. It’s really impossible to sum it up adequately in words. But I must say Thank you so very much!

  23. Today on my 1st day off in six weeks(retail manager with understaffed store. Insert punchline here_______ , Norm),

    Ha. Man, have I been there. I feel your pain, Eric.

  24. I’m posting these, my memories of Sparky that I was prompted to write about on another Cartoonist’s Bulletin Board, in response to a cartoonist who was reading the new book. This Cartoonist was asking for impressions from Cartoonists who may have met Schulz.
    Here are MY memories….

    He was very gracious.

    I didn’t know him well, let me say that first off.

    Unlike Mort Walker, my other childhood idol, whom I got to know very well, partly because we both live in Connecticut, Sparky was a west coaster. I finally met him in 1996 after I went to work for United, doing Nancy.

    Angie and I went to the Reubens that year, and at one point we found ourselves walking down the street, on our way to the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Plaza, step for step with Charles Schulz.

    I somewhat sheepishly introduced myself as we walked, and introduced Angie. Sparky, he immediately told us to call him Sparky, began to put me at ease with stories of his hero worship, and then friendship with Ernie Bushmiller. He also complimented my brother and I on taking on a rather difficult task, and a fairly thankless one. He just could not have been nicer, and I mean it…not in a superficial way either.

    He spoke to me as a colleague. As we walked, Angie, who’s maiden name is Brown, told Sparky about her Dad, who’s name is Charlie, and her childhood dog…yep, you guessed it, and asked him if when we got to the Rainbow Room, would he draw a picture of Charlie Brown for her dad, Charlie Brown, to which he replied, he would if she agreed to have a dance with him.

    What a grand memory!

    I only saw Sparky at Reubens, when of course we are all “on”. I also , tho’, spoke with him about 6 or 7 times a year by phone up until his health began to fail him. He always asked how things were going with the Nancy strip. He gave advice freely, when I began my own Angels and Mudpie features. Wrote an endorsement blurb for Mudpie, even.

    Sparky came to Tim Rosenthal and my rescue in San Antonio, too, at the Reubens Weekend that year. Tim and I had put together a Meet and Greet The Cartoonists Night at the local Children’s Museum, with an auction of cartoon art as well, all proceeds to be split between the Milt Gross Fund, and the local Catholic Children’s Hospital, critical care wing. I remember John Kovaleski, Tim and I and our wives, girlfriends, etc, going over one morning and drawing for all the kids…anyway…

    Sparky called me up a month or so before the event and asked me how the PR was going. I told him it was okay, but slow. You see, it had been many years since the NCS had done one of these Meet and Greets, like we used to do, in the 70s and 80s when the Reubens were always at the Plaza, and the center of the cartooning world then, in those old days, was NYC.

    Sparky then offered to appear, and sign autographs. OF COURSE, that did it!

    There were newspapers, magazines, even Time and Newsweek, covering this little shindig now. We made about 6 or 7 grand that night for the two charities. When TIME was doing an interview about it later at a dinner party, and had their photographers there, Sparky agreed to have his picture taken, but first grabbed his “good friend, Nancy Cartoonist, Guy Gilchrist” to be in the picture with him. The night of the Reubens, I was fortunate to receive the category award in books, and Sparky and Jeanne walked all the way across the ballroom to hug Angie and me.

    I miss Sparky. The whole world does.

    I hope these personal memories will help even out some of the comments recently published elsewhere.

    Guy Gilchrist


  25. His greatness has already been measured. His legacy is staggering and timeless. Definitely one of the reasons I became a cartoonist and caricature artist.

    Sparky is such an apt nick-name in that he sparked more careers and appreciation than an entire generation of cartoonists….

    A flawed book about an imperfect human being written by a man that never knew him… Not exactly on my must-read list – LOL!


  26. Sparky was human, and too many people have elevated him to something just under godhood.

    He was a flawed person, just like the rest of us. This book (I will admit I’ve only finished the first chapter because I’ve been working on my own strip and baking today, which tend to take a lot of time) may point out his flaws, but I’m taking away the lesson that Sparky used his flaws and his neuroses to his benefit. They were what fueled the genius behind Peanuts.

    Sure, he influenced all of us; not a single cartoonist who grew up since the 1960’s wasn’t influenced by Charles Schulz. That’s his legacy, and it won’t be dimmed by a biography that examines Schulz the man, instead of Schulz the legend.

    Or are we starting to tread into Liberty Vallance territory here?

  27. Schulz and Peanuts influenced everybody to be sure. I remember when I was very young in the third grade, I had been reading a Peanuts book (They’re Playing Your Song, Charlie Brown to be exact) and there is a series of strips in which Peppermint Patty decides she is too dumb, that she wasn’t going to go to school anymore and she was going to live with Snoopy in his dog house.

    Well I had alot of those feelings of not being very smart as I always struggled with school work when I was young (damn left handed visually oriented freak). So I decided to do exactly what Peppermint Patty did and not go to school. I had woken up that morning and just refused to go to school. Let me tell you I got in so much trouble LOL! When my father got home from work that day all hell broke loose!

    It makes me laugh now but back then I’m sure my parents, family and teacher were all very worried about the fact that I didn’t want to go to school. I’m sure they imagined all these horrible psychological doomsday scenarios about why I refused to go to school that day. I never told them that it was because of Peppermint Patty LOL!

    The valuable lesson I learned that day and the one that I keep with me today and by extension keep in my own work, is that although a comic strip may reflect a person’s feelings and experiences from the author’s life, a comic strip is NOT real life and usually the ideas presented in them don’t carry over very well into the real world.

