Hollywood hears a Hoo!

November 9, 2000

With the Hollywood hype machine prepping for the upcoming high-priced live-action remake of the animated holiday classic How the Grinch stole Christmas (opening November 17th), it's easy to forget about the original TV special, and its soft-spoken creator, known to millions of children and adults as Dr. Seuss.

Image of Thedor GeiselTheodor Seuss Geisel (Seuss is his mother's maiden name) wrote 47 books, which have been translated into 18 languages and sold more than 100 million copies.

Though Seuss is one of the most popular childrens' authors of all time, he himself was childless: “You make 'em, I amuse them,” he once said. And indeed he seems to have known children at least as well as any parent.

“Children want the same things we want,” he said. “To laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained and delighted.”

Green Eggs and Cats in Hats

Some of his most famous works came out of interesting circumstances. For example, in 1954 Life magazine published an article lamenting the poor quality of writing for children. In response to this, Geisel's publisher sent him a list of 400 words he felt were important, asked him to cut the list down to 250, and then to write a book using only those remaining words.

As the tale goes, Geisel read the list repeatedly, trying to find a way to create a story out of it. After many fruitless attempts, and in desperation, Geisel chose two words that rhymed, and simply made them the title of the book.

The result was one of Geisel's best selling works, The Cat in the Hat.

“I found 'cat', and then I found 'hat' “, he explained, “That's genius, you see!”

Following this success, his long-time editor and the founder of the publishing company Random House, Bennett Cerf, bet Geisel fifty dollars that he couldn't write a book that drew from just fifty words.

His response? His most popular work, Green Eggs and Ham, which has sold millions of copies around the world.

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells,” Geisel was quoted as saying. “Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living; it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities.”

Geisel passed away in September of 1991.

How the Grinch stole Seuss

This year, interest in Geisel's work has dramatically increased, with the recent opening of a brand new, multimillion-dollar Broadway musical (“Seussical: The Musical”), and the November 17th release of Universal Studios' How the Grinch stole Christmas.

Universal Studios obviously sees dollar signs in the Grinch, after paying five million dollars to Geisel's wife Audrey for film rights (plus a percentage of the films profits), hiring Jim Carrey to play the Grinch (at a cost of $20 million), and then spending over $120 million on the film's production. The film is directed by Apollo 13 director Ron Howard.

The film's promotional department is poised to blanket consumers with Grinch-inspired merchandise, including an perviously unheard-of deal with the US Postal Service to have merchandise sold at postal outlets across the United States. There are even plans for tie-ins such as green Oreos and a Seuss-themed amusement park.

Ms. Geisel is reportedly not happy with the final result, complaining, “There's too much bathroom jokes. That's not the Seuss world, not at all.”

Related Links

Random House's Seussville

Cyber-Seuss: A fan's Web site

Cranky Critic article on Ron Howard / The Grinch that stole Christmas

The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss

Another Theodor Geisel Biography

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