• The new Carpenters recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is now available. Use this link to order, and help us out at the same time. Thank you!

Battle of the Biographies

Which Carpenters biography is best ?

  • "The Carpenters: The Untold Story" - Ray Coleman

    Votes: 9 26.5%
  • "Little Girl Blue: The Life Of Karen Carpenter" - Randy L. Schmidt

    Votes: 25 73.5%

  • Total voters
    34

A&M Retro

Well-Known Member
I love both books, too, but Randy’s gets the nod from me. I think it describes the many layers of Karen very well. It also envelops the reader as if we were there as it was happening.
 

John Adam

Well-Known Member
I am not voting, because one is not "better" than the other. They are both essential reads and written from different perspectives.
But I am a fan of Randy's work in general. I have not read any of Ray's other books. But this should make for an interesting discussion!
 

GaryAlan

Well-Known Member
Recently, having been sequestered and 'at-home' , I re-read the Coleman book.
That book is now heavily underlined and annotated.
Let me bring up one thing I noticed....
In her essay, written at age 13, Karen writes: "my hobbies are popular dancing, collecting records and drawing."
and "won an award or certificate for a poster I had drawn."

Does that award-winning poster exist ? Are there no extant drawings by Karen ?
The essay, for age 13 year, is very well written.

I always presumed Richard had not written any essay at that point in time and wondered why not.
 

Carpe diem

Well-Known Member
Ray Coleman also wrote separate biographies on John Lennon and Brian Epstein. That subject matter could be fascinating. Was he like the "Kitty Kelley" of the UK?
 

Geographer

Well-Known Member
Hi
I wish Richard would publish a Illustrated detailed book on their Careerr.A kind of coffee styled table book which could include/Concert dates,Behind the scenes stories,Photos,People they met,Chart facts,etc.
Randy Schmidt's Carpenters and Illustrated Discography comes pretty close. Can't imagine how it would be any better EXCEPT if Richard collaborated on it and provided more behind-the-scenes stories and input.
 

Geographer

Well-Known Member
I was going to start a new thread concerning Coleman's book but I did a "search" and got back to this one. This past Christmas, two of my daughters ponied-up and gave me a copy of Ray Coleman's book as a present. Usually I take an eternity to finish a book, but anything concerning the Carpenters in the written media gets quickly devoured. Much like Randy's book, I couldn't put it down until completed.

I am going against the grain here, but I thought Coleman's book was better, just based on how many more times I refer to it for information. I would say Ray's book is better researched. Very date specific, and the detail on individual events is amazing. The fact that Richard was a major contributor to the project and gave his "blessing" makes me believe that events described were more accurately reported due to his excellent memory and recall. That being said, I was shocked that the book was so candid concerning Richard and others - Especially delving into Richard's drug abuse/rehab. Also Karen's last years in therapy in New York is frightfully detailed. Just how close she was to death at Lennox Hill Hospital was a revelation to me.

I enjoy Randy's book as well and is written in a very compassionate point of view to our dear Karen, which I appreciate. And Randy's book expanded on the whole solo album fiasco in detail which I found compelling but is just glanced-over in Ray's book. Speaking of which, It seemed to me, kind of a drive-by trashing of Karen's solo work by Ray towards the conclusion of the book that was completely unnecessary.
It's like comparing apples to oranges, to me. Both books are excellent; however, they are two different "styles" in a sense. Coleman had the advantage of official participation and takes a chronological (in some sense) professional, facts-based approach; while Schmidt's work is more of a "tell-all" from a personal perspective of those around Karen and Richard but not necessarily the professional relationships. Both have great merit for what they set to accomplish. I like both of them...together... to tell a "complete" story...they kind of compliment each other. Thus, it's hard to "vote" for one that's better than the other. They are both different enough to be good in their own rights.
 

Chris May

Resident 'Carpenterologist'
Staff member
Moderator
It's like comparing apples to oranges, to me. Both books are excellent; however, they are two different "styles" in a sense. Coleman had the advantage of official participation and takes a chronological (in some sense) professional, facts-based approach; while Schmidt's work is more of a "tell-all" from a personal perspective of those around Karen and Richard but not necessarily the professional relationships. Both have great merit for what they set to accomplish. I like both of them...together... to tell a "complete" story...they kind of compliment each other. Thus, it's hard to "vote" for one that's better than the other. They are both different enough to be good in their own rights.
Coleman's book was initially meant to be a music bio. After Ray took it back to publishing and made all of the changes they'd requested in order for the book (at the time) to "sell," it was a completely different manuscript. Richard is anything but happy with it.
 

GaryAlan

Well-Known Member
Let me understand this:
Richard 'authorized' the Coleman Carpenters Untold Story Biography.....he is anything but happy with it.
Richard co-produced and 'authorized' the CBS-TV Movie "The Karen Carpenter Story." He is unhappy with it.


