Anything but a Grinch
The life and times of Dr. Suess
His name was Ted and he worked for Standard Oil for fifteen years. Few people know those facts about Theodor Seuss Geisel; they only know him for the Grinch, the Cat in the Hat, the Oobleck and Horton Hears a Who. Few people know that Ted Geisel went to Oxford and Dartmouth; they only know that Dr. Seuss wrote children’s books like no one else.
The early years
Ted Geisel was editor of the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, the college’s humor magazine. A party that Ted and his friends threw got him relieved of his editor duties, but he continued to write for the magazine signing off as simply Seuss. An alter ego was born.
Dr. Seuss, as he would eventually be known as, started his career as a cartoonist. He decided to pursue the artist route after hearing the suggestion from his first wife-to-be, Helen Palmer, an Oxford classmate. His first published cartoon was in the Saturday Evening Post. The cartoon caught the attention of the editor for a weekly called The Judge, a New York publication.
Dr. Seuss in mid-life
During the years that Ted worked for Standard Oil, he worked in the advertising department and had a special interest in the ‘Flit’ pesticide product that the company produced. At age thirty-eight, too old to be drafted, Ted enlisted in the Army and wound up in Frank Capra’s Signal Corps. It was in the Signal Corps that Seuss learned the art of animation. His animated films, designed to aid the war effort, employed rhymes. The key elements that would define Dr. Seuss were now set in stone.
His first children’s book was called And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. It was rejected twenty-seven times and eventually published by Vanguard Press. (Houghton Mifflin) It was Vanguard, in collaboration with Random House, who approached Ted about writing and illustrating a children’s book, making use of two hundred and twenty ‘new reader’ vocabulary words. This project resulted in a book called The Cat in the Hat. Dr. Seuss became something of a living legend at this point.
Animated features and word-count challenges
Helen Palmer died in 1967 and Ted married Audrey Stone Geisel. Besides Ted’s two marriages, he had some close friends. One of the closest was a publisher named Bennett Cerf. Cerf once bet Ted that he could not write a book using only 50 words or less. It was a challenge that Ted accepted and the result was Green Eggs and Ham.
Another friend who Ted met while in the Signal Corps was animator Chuck Jones. Jones peaked Ted’s interest in two animated features; Horton Hears a Who and the Grinch. They ended up working together on both projects.
Residents of La Jolla California know full well that one of their most famous residents was Dr. Seuss. Ted and his wife Helen moved there in 1948. They bought an old observation tower there and that is where Ted’s creativity resulted in so many classics. And why was he Dr. Seuss? Ted received seven honorary doctorate degrees including one from his alma mater; Dartmouth.
Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote forty-four books by the time he died in 1991. Those books survive as a collective treasure, loved by millions of kids and former kids.