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Geisel, Theodor

Theodor Geisel

Born: March 2, 1904
Springfield, Massachusetts
Died: September 24, 1991
La Jolla, California

American children's book author and illustrator

Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, wrote the popular children's books The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Horton Hatches the Egg, and many more. As Dr. Seuss, Geisel brought a whimsical touch and a colorful imagination to the world of children's books.

Childhood and early career

Theodor Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father owned a brewery until the onset of Prohibition, a time in the 1920s when buying and selling alcohol was made illegal. Geisel's father then took a job as superintendent of city parks, which included the local zoo. There, young Theodor spent many days drawing the animals and eventually developing his own unique style. Though Geisel would later gain fame because of his unique artistic style, he never once had an art lesson.

After graduating high school, Geisel went on to graduate from Dartmouth College in 1925, and later studied at the Lincoln College of Oxford University in England. After dropping out of Oxford, he traveled throughout Europe, mingling with émigrés (those living abroad) in Paris, including writer Ernest Hemingway (18991961). Eventually returning to New York, he spent fifteen years in advertising before joining the army and making two Oscar-winning documentaries, "Hitler Lives" and "Design for Death," which he made with his wife, Helen Parker Geisel. He would also win an Oscar for his animated cartoon "Gerald McBoing Boing"(1951). Also at this time Geisel began drawing and selling his cartoons to national magazines, including Vanity Fair and the Saturday Evening Post. Later he worked as an editorial cartoonist for PM newspaper in New York.

First books

Geisel began writing the verses of his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1936 during a rough sea passage. But success did not come easy for the young author, as Mulberry Street was rejected by twenty-nine different publishers before it was finally accepted. Published in 1937, the book won much praise, largely because of its unique drawings.

All of Geisel's books, in fact, feature crazy-looking creatures that are sometimes based on real animals, but which usually consist of such bizarre combinations of objects as a centipede and a horse and a camel with a feather duster on its head. Unlike many puppeteers and cartoonists who have capitalized on their creations by selling their most familiar images to big-time toy-makers, Dr. Seuss concentrated his efforts on creating interesting books.

In May 1954, after a string of successful books, Geisel published what would become his most famous book, The Cat in the Hat. Legend has it that The Cat in the Hat was created, in part, because of a bet Geisel made with a publisher who said he could not write a complete children's book with less than 250 words. The Cat in the Hat came in at 223 words. In 1960 Geisel published his second-most successful book, Green Eggs and Ham, which used only fifty words. In 1958, from the success of his children's books, Geisel founded Beginner Books, which eventually became part of Random House.

"Basically an educator"

Admired among fellow authors and editors for his honesty and hard work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, according to Ruth MacDonald in the Chicago Tribune, "perfected the art of telling great stories with a vocabulary as small as sometimes fifty-two or fifty-three words."

"[Geisel] was not only a master of word and rhyme and an original and eccentric artist," Gerald Harrison, president of Random House's merchandise division, declared in Publisher's Weekly, "but down deep, I think he was basically an educator. He helped teach kids that reading was a joy and not a chore. For those of us who worked with him, he taught us to strive for excellence in all the books we published."

Wrote for adults as well as children

Geisel's last two books spent several months on the bestseller lists and include themes that appealed to adults as well as children. "Finally I can say that I write not for kids but for people," he commented in the Los Angeles Times. Many of his readers were surprised to learn that Geisel had no children of his own, though he had stepchildren from his second marriage to Audrey Stone Dimond. To this fact he once said, "You make 'em, I amuse 'em," as quoted in the Chicago Tribune. According to the Los Angeles Times, the author also remarked, "I don't think spending your days surrounded by kids is necessary to write the kind of books I write. Once a writer starts talking down to kids, he's lost. Kids can pick up on that kind of thing."

