Friday, December 4, 2009

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.

Work Cited:
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.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Theodor Seuss Geisel graduated from Central High School in 1921 and went to Dartmouth College, and he struggled in his studies in literature, but he enjoyed his time working on the school’s comic magazine the Jack-O-Lantern. In the online Scribner Encyclopedia it is reported that his easiest class was German because it was widely spoken in Springfield, his hometown, before World War I, so it was a class that he could be proficient in. In his senior year of college he was stripped of his editorship at the Jack-O-Lantern because of being caught drinking bootleg gin with his friends on Easter weekend. But he continued to make contributions to the magazine and it is reported that because he had to do this anonymously he started using only his middle name Seuss. Maybe this was where Dr. Seuss was born?

During the summer months Theodor Geisel boasted to his father that he had won a scholarship to Oxford and his father went and “made a proud announcement in the Springfield newspaper” (Scribner) but the truth was that he had only applied, not won a scholarship, so because of making the big announcement his father agreed to help pay for his tuition. But Geisel was still not ready for serious studying, in fact he ultimately failed to earn his doctorate, but he did meet Helen Marion Palmer, who after watching him doodle in his Chaucer notebook blurted out that “You’re crazy to try to be a professor. What you really want to do is draw!” (Scribner) Helen Marion Palmer and Theodor Seuss Geisel were married in New Jersey in 1927, and in his biography it says “she remained his booster, editor, prod, and shield until her suicide in La Jolla, California, in October 1967” (Scribner) But this was only the beginning of the story for the Geisel’s and it was going to be an adventure.

The couples early years were spent in New York City where Geisel “worked for a number of years as a freelance magazine cartoonist” (Contemporary) and it was in this way he began doing work for Judge Magazine and where he first used his pseudonym Dr Seuss. Per Gale Thomson’s biography you can find many of these pieces in a collection called “The Tough Coughs As he Ploughs the Dough” (Contemporary). One of Geisel’s early cartoons featured the character “Flit” who was The Standard Oil Company’s moniker for their spray can pesticide, they liked his artwork so much they hired him and for the next fifteen years he created many of their ads. Since this was before air conditioning having bug spray was important in American households. By 1929 he had done enough of the ads that the Standard Oil Company released a collection of them, it was the first publication of a collection of exclusive “Seuss” material. (Cohen) In some ways without this commercial advertising we might not have had a Dr. Seuss. All in all he created more than 125 of the Flit ads for Standard Oil. The financial security that the Standard Oil Company provided to Geisel meant that he was able to devote more time to the business of making children’s books and his secret art.
Work Cited
"Dr. Seuss."The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 3: 1991-1993. Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.

Cohen, Charles D. The Seuss The Whole Seuss and Nothing But The Seuss. New York. Random House. 2004.

Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The True Geisel Family History

The history of Theodor Geisel or Dr. Seuss as he is more famously known is not unlike his art, an unexpected trip down a path that is not always linear, but full of unexpected twists and turns. The two biographies used to do research for this blog on Dr. Seuss contradict each other. In “The Seuss the whole Seuss and nothing but the Seuss” the author Charles D. Cohen tells the audience that Dr. Seuss’s great-great-great-grandparents married in Germany and then immigrated to America. (12) But in “The life and Work of Theodor Geisel” by Thomas Fensch it says the grandparents, both German immigrants, met and married in Springfield Massachusetts. (26) It may seem irrelevant and yet I think it is completely relevant and even telling to find out that even the biography’s of Theodor Seuss Geisel are contradictory. In all of the interviews that I have read in my search to know Dr. Seuss better, I have noticed a tendency by him to never give a straight answer when asked about his inspiration. He was asked repeatedly how he came up with the idea for “Horton Hears a Who”, and he never gave the same story twice. He would give a slightly different variation. Dr. Seuss loved to make up fake names and stories to lead the journalist down a road of his own imagination. It is fitting to find out that this complicated man would not allow a boring biography. He was not going to just give you a straight answer. And you cannot take anything you read at first glance for fact. You have to dig deeper, and take all the facts, lay them out and try to make a linear story. Even posthumously Dr. Seuss is making his audience use their imagination to find the truth.

To really know the man Theodor Seuss Geisel it helps to look at the history of the Geisel family. The story is an interesting one that can be traced all the way back to Germany in the 1600’s. The author of the book “The Seuss the whole Seuss and nothing but the Seuss”, Charles Cohen, says that Geisel’s distant grandparents came from the German territory of Baden, along the Enz River, in the town of Mülhausen. Joseph Geissel married Catharina Loth in 1650. Three generations later in Mülhausen, Gebhard Geisel decided to drop an “s” from his last name, and so the Geisel family had a new name. Shortly thereafter Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss’s paternal grandfather) married Christine Schmaelze and brought the Geisel family name from Germany to America. In 1876 Dr. Seuss’s grandfather made a career change, he had been a jeweler, but he and another man, an apprentice brewer named Christian Kalmbach purchased a brewing plant along Boston Road in Springfield, Massachusetts. The plant had a 1000-barrel-per year capacity; by 1884 the brewery had a capacity of 40,000 barrels per year. (12-13) The name of the brewery was the Kalmbach & Geisel Springfield Brewery Company. Per the author of the book “The Life and Work of Theodor Geisel” the brewery was known as the comeback and guzzle around town. (33) Geisel’s father had been working his way up the family business for 35 years, and was made the president of the entire company in January of 1920, but “Unfortunately, Prohibition began almost immediately afterward when, on January 16, 1920, the 18th Amendment became effective, prohibiting the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors”(15). The Geisel family would have to find a new way to live. But prohibition was only one obstacle of many that the Geisel family would have to overcome in the coming century. The history of Geisel family shaped the man that would become the future Dr. Seuss.

