Dr. Seuss

With the news today that, Deskarati favourite, Johnny Depp is considering playing Geisel in a new biopic, we thought you might want to know a little more about the man known all over the world as Dr. Seuss. – Deskarati –

Theodor Seuss Geisel (March 2, 1904 – September 24, 1991) was an American writer, poet, and cartoonist most widely known for his children’s books written under the pen names Dr. Seuss, Theo LeSieg and, in one case, Rosetta Stone.

He published 46 children’s books, which were often characterized by imaginative characters, rhyme, and frequent use of trisyllabic meter. His most celebrated books include the bestselling Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton Hears a Who!, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. Numerous adaptations of his work have been created, including 11 television specials, four feature films, a Broadway musical and four television series. He won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958 for Horton Hatches the Egg and again in 1961 for And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

Geisel also worked as an illustrator for advertising campaigns, most notably for Flit and Standard Oil, and as a political cartoonist for PM, a New York City newspaper. During World War II, he worked in an animation department of the U.S Army, where he wrote Design for Death, a film that later won the 1947 Academy Award for Documentary Feature.

Geisel’s birthday, March 2, has been adopted as the annual date for National Read Across America Day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association.

Life and career

Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Theodor Robert and Henrietta (Seuss) Geisel. His father, the son of German immigrant parents, managed the family brewery and later supervised (1931–1960) Springfield’s public park system. Mulberry Street in Springfield, made famous in Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street! is less than a mile southwest of his boyhood home on Fairfield Street.

College

Geisel attended Springfield’s Classical High School, and entered Dartmouth College in fall 1921 as a member of the Class of 1925. At Dartmouth, he joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and the humor magazineDartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, eventually rising to the rank of editor-in-chief.

While at Dartmouth, Geisel was caught drinking gin with nine friends in his room. As a result, Dean Craven Laycock insisted that he resign from all extracurricular activities, including the college humor magazine. To continue work on the Jack-O-Lantern without the administration’s knowledge, Geisel began signing his work with the pen name”Seuss”. His first work signed as “Dr. Seuss” appeared after he graduated, six months into his work for The Judge where his weekly feature Birdsies and Beasties appeared. Geisel was encouraged in his writing by professor of rhetoric W. Benfield Pressey, whom he described as his “big inspiration for writing” at Dartmouth.

After Dartmouth, he entered Lincoln College, Oxford, intending to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in English literature. At Oxford, he met his future wife, Helen Palmer; he married her in 1927, and returned to the United States without earning a degree.

Earliest post-college publications

He began submitting humorous articles and illustrations to Judge, Life, Vanity Fair, and Liberty. One notable “Technocracy Number” made fun of the technocracy movement and featured satirical rhymes at the expense of Frederick Soddy. The July 16, 1927 issue of the The Saturday Evening Post published his first cartoon under the name Seuss. He became nationally famous from his advertisements for Flit, a common insecticide at the time. His slogan, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” became a popular catchphrase. Geisel supported himself and his wife through the Great Depression by drawing advertising forGeneral Electric, NBC, Standard Oil, and many other companies. In 1935, he wrote and drew a short-lived comic strip called Hejji.

In 1937, while Geisel was returning from an ocean voyage to Europe, the rhythm of the ship’s engines inspired the poem that became his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street!. It was rejected 27 times (numbers will vary). Geisel wrote three more children’s books before World War II,Including Horton Hatches the Egg in 1940, two of which are, atypically for him, in prose.

World War II-era work

As World War II began, Geisel turned to political cartoons, drawing over 400 in two years as editorial cartoonist for the left-leaning New York City daily newspaper, PM. Geisel’s political cartoons, later published in Dr. Seuss Goes to War, denounced Hitler and Mussolini and were highly critical of non-interventionists (“isolationists”), most notably Charles Lindbergh, who opposed US entry into the war. One cartoon depicted all Japanese Americans as latent traitors or fifth-columnists, while at the same time other cartoons deplored the racism at home against Jews and blacks that harmed the war effort. His cartoons were strongly supportive of President Roosevelt’s handling of the war, combining the usual exhortations to ration and contribute to the war effort with frequent attacks on Congress (especially the Republican Party), parts of the press (such as the New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune and Washington Times-Herald), and others for criticism of Roosevelt, criticism of aid to the Soviet Union, investigation of suspected Communists, and other offenses that he depicted as leading to disunity and helping the Nazis, intentionally or inadvertently.

In 1942, Geisel turned his energies to direct support of the U.S. war effort. First, he worked drawing posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. Then, in 1943, he joined the Army and was commander of the Animation Dept of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces, where he wrote films that included Your Job in Germany, a 1945 propaganda film about peace in Europe after World War II, Our Job in Japan, and the Private Snafu series of adult army training films. While in the Army, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. Our Job in Japan became the basis for the commercially released film, Design for Death (1947), a study of Japanese culture that won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950), which was based on an original story by Seuss, won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film.