Before Geisel, juvenile books were largely pastel, predictable, and dominated by a didactic tone (a sense that the books were intended to instruct). Though Dr. Seuss books sometimes included morals, they sounded less like behavioral guidelines and more like, "listen to your feelings" and "take care of the environment," universal ideas that would win over the hearts of youngsters from around the world. Geisel's 47 books were translated into 20 languages and have sold more than 200 million copies. Of the ten bestselling hardcover children's books of all time, four were written by Geisel: The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and Hop on Pop.

Theodor Geisel died September 24, 1991, in La Jolla, California. To children of all ages, Dr. Suess remains the most famous and influential name in children's literature.

For More Information

Dean, Tanya. Theodor Geisel. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2002.

Levine, Stuart P. Dr. Seuss. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2001.

Morgan, Judith, and Neil Morgan. Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996.

Weidt, Maryann N. Oh, the Places He Went: A Story about Dr. SeussTheodor Seuss Geisel. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 1994.

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Dr. Seuss (1904–1991)

Dr. Seuss (19041991)


The children's-book author Dr. Seuss was born Theodor Seuss Geisel on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He drew constantly as a child and always had an ear for meter, as well as a penchant for the absurd. Geisel had little interest in academics or athletics. He contributed cartoons, often signed with creative pseudonyms, to his high school newspaper. At Dartmouth College he spent most of his time working on the Jack-o-Lantern, a campus humor magazine. He became editor during his senior year, signing his contributions "Seuss" after school authorities penalized him for drinking bootleg gin. He studied English briefly at Oxford University, where he met Helen Palmer, who admired the cartoon sketches in his lecture notes. In 1927 the couple married and moved to New York, where they immersed themselves in the nighttime pleasures of Jazz Age New York, drinking, smoking, and going to parties. Geisel loved to play practical jokes and to put people on (especially anyone pompous). He had a childlike imagination but also harbored insecurities and vulnerabilities that made him intensely private. Geisel and his wife were unable to have children, a loss they felt strongly, but that also freed Geisel to behave childishly himself. Helen mothered Geisel; she drove the car, balanced the checkbook, paid the bills, and ministered to his domestic needs. They traveled frequently to such far-off locales as Peru. Geisel and Helen remained married until her death in 1967; in 1968 he married Audrey Stone, who survived him.

Geisel began his career as a cartoonist in 1927, primarily contributing drawings and writings to the humor magazine Judge, in addition to College Humor, Liberty, and Vanity Fair, and signing his work "Dr. Seuss." During the 1930s Geisel also created cartoon ads for Standard Oil Company. His bug-spray catchphrase, "Quick, Henry, the Flit!" became a popular saying. In 1937 he sold his first children's book, Andto Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, to Vanguard Books after twenty-seven publishers rejected the manuscript because it lacked a moral message. Mulberry Street established the Dr. Seuss template; it was written in verse and illustrated with comically exaggerated drawingsa marked contrast from the pretty pictures then typical to children's books. In the next few years Geisel published several more books, including the classic Horton Hatches the Egg (1940), before he joined Frank Capra's Signal Corps and devoted his artistry to the war effort.

After a brief postwar spell in Hollywood, Geisel and his wife moved to La Jolla, California, and he resumed writing children's books. A string of successes followed, including The Sneetches and Other Stories (1953), Horton Hears a Who! (1954), On Beyond Zebra! (1955), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957), and Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (1958). None could compete however with the enormous popularity of Geisel's breakthrough book, The Cat in the Hat (1957). Inspired by a challenge from his wartime friend William Spaulding, an editor at Houghton Mifflin, Geisel wrote his classic as a reading primer, using just over 200 words.

Propelled by the baby boom, The Cat in the Hat sold nearly one million copies by 1960 and seven times that figure by 2000. Its success instigated the Random House division Beginner Books, which published The Cat in the Hat ComesBack! (1958) and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960). Green Eggs and Ham (1960), which uses only fifty wordsall of them one syllable except for the word "anywhere"became his most popular work, selling over six million copies by 1996.

