Long before Dr. Seuss became a brand name, he was a real man that was also a talented artist, cartoonist and writer. Some of his earliest work was selling cartoons to Liberty and Life magazine. Because of his financial success with selling his cartoons, working for Judge magazine and the Standard Oil ad campaign the Geisel’s were able to take a trip aboard a luxury cruise liner the M.S. Kungsholm during the summer of 1936. It was aboard this ship that Dr. Seuss was hypnotized by the drone of the ships engine. In the biography The Life and Work of Theodor Geisel author Thomas Fensch says that “Geisel may not have known what he was hearing, but the rhythm was forceful, hypnotic” (Fensch) but it was because of the simple rhythm of this ship that all the children of the world were given the gift of Dr. Seuss and his particular way of making words easy to read because of the sing song style of his writing.
It was this simple drone that stayed with Geisel long after the trip was over, and that is what gave Dr. Seuss his style. He used an anapestic tetrameter. Geisel said this rhythm stayed with him long after he got off the cruise liner. To understand what I am talking about, an anapestic tetrameter is a poetic meter that has four anapestic metrical feet per line. Each foot has two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. An example that is given in The Life and Work of Theodor Geisel is “Twas the night before Christmas…” or “He flys through the air with the greatest of ease…” (Fensch). As soon as they got home Seuss started working on And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street which almost did not make it to publication.
Author Thomas Fensch tells us in The Life and Work of Theodor Geisel that as was the usual Dr. Seuss style he was going to create his own legend about what transpired in the process of getting And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street published . There are many variations on how this occurred but the general consensus seems to be that Geisel says he took the book to not one, or two publishers but that he took it to over twenty different publishers and was in “Manhattan one day with the manuscript under his arm” (Fensch) when he ran into an old friend from Dartmouth, who just been named as the children’s book editor at Vanguard Press, and he invited him up to his new office where he introduced him to both the President and staff editor of Vanguard Press. Because of this chance meeting Vanguard was going to publish And to think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Geisel felt that serendipity had played a large part in his getting this book published. But not everything in Geisel’s life was always serendipitous for him. One thing some people might not know about Dr. Seuss is that he was involved in making a huge Hollywood production.
In the book The Seuss The Whole Seuss And Nothing But The Seuss author Charles Cohen says that one of Geisel’s friends says that Geisel always wanted to be a success in the film industry, and it looked like he might get his chance when on April 27, 1951 Stanley Kramer brought the rights to a project of Geisel’s called The 5000 fingers of Dr. T, but it was to become one of the biggest regrets of his life and a huge disappointment to Geisel. Geisel did not have control over the production and he became so frustrated by the delays in the scripts and the fact that his vision was being changed that he announced his intention to withdraw from the project, but they were able to persuade him to stay. On one occasion during filming they had 150 young boy actors on set to film a scene and all the young stars had been fed hot dogs from the commissary. The boys must have gotten food poisoning because one after the other, in a domino fashion they started to vomit. Author Charles Cohen credits Geisel with saying that it was the “…greatest mass upchuck in the history of Hollywood” (Cohen) In January of 1953 the movie was released and the audience reaction to the movie was terrible. Charles Cohen says in his book that Seuss quipped that the critics reacted in much the same way that the upchucking young actors had. Author Thomas Fensch said in his book that it cost $2,750,000 to make this movie, and when it was previewed in Los Angeles patrons began walking out after 15 minutes. Fensch said that “…Geisel retreated to his La Jolla tower, never ever to trust or believe in Hollywood again.” (Fensch) It is ironic to note how many Dr. Seuss movies have been made in the last decade, certainly Hollywood did not give up on Dr. Seuss. Today Dr. Seuss has become a brand and is a multimillion dollar industry. But once upon a time there was a man named Theodor Seuss Geisel, who with his words and art touched the hearts of everyone, but especially children. He truly understood children and the way their minds and imagination worked, and because of him generations to come will learn to read and learn that sometimes it’s okay to let your imagination just run away with you.
Cohen, Charles D. The Seuss The Whole Seuss and Nothing But The Seuss. New York. Random House. 2004.
Fensch, Thomas. The Man Who Was Dr.Seuss. The Woodlands. New Century Books. 2000.