    At least, they didn’t for me LOL!

  28. I just saw the PBS (American Masters) special on Monte Schultz’s Dad earlier this week, here in Buffalo, New York. I only just found your website today. Was so glad to come upon it, as it provides an opportunity to share with Monte how riveted I was to the program, most especially his input. His sparkling demeanor and comments spoke positively about the man and the offspring of the man whose comic strip was a staple in my formative years. I cultivated interest in it as a little girl in the late 1950s. I quickly bonded with Charlie and his beloved Snoopy. Like, Monte, I grew up with an energetic spin on life. Like his Dad’s main character, my social beginnings were challenging, as I was shy and not part of a “click” of friends. I was blessed with finally seeing that my uniqueness (in the sense of not “running with the crowd”) was truly an asset. And then I blossomed the way The Lord intended, with a flood of popularity in addition. However, while I was arriving at that juncture, it sure was comforting to read ’bout Charlie Brown, who “understood” what it was like to be a sweet, shy kid, just pumpin’ for a bit of social success. When I saw and heard Monte, it was a snap to imagine what loving parenting he and his siblings received. I just lost my own Dad in the springtime of this year (he was an immense Snoopy fan – he especially liked the upright ears and joyful look Snoopy would sport). Like Monte, I have tender memories of the way Dad took time (even after a wearying day) to play with me. I can’t fathom what it would be like to be subject to folks clamoring to write a book about my Dad. While he’s tops with me, as for anything negative – as there is in every life – it would be disheartening to witness someone pick at any such sore spot, or take history out of context, or misquote, or selectively quote. I think it very brave of Monte and his family to endure it and come shining through. I’d like to reassure him that his Dad does too (i.e., come shining through). And, no doubt, Monte does his Dad proud. Thanks, Alan Gardner, for this privilege of sharing. Blessings, Marilyn Smith. P.S.: I’ll tune back in from time to time. May every forthcoming comment be a glowing one for the Schultz family.

  29. (hehehe…yes, I am human AND can add, too!)
    I have always had a very soft spot in my heart for Peanuts, and now, too for it’s creator. PBS’ sensitive and thoughful documentary on Charles Schulz led me to read the biography, which I personally found to be very poorly edited, and full of disjointed interpretations. (I feel obligated as a psychiatrist to add that the inconsistent interpretive attempts were particularly difficult to get through.)
    Even so, I thought it was a valiant effort, and I did learn a few things about Charles Schulz that I would likely never have known. I think the majority of the book painted him as a likeable, sensitive, brilliant and intriguing man, who like most ‘complex’ people found himself to be somewhat overwhelmed and disillusioned by the enormity of life and emotion. He, like the rest of us, suffered from being human.
    I was myself most struck by the way his fame (which seemed to coincide with a mid-life crisis, perhaps) thrust him into a somewhat chaotic existence among a variety of people. Suffice it to say that I was saddened (though not totally surprised ) to read of the unraveling of his first marriage and all that then transpired…this part of the book was difficult to get through for sure.

    Even so, I am certain that Sparky will be remembered with deep admiration and awe, as his drawings have drawn us into his imagination and wonder. He was truly a remarkable and fascinating human being, and I think he worked harder than most at living life to the absolute fullest.

  30. Hi Monte….it’s Dale Durant….an old friend from EMHS…remember?. I just wanted to tell you….that I’ve been reading these comments about your Father. Monte, i’ve heard it said that your dad was “GREAT”…well…he was not only “GREAT” but he was more importantly at least to me a nice, warm person. I did accidentally meet him 2 times at the ice arena 30 plus years ago…still haven’t forgotten it. While I was walking inside the arena I just looked up and there he was…at first I didn’t know what to say, but then I just blurted out Hi Mr. Schulz. He said, “hello how are you?” Once he spoke…he was gone…definately a man on the move!. Sometimes I go visit him even today…because he is near where my mother is….I visit her when I can. Well….I just wanted you to know….take care and God Bless your family.

    Your Friend
    Dale Durant

    P.S…Tell Craig “hey” for me…dd

  31. Will find a joint to Monte Shulz. My address is
    Dear Monte, just a few days I read the script on last issue of Comics Journal.
    I’d say not to worry, for readers know well who your Dad was. A man who, since the care he puts in little Peanuts characters, surely loved his sons and family.And his dog, of course. We always knew that.
    One thing important to me. About the song Sparky sang to you bringin to bed, “little man”. Do you know it’s the same my Mom sang to me in Italian translation?
    If you sand me your e-mail I’ll try to get you the music, so to be certain it’s the same song. The lyrics metric is quite the same, and “little man” in Italian is “Omettino”, just the title of mom’s song.

  32. Dear Monte,
    I never met Sparky in person but I wish I could have. I will always love him. He reminds me of my Dad, a complex, sensitive and creative man, who survived the horrors of WWII. He served in the Canadian Air Force and Grandma said he was never the same after he returned from overseas. I believe he suffered from untreated post traumatic stress disorder. It was many years after the war before he was comfortable with travelling away from home. For many years he seemed to be preoccupied and it wasn’t until my 20s that we got him back. In the 1950s many of the Dads in my neighbourhood were invisible, hiding in their houses reading the newspaper. And I know what it is like to be the smallest and youngest person in class as I was on an accelerated program. Sparkys stories helped me to understand that I wasn’t the only one who was sensitive and lacking in confidence.
    Thank you for speaking up about your Dad.

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