Last week there was an article in the “New York Times” about the spat between David Michaelis, the author of the biography of Charles M. Schulz (creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip) released this week by HarperCollins, and the Schulz family, who are a tad miffed that their father (or relative) is portrayed as a depressed, anxious man.
When Michaelis was questioned by the press if he got the story straight, the biographer answered: “Absolutely. No question.”
From the NYT article:
Mr. Michaelis referred to numerous interviews throughout Charles Schulz’s life in which he talked about his own “melancholy” and anxieties. “I have this awful feeling of impending doom,” he said on “60 Minutes” in 1999. “I wake up to a funeral-like atmosphere.” Many portraits of Schulz pick up the same theme. Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s 1989 biography, “Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz,” similarly describes him as depressed and plagued by panic attacks, despite a large family and mammoth financial and critical success. Nor does it seem that Mr. Michaelis made a secret of his perspective. He wrote an appreciation of Schulz in Time magazine in December 2000 after his death at 77 in which he clearly laid out the thesis he expands on in his 655-page book, sometimes word for word.
Mr. Michaelis’s biography, “Schulz and Peanuts,” which HarperCollins is releasing next week, is one of the most anticipated books of the fall publishing season. Schulz’s cartoon panels are interspersed with the text, and Mr. Michaelis uses them as revelations of the artist’s emotions.
“He was a complicated artist who had an inner life and embedded that inner life on the page,” Mr. 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.
I love that last line, and may hang it on my frig with “Peanuts”: “A normal person couldn’t have done it.” In other words, God, for once, thank you for my unconventional brain!
And there’s a lesson in the rest of the story, as well, as it seems that what began as depression and anxiety for Schulz ultimately became laughter.
It’s true that Charles was “melancholy,” said Jean Schulz, his second wife. But “it’s not a full portrait. Sparky [Schulz’s nickname] was so much more. Most of the time he loved to laugh.”
“Part of what puzzles people about Sparky was that he talked about the actual physical sensation that he had from being anxious, the ‘sense of dread’ when he got up in the morning. But he had a Buddhist acceptance of life and its ups and downs. He functioned perfectly well.
“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.”
P.S. Thanks to Beliefnet editor Lilit Marcus who has two very cool websites herself–savetheassistants.com and lilitinstereo.com–for directing me to this article and so many pop culture pieces. Between she and Larry Parker sending things to me, I think I’m covered regarding current events.