Thursday, November 21, 2013

Surprising Facts about Dr. Seuss

Truth is stranger than fiction, even in the case of Dr. Seuss
Illustration by Jeremie Lederman

In 1991, a best selling author named Theodor Geisel passed away even as his latest book remained on the best sellers list. The name Theodore (Ted) Geisel meant very little to the public, and it was rare that anyone even recognized either his name or his face. However, by the time the news reached the world, that writer's 'real' name was revealed. 

Theodore Geisel was none other than the beloved writer, Dr. Seuss. It would be redundant to list the accomplishments and admiration assigned to this man. Dr. Seuss was and is a man loved deeply by the entire world. His books remain key moments and inspirations to children and adults and may remain the de facto writer of children's books to eclipse all others.

However, like most people of accomplishment and renown, his real life was full of details far more interesting than his stories.

• Dr. Seuss was very political. Some of his many notable moments include:
  • Yertel the Turtle burped at the end of his book! It had never been done before in a children's book and the publisher argued with Seuss to take it out. However, if you know that the book was representative of Hitler, it makes more sense. 
  • Horton may have heard a Who, but it was really about America listening to a post-war Japan. Dr. Seuss wrote the book as an allegory to how Japan needed America to help the beaten nation overcome its massive devastation.
  • He was employed by the United States military to produce propaganda cartoons. During that same era, he also worked with a very left leaning publication to air his views on everything from anti-semitism, racism, conservatism, and the evils of totalitarianism. 
  • The Lorax is not subtle. We all know it's about unregulated corporate power and environmental abuse.
  • Two months after Nixon's Watergate scandal, Dr. Seuss sent a copy of his book "Marvin Mooney Will You Please Go Home' to Art Buchenwald at the Washington Post. By request, Dr. Seuss allowed Marvin Mooney to be replaced with Richard M. Nixon. 10 days later, Nixon resigned. While the likelihood of the article influencing Nixon is unlikely, it has become a permanent part of the Dr. Suess cannon.

• Dr. Seuss was not a real doctor
During prohibition, Theo Geisel had a college party at Dartmouth and got busted for drinking Gin. After being placed on probation, he added the Dr. to his name to try and establish more credibility. The irony is that his success inspired Dartmouth to bestow him with an honorary Doctorates in 1957

• Dr. Seuss was creeped out by kids
He never had children of his own, and declined most occasions to meet with children in general. He is famous for saying “You have ‘em, I’ll amuse ‘em.” His widow Audrey has said that Dr. Seuss was afraid of children. She said he was always thinking, “What might they do next? What might they ask next?”

• Dr. Seuss was not a quitter
His first book "And to think I saw it on Mulberry Street' was rejected 27 times. Not exactly Edison's 10,000 failed attempts at a lightbulb, but still....

• Dr. Seuss knew how to win a bet
In 1960, Dr. Seuss's editor, Bennett Cerf, made a bet with him that he could not write a successful children's book with only 50 words. Green Eggs and Ham went on to become a best seller for over 50 years. The 50 words appear in the following order: I am Sam; that; do not like; you green eggs and ham; them; would here or there; anywhere; in a house with mouse; eat box fox; car they; could; may will see tree; let me be; train on; say the dark; rain; goat; boat; so try may; if; good; thank.

• Dr. Seuss had a sordid love life
The first wife of Dr. Seuss was Helen Geisel. She was reported to have suffered with mental illness for most of her adult life. She was a major inspiration and vital support to Dr. Seuss, but she grew deeply despondent with both his success and his relationship with Audrey Stone Diamond.

In 1967, Helen overdosed on barbiturates and left behind a letter for her husband...

"Dear Ted, What has happened to us? I don't know. I feel myself in a spiral, going down down down, into a black hole from which there is no escape, no brightness. And loud in my ears from every side I hear, 'failure, failure, failure...' I love you so much ... I am too old and enmeshed in everything you do and are, that I cannot conceive of life without you ... My going will leave quite a rumor but you can say I was overworked and overwrought. Your reputation with your friends and fans will not be harmed ... Sometimes think of the fun we had all thru the years ..."

• Nerds were born at Dr. Seuss's private Zoo
In 1950, Dr. Seuss wrote the book "If I Ran a Zoo." In it's pages sits the first recorded use of the word "NERD."

• The Grinch was GrrrRRRREAT!
There are many unique pieces of information surrounding the animated feature "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," but my favorite by far is regarding the famous song.  The same person behind the voice of Tony the Tiger (Thurl Ravenscroft), is also the voice behind “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” He received no credit on screen, so Dr. Seuss wrote to every major U.S. newspaper to tell them exactly who the singer was.