Who Was Dr. Seuss?
Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known by his pen name Dr. Seuss, was a writer and cartoonist who published over 60 books. He published his first children's book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, under the name of Dr. Seuss in 1937.
Next came a string of bestsellers, including The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. His rhymes and characters are beloved by generations of fans.
Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father, Theodor Robert Geisel, was a successful brewmaster; his mother was Henrietta Seuss Geisel.
At age 18, Geisel left home to attend Dartmouth College, where he became the editor in chief of its humor magazine, Jack-O-Lantern. When Geisel and his friends were caught drinking in his dorm room one night, in violation of Prohibition law, he was kicked off the magazine staff, but continued to contribute to it using the pseudonym "Seuss."
After graduating from Dartmouth, Geisel attended the University of Oxford in England, with plans to eventually become a professor. In 1927, he dropped out of Oxford.
Early Career as a Cartoonist
Upon returning to America, Geisel decided to pursue cartooning full-time. His articles and illustrations were published in numerous magazines, including LIFE and Vanity Fair. A cartoon that he published in the July 1927 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, his first using the pen name "Seuss," landed him a staff position at the New York weekly Judge.
Geisel next worked for Standard Oil in the advertising department, where he spent the next 15 years. His ad for Flit, a popular insecticide, became nationally famous.
Around this time, Viking Press offered Geisel a contract to illustrate a children's collection called Boners. The book sold poorly, but it gave him a break into children's literature.
At the start of World War II, Geisel began contributing weekly political cartoons to the liberal publication PM Magazine. In 1942, too old for the World War II draft, Geisel served with Frank Capra's Signal Corps, making animated training films and drawing propaganda posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board.
Following the war, Geisel and Helen purchased an old observation tower in La Jolla, California, where he would write for at least eight hours a day, taking breaks to tend his garden.
Over the following five decades, Geisel would write many books, both in a new, simplified vocabulary style and using his older, more elaborate technique.
Over the course of his career, Geisel published more than 60 books. Some of his more well-known works include:
Dr. Seuss’ First Book
His first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected 27 times before it was finally published by Vanguard Press in 1937.
'Horton Hears a Who!' (1954)
In 1954, Geisel published this comic classic, which teaches kindness and perseverance from Horton the elephant, features the famous line “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
'The Cat in the Hat' (1957)
A major turning point in Geisel's career came when, in response to a 1954 LIFE magazine article that criticized children's reading levels, Houghton Mifflin and Random House asked him to write a children's primer using 220 vocabulary words.
The resulting book, The Cat in the Hat, was published in 1957 and was described by one critic as a "tour de force." The success of The Cat in the Hat cemented Geisel's place in children's literature.
'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' (1957)
“Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot . . . but the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!” For 53 years, the Grinch has lived in a cave on the side of the mountain. This tale, where citizens of Who-ville warm the Grinch to the spirit of Christmas, encourages young readers to do their own good deeds.
The book was successful in the 1950s and 1960s but became an instant holiday classic when it was released in 1966 as a made-for-TV cartoon special featuring the voice of Boris Karloff.
'Green Eggs and Ham' (1960)
“Do you like green eggs and ham?” Readers follow Sam-I-Am as he adds (and adds) to the list of places to enjoy green eggs and ham and the friends to enjoy them with. The book is written for early readers, with simple words, rhymes and lots of illustrations.
'One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish' (1960)
"Did you ever fly a kite in bed? Did you ever walk with ten cats on your head?" Another of Geisel's simple rhyming plots about a boy and a girl and their adventures with their colorful cast of friends and pets, like Gox to the winking Yink who drinks pink ink.”
'Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book!' (1963)
The littlest readers learn their ABCs, from Aunt Annie's Alligator to a Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz with playful, nonsensical illustrations and text.
'Fox in Socks' (1965)
In this silly book, Fox in Socks teaches Knox in a box hilarious tongue-twisters that are best read aloud, like “Socks on chicks and chicks on fox. Fox on clocks on bricks and blocks. Bricks and blocks on Knox on box.”
'The Lorax' (1971)
"UNLESS someone like you...cares a whole awful lot...nothing is going to get better...It's not." In this book, Geisel warns of the dangers of mistreating the environment before environmentalism was a trend. The cautionary tale teaches young readers about the beauty of the natural world and their duty to protect it.
'Oh, the Places You’ll Go!' (1990)
Published in 1990, the year before Geisel's death, this book is the classic sendoff for kids of all ages, from kindergarteners to college students. Dr. Seuss teaches readers that success is within you, illustrating life’s inevitable highs and lows.
Other books by Geisel include If I Ran the Zoo (1950), winner of the Caldecott Honor, and Hop on Pop (1963). Dr. Seuss was also an editor of P.D. Eastman’s classic, Are You My Mother? (1960), which was part of his Beginner Books series.
Several of Geisel's books have been transformed into full-length feature animated films, both during his lifetime and posthumously.
In 1966, with the help of eminent cartoonist Chuck Jones, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas was adapted into an animated film made for TV. The book was adapted again in 2000 as a full-length animated feature by director Ron Howard, with Jim Carrey voicing the Grinch, Jeffrey Tambour as Mayor Augustus Maywho and Molly Shannon as Betty Lou Who.
Geisel won numerous awards for his work, including the 1984 Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award, three Emmys and three Grammys.
While studying at Oxford, Geisel met his future wife, Helen Palmer. The couple married in 1927 and moved back to the United States the same year.
In October 1967, Palmer, who was suffering from both cancer and the emotional pain caused by an affair Geisel had with their longtime friend Audrey Stone Dimond, committed suicide.
Geisel married Dimond, a film producer, the following year. Dimond is known for her work on the films The Lorax (2012), Horton Hears a Who! (2008) and Daisy-Head Mayzie (1995).
Geisel never had any children of his own.
Death and Legacy
Geisel died on September 24, 1991, at the age of 87, in La Jolla, California.
In 1997, the Art of Dr. Seuss collection was launched. Today, limited-edition prints and sculptures of Geisel's artworks can be found at galleries alongside the works of Rembrandt, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. Sixteen of his books are on Publishers Weekly's list of the "100 Top-Selling Hardcover Children's Books of All-Time."
In 2015, Random House Children’s Books posthumously published a new Dr. Seuss book, titled What Pet Should I Get?, after the manuscript and sketches were found by the author’s widow in the couple’s home.
In 2021, it was announced that six Dr. Seuss books – And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer – would stop being published because of insensitive imagery that "portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong."
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