Over the following three decades, Geisel continued writing books for little children, big children, and adults. His bizarre humor, made-up words, and mellifluous rhymes attracted generations of readers, making him a celebrity. Some of his later books carried strong moral messages. The Lorax (1971) advocated conservation; The Butter Battle Book (1984) attacked the nuclear arms race. Even so, Geisel never departed from the basic formula for his success: amuse first, educate later. Geisel died in 1991 after a long battle with cancer.

See also: Children's Literature.

bibliography

Fensch, Thomas. 1997. Of Sneetches and Whos and the Good Dr. Seuss: Essays on the Writings and Life of Theodor Geisel. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Morgan, Judith, and Neil Morgan. 1995. Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: A Biography. New York: Random House.

Rachel Hope Cleves

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Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

Theodor Geisel (1904-1991), better known as Dr. Seuss, wrote the popular children's book The Cat in the Hat.

Theodor Geisel, better known to millions of children as Dr. Seuss, brought a whimsical touch and a colorful imagination to the world of children's books. Before Geisel, juvenile books were largely pastel, predictable, and dominated by a didactic tone. Though Dr. Seuss books sometimes included morals, they sounded less like behavioral guidelines and more like, "listen to your feelings" and "take care of the environment," universal ideas that would win over the hearts of youngsters from around the world; Geisel's 47 books were translated into 20 languages and have sold more than 200 million copies. Of the ten bestselling hardcover children's books of all time, four were written by Geisel: The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and Hop on Pop.

Wrote for Adults as well as Children

Geisel's last two books spent several months on the bestseller lists and include themes that appeal to adults as well as children. "Finally I can say that I write not for kids but for people," he commented in the Los Angeles Times. Many of his readers were surprised to learn that Geisel had no children of his own, though he had stepchildren from his second marriage to Audrey Stone Dimond; he once said, "You make 'em, I amuse 'em," as quoted in the Chicago Tribune. According to the Los Angeles Times, the author also remarked, "I don't think spending your days surrounded by kids is necessary to write the kind of books I write…. Once a writer starts talking down to kids, he's lost. Kids can pick up on that kind of thing."

Practiced Drawing at the Zoo

When he was a child, Geisel practiced sketching at the local zoo, where his father was superintendent. He went on to graduate from Dartmouth College in 1925 and subsequently studied at the Lincoln College of Oxford University. After dropping out of Oxford, he traveled throughout Europe, mingling with emigres in Paris, including writer Ernest Hemingway. Eventually returning to New York, he spent 15 years in advertising before joining the army and making two Oscar-winning documentaries, Hitler Lives and Design for Death.

Geisel began writing the verses of his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1936 during a rough sea passage. Published a year later, the book won much acclaim, largely because of its unique drawings. All of Geisel's books, in fact, feature crazy-looking creatures that are sometimes based on real animals, but usually consist of such bizarre combinations of objects as a centipede and a horse and a camel with a feather duster on its head. Unlike many puppeteers and cartoonists who have capitalized on their creations by selling their most familiar images to big-time toymakers, though, Dr. Seuss concentrated his efforts on creating captivating books.

"Basically an Educator"

Admired among fellow authors and editors for his honesty and hard work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, according to Ruth MacDonald in the Chicago Tribune, "perfected the art of telling great stories with a vocabulary as small as sometimes 52 or 53 words." "[Geisel] was not only a master of word and rhyme and an original and eccentric artist," declared Gerald Harrison, president of Random House's merchandise division, in Publisher's Weekly, "but down deep, I think he was basically an educator. He helped teach kids that reading was a joy and not a chore…. For those of us who worked with him, he taught us to strive for excellence in all the books we published."

Further Reading

See Chicago Tribune, 9/26/91; Entertainment Weekly, 10/11/91; Los Angeles Times, 9/26/91; People, 10/7/91; