Shortly before David Michaelis's biography of Charles Schulz, Schulz and Peanuts, was published this month, the Times ran a piece about the Schulz family's dissatisfaction with the book. At the time, the complaints seemed fairly run-of-the-mill, not atypical gripes from children who idolized their father and were distressed to see a biography with a clear point of view on the shelves. Reviewers both distinguished and undistinguished praised the book, mostly disregarding the family's complaints.
Now Schulz's children seem to have taken to the Net to complain, writing long messages in the comment threads at Cartoon Brew, a cartoon and comics Website. It started with Schulz's son Monte, who wrote on October 11:
Honestly, the quote I’ve really wanted to give the press, after reading both the early manuscript and the final book, is this: “The book is stupid, and David Michaelis is an idiot.”
Since then, Monte has weighed in again with a long post detailing his complaints, from Michaelis's factual errors to the cherry-picking of sources and quotes; for example, Monte says, Michaelis only met Schulz's daughter Jill once over a lunch. Since then, Jill has also posted, as well as her sister Amy, the family's business adviser Barbara Gallagher, and, today, Lee Mendelson, producer of the Peanuts TV specials. The comments section has become a clearinghouse of complaints against Michaelis and the book … assuming, of course, that these are the actual people and not extremely focused and nerdy pranksters.
How valid are these complaints? It's hard to say. Though their comments, especially Monte's, seem thoughtful on the whole, Schulz's children talk about the book as if it's a tabloid-style hatchet job. But it strikes us that if it's a hatchet job, it's a pretty lousy one, as we came away from the book filled with rueful affection for Schulz despite the many flaws Michaelis attributes to him. The children have seized upon the book's depiction of Schulz as a distant father, which of course is what they would seize on, being the children in question. But those passages are a tiny, tiny part of the book and are in fact counterbalanced by passages in which Schulz is portrayed as a father who tried at least to be involved in his children's lives, even if he could rarely bring himself to be a disciplinarian. In the end, we viewed Schulz the father as little better or worse than most fathers — though somewhat gloomier and substantially more rich.
We're still inclined to consider the book quite an accomplishment, though one that's not without its own flaws. Anyone interested in the book, or in how fraught any biography is likely to become, should check the Schulz children's posts out.