Any educated scholar who has studied that journey knows that Bill Steigerwald simply hasn't enough facts to "debunk" that journey ("Sorry, Charley, Was Steinbeck's 'Travels with Charley' a fraud?" Reason magazine, April 2011.
For some reason, the press continues to give this guy way too much ink ("Letters From The Editor: Somewhat let down by a boyhood hero," April 28). As far as I'm concerned, and I know mountains about that journey, the author of that Reason article is just another individual who wants to build a career on rumor and innuendo. Please let his absurd story go away.
If you were at all moved by "Travels With Charley," and have done as much research over the years as I have, and if you really even care, you should speak with Dr. Susan Shillinglaw, scholar in residence at The National Steinbeck Center, to get the true facts of the journey. After all, she has read all of the letters, while Steigerwald claims to have read the rather limited collection of letters at the Mercantile Library.
When we saw this guy's first article, we thought, "Well, it's just another one trying to follow the journey and sell a book." That's something we deal with all the time, and frankly, there is some wonderful work out there by others inspired by the original journey, e.g.: "Travels with Max," by Gregory Ziegler. But this fellow decided it was his duty as a "journalist" to invalidate the entire work, "Travels With Charley," and John Steinbeck, as an aside. It's one thing to do the proper research and quite another to simply look for a point of view that will "stir the pot," as it were.
Normally, the Steinbeck family would step back and let the story run its course, but Steigerwald has managed to keep the story running ad nauseam. To tell you the truth, I would never have jumped into the fray, but he is so ill-informed and has managed to reach such a wide audience that it has become a little creepy. He is misleading the public, and the problem is that he is incorrect in the majority of his assumptions.
My husband, Thomas Steinbeck, author of "Down to a Soundless Sea" and "In the Shadow of the Cypress," wrote a screenplay for HBO based upon "Travels with Charley," and the research we did for that project was voluminous. Thom was also a teenager at the time of the journey and he agrees that while his stepmother was on board for short segments of the trip, she would never have agreed to make that sort of a trip in a camper. She was used to a rather different sort of travel and lifestyle.
Basically, the Reason story is bogus. There are some wonderful scholars out there who are more capable of giving you the facts than I am, or certainly more so than he. As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Susan Shillinglaw has read every letter and article ever written on the subject, while Thomas and I have been busy with our own life journey. Sadly, Steigerwald missed the entire purpose of the journey and, of course, the spirit of a nation to which John Steinbeck was bidding adieu.
I only wrote to you because it made me sad to think that you were being duped.
GAIL STEINBECK is a Santa Barbara resident and the daughter-in-law of John Steinbeck.