Later years

After the war, Geisel and his wife moved to La Jolla, California. Returning to children’s books, he wrote many works, including such favorites as If I Ran the Zoo, (1950), Horton Hears a Who! (1954), If I Ran the Circus (1956), The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) and Green Eggs and Ham(1960). Although he received numerous awards throughout his career, Geisel won neither the Caldecott Medal nor the Newbery Medal. Three of his titles from this period were, however, chosen as Caldecott runners-up (now referred to as Caldecott Honor books): McElligot’s Pool (1937), Bartholomew and the Oobleck(1939), and If I Ran the Zoo (1950). Dr Seuss also wrote the musical and fantasy film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, which was released in 1953. The movie was a critical and financial failure, and Geisel never attempted another feature film. During the 1950s he also published a number of illustrated short stories, mostly in RedBook Magazine. Some of these were later collected (in volumes such as The Sneetches and Other Stories or reworked into independent books (If I Ran the Zoo). A number have never been reprinted since their original appearances.

In May 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children, which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. Accordingly, William Ellsworth Spaulding, the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin who later became its Chairman, compiled a list of 348 words he felt were important for first-graders to recognize and asked Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and write a book using only those words. Spaulding challenged Geisel to “bring back a book children can’t put down.” [23] Nine months later, Geisel, using 236 of the words given to him, completed The Cat in the Hat. It was described as a tour de force by some reviewers—it retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Geisel’s earlier works, but because of its simplified vocabulary could be read by beginning readers. The Cat in the Hat and subsequent books written for young children achieved significant international success and they remain very popular today. In 2009 Green Eggs and Ham sold 540,366 copies, The Cat in the Hatsold 452,258 copies, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960) sold 409,068 copies—outselling the majority of newly published children’s books.

Geisel went on to write many other children’s books, both in his new simplified-vocabulary manner (sold as Beginner Books) and in his older, more elaborate style. The Beginner Books were not easy for Geisel and reportedly took him months to complete.

On October 23, 1967, suffering from a long struggle with illnesses including cancer, as well as emotional pain over her husband’s affair with Audrey Stone Dimond, Geisel’s wife, Helen Palmer Geisel, committed suicide. Geisel married Dimond on June 21, 1968. Though he devoted most of his life to writing children’s books, Geisel had no children of his own. He would say, when asked about this, “You have ’em; I’ll entertain ’em.”

Death and posthumous honors

Geisel died of throat cancer on September 24, 1991, after several years of poor health, in San Diego, California. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered. On December 1, 1995, four years after his death, UCSD’s University Library Building was renamed Geisel Library in honor of Geisel and Audrey for the generous contributions they made to the library and their devotion to improving literacy.

While living in La Jolla, the United States Postal Service and others frequently confused Geisel with another La Jolla resident, Dr. Hans Suess. Their names have been linked together posthumously: the personal papers of Hans Suess are housed in the Geisel Library at UC San Diego.

In 2002, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden opened in his birthplace of Springfield, Massachusetts; it features sculptures of Geisel and of many of his characters. On May 28, 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver announced that Geisel would be inducted into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts. The induction ceremony took place December 15 and his widow Audrey accepted the honor in his place. On March 2, 2009, the web search engine Google temporarily changed its logo to commemorate Geisel’s birthday (a practice it often follows for various holidays and events). At his alma mater, Dartmouth, where over 90% of incoming first-year students participate in pre-registration Dartmouth Outing Club trips into the New Hampshire wilderness, it is traditional for students returning from the trips to overnight at Dartmouth’sMoosilauke Ravine Lodge, where they are served green eggs and ham for breakfast in honor of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss’s honors include two Academy awards, two Emmy awards, a Peabody award, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, and the Pulitzer Prize.

Pen names and pronunciations

Geisel’s pen name is regularly pronounced sewss, an anglicized pronunciation inconsistent with his German surname. He himself noted that it rhymed with “voice” and Alexander Liang (his collaborator on the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern) wrote of him:

You’re wrong as the deuce
And you shouldn’t rejoice
If you’re calling him Seuss.
He pronounces it Soice.

Geisel switched to the anglicized pronunciation because it “evoked a figure advantageous for an author of children’s books to be associated with—Mother Goose” and because most people used this pronunciation.

For books that Geisel wrote and others illustrated, he used the pen name “Theo LeSieg” (“LeSieg” is “Geisel” spelled backward).

Via Dr Seuss

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