My biggest complaint for the Coleman Bio is the terrible writing.
Ray's articles in the UK's Melody Maker were much better written.
But, Ray Coleman was suffering from cancer , so I give the writing a pass.
 

Carpe diem

Well-Known Member
Coleman's book was initially meant to be a music bio. After Ray took it back to publishing and made all of the changes they'd requested in order for the book (at the time) to "sell," it was a completely different manuscript. Richard is anything but happy with it.
That makes sense. If Richard was not happy with the way the made-for-TV movie "The Karen Carpenter Story" turned out after first giving his endorsement, it follows that he would ultimately not be happy with Coleman's book. No wonder Richard avoids any outside biographical projects like the plague.

I understand that it's all about sales. So they "tabloid" the narrative to add shock value. Obviously, miscommunication all the way around.
 
Last edited:

GaryAlan

Well-Known Member
^^ Richard Carpenter is capable of reading. Richard Carpenter is capable of previewing a TV movie.
He could have stopped both projects before their respective release dates were he unhappy AT THE TIME.
I would venture he had a change-of-heart later.
But, AT THE TIME, he still decided to go ahead with both projects.
 

Murray

Well-Known Member
Coleman's book was initially meant to be a music bio. After Ray took it back to publishing and made all of the changes they'd requested in order for the book (at the time) to "sell," it was a completely different manuscript. Richard is anything but happy with it.
If what Richard really wanted was a "music bio" - an account of his and Karen's musical career, insights into their creative process, stories from the road and studio, etc., he ultimately should have written it himself, since no one knows all that stuff better than he does. I do wonder if such a book would have attracted much interest from major publishers though. Us super fans would have devoured it, but the average reader of celebrity biographies wants all the juicy personal details, or they're not going to part with their money.

It may have been an "authorized" biography, in the sense that Richard cooperated with Ray Coleman, in hopes that the facts would be presented accurately , and portray himself and his family in a positive light. But it is clear that the ultimate control over this project did not lie with Richard, but rather with the publisher. Ray Coleman had a contract, and undoubtedly an advance payment, and he had to deliver. If Richard was unhappy that the finished book wasn't what he had hoped it would be, he sure didn't show it at the time. If he was "anything but happy with it", then why did he appear on TV to promote the book?
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
Happy or not, all these ventures helped keep the legacy alive and introduce their incredible music to a new audience.
Just barely. I remember that I tried to special order the book around 1999, after I got the VHS of “Close To You: Remembering The Carpenters” and seeing the ad for the book at end of the tape, and the bookstore telling me that the book was out of print. That VHS only came out in 1998 and the book was essentially out of print by then. I was able to get the book via inter-library loan, but I was surprised that it was out of print after so few years.
 

Rumbahbah

Well-Known Member
Just barely. I remember that I tried to special order the book around 1999, after I got the VHS of “Close To You: Remembering The Carpenters” and seeing the ad for the book at end of the tape, and the bookstore telling me that the book was out of print. That VHS only came out in 1998 and the book was essentially out of print by then. I was able to get the book via inter-library loan, but I was surprised that it was out of print after so few years.
I don't think books stayed in print for more than a couple of years back in the 1990s, as apart from perennial big sellers, bookshops wouldn't have space to stick older books. The paperback version of the Coleman book came out in the UK in 1995, so was probably out of print by 1997 or so.
 

Rumbahbah

Well-Known Member
Coleman's book was initially meant to be a music bio. After Ray took it back to publishing and made all of the changes they'd requested in order for the book (at the time) to "sell," it was a completely different manuscript. Richard is anything but happy with it.
I am very surprised to hear this as it essentially reads like Richard's take on their story (both professional and personally), something that's very clearly reflected in what it discusses (as well as the tone taken) and what it chooses not to discuss. I'd always assumed it was his attempt to 'set the record straight' once he became dissatisfied with the portrayal in the TV movie.

Given that whole chapters of the Coleman book are dominated by discussion of their private/family lives and that interviewees include people like Steven Levenkron and Maria Luisa Galeazzi, whose input on their musical lives would have been minimal, I can't imagine that the plan for it be a book only about their music lasted for anything more than a very short period.

When a book proposal is submitted and accepted by a publisher, the author has to give a fairly detailed outline what the book will (or will not) cover. I'm pretty sure a publisher would not have accepted a book proposal based only on the music and then would have expected Coleman to include personal details as well. Doubtless it would have been made clear from the outset that their personal lives would have to be discussed in order for the project to get the green light.

