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Dr. Seuss Essay
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2nd, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts.1 His parents were named Theodor Robert and Henrietta (Seuss) Geisel. His father, Theodor Robert, managed the family brewery and later supervised Springfield's public park system after the brewery closed due to Prohibition2 (Prohibition in the United States was a national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol, in place from 1919 to 1933).4 His mother sung poetry to him when he went to sleep, and Theodor credited this to his future success in poetry.3 Theodor Geisel lived on Fairfield Street, which was very close to a street named “Mulberry Street” which he made famous in his first children’s book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street!”.
Theodor attended Dartmouth College as a member of the Class of 1925.1 There he joined the “Sigma Phi Epsilon” fraternity and the humor magazine “Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern”. He eventually rose to the rank of editor-in-chief for the Dartmouth magazine. In Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern magazine, he published his first cartoon, for which he uses “Seuss” as his pseudonym.1 The reason for this pen-name was related to the fact that he was caught drinking gin with friends in the dorm; the headmaster banished him from participating in any more extracurricular activities, and in order to keep working for the Dartmouth magazine, Theodor had to adopt a phony pen-name.
After attending Dartmouth College, Theodor entered Lincoln College, Oxford, intending to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in English literature.2 There at Oxford he met his future wife Helen Palmer, whom he continued to marry in 1927. After that occasion, he returned to the United States without earning a degree.
After World War II, Theodor moved to La Jolla, California with his wife; but on October 23, 1967 his wife, Helen Palmer Geisel, committed suicide after being physically pained from a long struggle with illnesses including cancer, as well as emotional pain over her husband's affair with Audrey Stone Dimond. Theodor remarried to Audrey on June 21, 1968. Audrey is still in control of Theodor’s copyrights/permissions today.
Theodor Geisel never had any children even though he wrote children’s books for a living. He would say, when asked about this, "You have 'em; I'll entertain 'em."2 Geisel died at his home of throat cancer on September 24, 1991 at his home in La Jolla at the age of 87. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered.
Theodor’s pen-name (Dr. Seuss) is most-often pronounced wrong. It is actually of German ancestry, and pronounced “Soice” or “Zoice”, not “Sewss”. Its most common form of pronunciation is actually an anglicised version of his name. Theodor allowed this change to undergo due to the fact that it created a friendly children-related aura to his name (rhymes with Mother Goose).
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 (or Zoice)2
Professional or Vocational Information
Theodor Geisel’ 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.1 Geisel was encouraged in his writing by professor of rhetoric W. Benfield Pressey, whom he described as his "big inspiration for writing" at Dartmouth.2 After leaving Oxford without a degree, he began submitting humorous articles and illustrations to Judge, Life, Vanity Fair, and Liberty.2 At this point, Theodor had already begun to create political cartoons that created and defended his viewpoints on current news events ("Technocracy Number" made fun of the technocracy movement and featured satirical rhymes at the expense of Frederick Soddy.2). The July 16, 1927 issue of the The Saturday Evening Post published his first cartoon under the name Seuss.2 He became nationally famous in a way most people would not immediately assume; he created advertisements for a bug-repellent company named “Flit”. His slogan, "Quick, Henry, the Flit!" became a popular catchphrase.2 Through the Great Depression, Theodor supported him and his wife by drawing advertising for General Electric, NBC, Standard Oil, Narragansett Brewing Company and many other companies. In 1935, he wrote and drew a short-lived comic strip called Hejji.2
While returning from an ocean voyage to Europe in 1937, the rhythm of the ship’s engines inspired his first book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”; this book was rejected 27 times before finally being accepted and published by Vanguard Press. Theodor wrote three more children’s books before the US entered World War II, one of which included “Horton Hatches the Egg”.
Another strange bit of occupational information about Theodor Geisel was that he gained a significant public profile through a program for motor boat lubricants produced by Standard Oil under the brand name Essomarine.2 In 1934 he made a 30-page booklet that could be available through mail-order, named “Secrets of the Deep”. He designed sets for the project, including a flag to be used by the marines, designed monologues, created sculptures, etc. This project finally ended for him in 1941, his final contribution being the mermaid Essie Neptune and her pet whale.2
As World War II approached, Theodor's focus shifted, and he began contributing weekly political cartoons to PM magazine, a liberal publication.3 First, he worked drawing posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board.2 He was too old to be drafted into the army, but Theodor still wanted to participate in the army. He joined the Frank Capra's Signal Corps (U.S. Army) and worked to make animated movies for the troops. These were training films, in which he used the trainee character Private Snafu.
Theodor expressed his political viewpoints/perspectives through comics he illustrated for the New York City daily newspaper, PM. He was a strong supporter of Roosevelt’s methods towards the war, and was actually quite insulting towards people that disagreed with such methods. 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.2 In these such cartoons, it can be noticed that Theodor could be considered a racist man, but at the same time, attempted to convince people not to be racist as it was a waste of time and pointless/distracting. In conclusion on that topic, perhaps Theodor was more racist towards Japanese people specifically, and was joining in on the general anger towards them for previous war efforts.