Work Cited:

Cohen, Charles D. The Seuss The Whole Seuss and Nothing But The Seuss. New York. RandomHouse. 2004.
Fensch, Thomas. The Man Who Was Dr.Seuss. The Woodlands. New Century Books. 2000.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Beginning

Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904 to parent’s of German descent and grew up in Springfield Massachusetts. His childhood seems like the all American dream. Theodor Geisel went to high school in Springfield, and Myra Kibler says in her critical essay entitled “Theodor Seuss Geisel” that Geisel was told by his art teacher that “he would never learn to draw realistically, and whether due to inability or refusal, he never has.”(Kibler) Geisel went to Dartmouth, and became the editor of the humor magazine “Jack-o-Lantern” and he also contributed hundreds of cartoons in his usual bizarre style. After his graduation from Dartmouth author Kibler says that Geisel continued a “happy relationship” with them, and they awarded him with an actual “honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.” (Kibler) Dr. Seuss really was a doctor!

Theodor Geisel’s intention had been to become an English Professor but he was frustrated, and a fellow student told him after seeing him doodle in class that he should follow his real talent. This student turned out to be his future wife Helen Palmer. Theodor Geisel and Helen Palmer were united in marriage on November 29, 1927. They were married until Helen died in 1967. She was his chief advisor and manager. A year after Helen’s death he married Audrey Stone Dimond. (Kibler)

Before Theodor Seuss Geisel was an illustrator and writer of children’s books he was a “successful advertising artist and--for just under two years--a political cartoonist. (Nel) “In 1940 Dr. Seuss was best known for his “Quick Henry, the Flit!” advertising campaign” he was just beginning his career as a children’s book writer. Up till this time he had only done four children’s books. Geisel had serious concerns about the world war and was worried that because we were being drawn into the conflict, we were in a position of “isolationism” (Nel) and that America was vulnerable to attack, because of his frustration he sent a cartoon that he drew featuring a key member of the Mussolini cabinet to the “independent New York newspaper PM” (Nel). They ran the cartoon and the accompanying letter on January 30, 1941.
“During the war, and especially during his stint as
a cartoonist for the left-leaning daily paper PM, Seuss not only grew more
interested in social issues but also wanted to make his readers care about these
issues, too.” (Nel)

Dr. Seuss taught the children of America to read, but as Theodor Seuss Geisel he wanted to reach their parents and make them think about what was going on in their country and their world. He was an accomplished artist, who used his unique talents to touch so many American lives.

Kibler, Myra. "Theodor Seuss Geisel." American Writers for Children Since 1960: Poets, Illustrators, and Nonfiction Authors. Ed. Glenn E. Estes. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 61. Detroit: Gale Research, 1987. Literature Resource Center. Gale. Tarrant County College. 12 Nov. 2009. .

Nel, Philip. "'Said a Bird in the Midst of a Blitz...': How World War II Created Dr. Seuss." Mosaic (Winnipeg). 34.2 (June 2001): p65. Literature Resource Center. Gale. Tarrant County College. 12 Nov. 2009 .

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I love books!

I learned to read when I was only three years old. My great grandmother taught me to read using Dr. Seuss books. I lived with my great grandparents from the time I was born until I was seven years old. My great grandparents were both in their late sixties by the time I was born and my great grandfather worked a full time job in a rubber factory and my great grandmother had severe debilitating lupus. Taking care of a wild and rambunctious three year old was exhausting for her, but my great grandmother loved me dearly and wanted to make me happy so she looked for things that she and I could do together that were not physically hard on her. One thing that she could do for me was read. Since going to the library was out of the question she signed me up for the Dr. Seuss book of the month club. I got so excited when a new book came in the mail! I made her read the books to me over and over. I would beg and plead with her to “please read to me”. Because of the repetitious reading I memorized the words in the book, and that is how I learned to “read”. Of course at the age of three I was not reading, I was simply using the sing song style of the book in order to memorize the words. My great grandmother was so proud of me, and she would bore anyone who came to our door with her amazing “reading” grandchild. I went to live with my young single mother when I was seven years old and life was not easy for either of us. My mom could barely take care of herself much less a small needy child. Because of this I had a very lonely childhood. My mom worked full time and I was the strange kid in class, so I didn’t have a lot of playmates. My love of books helped me to survive an almost unimaginably lonely childhood. I was never lonely because I always had a book to keep my company. I got to have exciting adventures with Huck Finn and later I would scare myself with Stephen King, but I was never alone. I got to know the librarians personally at every grade school that I ever attended. And in middle school I worked as an assistant to the librarian. My great grandmother died when I was only twenty two years old, and I still miss her every single day, but she gave me the best gift any one has ever given me, a lifelong love of books. The illiteracy rates in this country are staggering. To imagine that a life could be changed with just simple children’s book is an amazing thing. Because of my great grandmother and Dr. Seuss a whole world of opportunities were opened up to me. Reading can change lives, and I am proof of that.