I recall Randy's book quotes Karen Ramone as stating that Ray Coleman got frustrated with the strictures under which he was forced to write the book, but the implication there was quite clearly strictures imposed by Richard, not by the publisher.
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
I don't think books stayed in print for more than a couple of years back in the 1990s, as apart from perennial big sellers, bookshops wouldn't have space to stick older books. The paperback version of the Coleman book came out in the UK in 1995, so was probably out of print by 1997 or so.
It would be interesting to find out how well it sold, since it didn’t even seem to get a paperback release in North America, which in those days usually came out 12 months after the hardcover (kind of like theatrical films taking almost a year to hit VHS). Because it was hardcover only, it almost seems as if it might’ve only gone through one or two runs before being discontinued.
 

Rumbahbah

Well-Known Member
It would be interesting to find out how well it sold, since it didn’t even seem to get a paperback release in North America, which in those days usually came out 12 months after the hardcover (kind of like theatrical films taking almost a year to hit VHS). Because it was hardcover only, it almost seems as if it might’ve only gone through one or two runs before being discontinued.
I'm not sure sales figures would be easy to come by for that timeframe. In the UK, the hardback version must have sold well enough to justify a paperback edition, and there probably was a gap of a year between them (I think the hardback was out in April 1994 and the paperback was out about a year later).

It's worth remembering though that at this point in time, the UK was generally more enthusiastic for Carpenters product than the US, so sales in the US might not have been so good, hence why there was no paperback there.
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
I'm not sure sales figures would be easy to come by for that timeframe. In the UK, the hardback version must have sold well enough to justify a paperback edition, and there probably was a gap of a year between them (I think the hardback was out in April 1994 and the paperback was out about a year later).

It's worth remembering though that at this point in time, the UK was generally more enthusiastic for Carpenters product than the US, so sales in the US might not have been so good, hence why there was no paperback there.
And why the book would’ve gone out of print very quickly. Hardcovers are usually done for books that are expected to sell high volumes.
 

Shalom Bresticker

Active Member
KAREN AND THE FAMILY CARPENTER
ROGER CATLIN The Courant's pop/rock music criticTHE HARTFORD COURANT

The Carpenters: The Untold Story
By Ray Coleman, HarperCollins, $22, 359 pp.
And you thought Nirvana was a messed-up band.
Well, consider that lone voice of clean-cut pop normality from the '70s, the Carpenters. By the end of that decade, Karen Carpenter, who had infused songs like "Close to You" and "We've Only Just Begun" with such warmth, was starving herself to death, denying she was anorexic. At the same time, her brother, Richard Carpenter, was addicted to Quaaludes and barely able to play piano or perform.
For a brother-and-sister act championed (or dismissed) for its squeaky-clean pop music at a time when the world had gone acid rock or disco, they were about as messed up as Guns N' Roses - and nobody in that group has died.
Karen Carpenter's bizarre, inexorable and horrifying march to 79 pounds by taking as many as 150 laxative tablets a day and supercharging her metabolism with thyroid pills (although she didn't have a thyroid condition), dominates about half of this book by Ray Coleman. Coleman is obviously smitten with Karen's perky, yet stunted personality, as was seemingly everyone else she met.
The book begins with Karen Carpenter's final days, but Coleman stops the narrative cold by injecting some medical theories on her death by an array of experts.
The narrative gains steam again as it recounts the story of the drumming sister, who at the last minute and only reluctantly became the singer for her talented and much-favored brother.
Coleman, who has written biographies of John Lennon and Eric Clapton, and helped Bill Wyman shape his autobiography, is constrained by the limits of an authorized biography. Richard Carpenter gets to rebut every criticism of him, however slight; and Coleman never gets to place blame for Karen's condition on her mother's domineering presence. A reader feels she had just as much control over this book as she had over her children.
Although the Carpenters spent much of their lives in Downey, Calif., New Haven plays a large role in the story. Not only did the siblings grow up there, but they also kept in touch with their childhood friends and visited frequently. In 1982, a year before her death, Karen spent every weekend in New Haven with her friends. A memorial service was held at Yale, and the book ends with the emotional 1991 return of Richard Carpenter to Lighthouse Point in New Haven, where he accepts the Nathan Hale Elementary School Hall of Fame award from students, who then sing "For All We Know," "Top of the World" and "We've Only Just Begun."
Like a four-CD 1991 boxed set, "The Carpenters: The Untold Story" may be a goldmine for hardcore fans, but may be too much for everyone else, for whom a magazine article on anorexia or Karen's personality would serve as well as a single-disc greatest-hits album.
 

Murray

Well-Known Member
It would be interesting to find out how well it sold, since it didn’t even seem to get a paperback release in North America, which in those days usually came out 12 months after the hardcover (kind of like theatrical films taking almost a year to hit VHS). Because it was hardcover only, it almost seems as if it might’ve only gone through one or two runs before being discontinued.
There was a paperback edition in Canada, about a year after the hardcover release. The Coles bookstore that I frequented had two copies on the shelf. I didn't purchase one, as I already had the hardcover. When I looked a couple of months later, they were gone, and I never saw another copy of the Coleman book, paperback or hardcover, in a bookstore again.
 
Top Bottom