While in the Army, he was awarded the Legion of Merit.2 “Our job in Japan”, one of the training films he worked on, 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.2 Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950) was based on an original story by Dr. Seuss and won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film.
While Theodor was continuing to contribute to Life, Vanity Fair, Judge and other magazines, Viking Press offered him a contract to illustrate a collection of children's sayings called Boners.3 The book was not a commercial success, but the illustrations in it done by Theodor were highly appreciated, and it could be considered his “big break” into children’s literature.
After Theodor moved to California (after the war was over and done with), he returned to writing children’s books once again. He wrote many works, including such favorites as If I Ran the Zoo, (1950), Horton Hears a Who! (1955), If I Ran the Circus (1956), The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) and Green Eggs and Ham (1960).2
Although Theodor won many awards in his lifetime, he never succeeded in winning 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)2). He also wrote a musical/fantasy named “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T” (released in 1953), which was both a critical and financial failure. In those 1950’s he also wrote and published (mostly to a magazine named “Redbook”) a number of short stories. Some of these short stories have been republished since, and some have never been put to print again since their original publication.
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.2 William Ellsworth Spaulding, the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin, created a list of 348 words he felt were important for first-graders to recognize. He then went to Theodor and asked him to cut the list down to 250 words and write a book using only the words in the list. Spaulding challenged Geisel to "bring back a book children can't put down."2 Theodor took the list, shrunk it down to exactly 236 words, and created one of his most famous books: “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.2 The Cat in the Hat and other subsequent children’s books are still world-widely read and are very popular/successful even today.
Apparently the Beginner Books that were simpler for children to read gave Theodor much more difficulty to create, and sometimes resulted in months of work from him. Because of this, Theodor ended up writing more complex books more often, while occasionally still creating the children’s books that troubled him so.
On December 1, 1995, four years after his death, University of California, San Diego'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.2
In 2002, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden was opened on his birthplace in his memory. The garden featured sculptures of Theodor and many of his characters. On May 28, 2008, Arnold Schwarzenegger (the governor of California at the time) and First Lady Maria Shriver announced that would be inducted into the California Hall of Fame.2 Even Google changed its image for Theodor on his birthday to honor the memory 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.2 At the time of his death, Theodor had written and illustrated 44 children's books, including such all-time favorites as Green Eggs and Ham, Oh, the Places You'll Go, Fox in Socks, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. His books had been translated into more than 15 languages. Over 200 million copies had found their way into homes and hearts around the world.3
Besides the books, his works have provided the source for eleven children's television specials, a Broadway musical and a feature-length motion picture. Other major motion pictures are on the way.
Theodor’s works have provided sources for eleven children’s television specials, Broadway musicals and feature-length motion pictures. One of his early works “The Lorax” has just been released into theaters as a feature-length animation now.
As a writer of poetry, short stories, attempted novels, scripts, etcetera, I can relate and provide opinions towards much of Theodor’s work/life. I believe his work was most certainly not overrated, nor do I believe that his work was taken for granted (although I think awards such as the Caldecott Medal or the Newbery Medal should have had more consideration for his works. I believe the only reason he didn’t win either award was that they didn’t give out awards for such out-of-the-box work like is, it was too undefined/unusual, and proper credit wasn’t given).
Theodor’s work is easy for me to look up to; it created imagery in children’s minds that was very new and undefined, and developed creativity/interest/intelligence in young boys and girls who would otherwise be bored with reading and writing. He has used some of the same poetic methods as I have, and enjoys writing just as much as me.
While researching Theodor, I learned about these relations I could make to my own writing, as well as some other things about his work such as the fact that he used his cartoons to express his opinion on the war and on politics. All of these bits of information combined led me to realize that Theodor had a quite interesting personality as well.
In my opinion, Theodor was a straight-forward man, not afraid of what people would think of him and simply pointed out the “facts” (these facts were as he saw it). This resulted in him being quite informative and strong in his perspectives, but also sometimes showed a bit of racism and other forms of discrimination. For example, he used many harsh words against the Japanese in his days, such as suggesting that we “can’t bother reasoning with them, we need to just kill them before they kill us” and other similar broadcasts. Later, in the form of his stories and cartoons, he did apologize for such opinionated rants, but the personality quirk still lay with him. Theodor was also generally rude and insulting towards people who opposed his political/war-planning opinions; he displayed these opinions through his cartoons and sometimes stories.
There is also the fact that Theodor had an affair with an “old friend” while still with his first wife. His first wife committed suicide while in grief from this fact (and as a result from her battle with sickness). Theodor then proceeded to remarry with the woman he had an affair with the very year after…
My personal opinion of Theodor could be wisely summarized by stating “I enjoy and admire his works, but I do not look up to him as a person”. This doesn’t mean that I believe Theodor to be a “bad person”, as he did seem to be generally good-hearted and participated in things that helped the world (war training films, children literacy programs, etc.), but I simply don’t find him as a person to be a hero to me after completing all my research on “Dr. Seuss”. ?
*Bibliography sources are referenced to in essay through the use of superscript numbers that direct to this page (a.k.a. endnotes). These numbers can be referenced to the ones found above and to the left of the source they connect to.