By Arthur Spiegelman
Fri Oct 19, 7:43 PM ET
Good Grief, Charles Schulz. The creator of the beloved Peanuts comic strip was a shy, lonely man who used his child-like drawings to depict a life of deep melancholy, according to a controversial new biography.
The book is based on six years of research, unlimited access to family papers, more than 200 interviews and a close reading the 17,897 strips Schulz wrote and drew. It portrays Schulz as a man who felt unseen and unloved even if his readers numbered in the hundreds of millions.
Not for a minute did he believe that "Happiness was a warm puppy" -- and he may not have believed in happiness at all.
"He thought it was impossible to draw a happy comic strip and actually he was fond of saying that 'Happiness is a sad song,"' Michaelis said in a recent interview.
The cartoonist's family says it is very unhappy with the 655-page portrait of Schulz, who died in 2000 at the age of 77, and say they do not recognize the man on display.
His son Monte Schulz told Newsweek magazine: "Why would all of us (children) gather at his bedside for three months if we hadn't felt enormous affection for him?"
"Had we known this was the book David was going to write, we would not have talked to him."
But they did talk to Michaelis and the writer stands by his findings. "Charles Schulz was a funny, warm and charming man with a great sense of calm and decency. But he also had a lifetime of being lonely, misunderstood and unhappy," he said.
FEAR OF BEING LEFT BEHIND
Michaelis says that to the day he died, Schulz could recall the terror of being separated as a boy from his mother on a crowded streetcar in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota.
"Schulz never stopped believing that he had been forsaken and would be left behind, that nobody cared," wrote Michaelis.
All of Schulz's beloved characters -- Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy -- seem to have been torn from his life.
Michaelis says a close reading of the comic strips reveal them to be a Rosetta stone in which Schulz puts the most intimate details of his private life on display, including a romance that led to the breakup of his first marriage.
He says the bossy Lucy was inspired by his first wife, Joyce, who had no patience with his worrying and used to tell him during his bouts of melancholy, "Snap out of it."
Charlie Brown had a big head because Schulz's father continually warned him about getting a swelled head. Charlie Brown's dreams of grandeur had no place in Schulz's working class world.
As to the family's criticism of his book, a note of regret can be heard in Michaelis' voice but he says a biographer has to draw the line between different views of the subject.
"I don't think there is one version of a man's life. I interviewed a lot of people who said Charles Schulz was a humble man, a shy man, a warm man and a sweet man. But they all also said he was a complicated man. I was not out to get him, but to understand him."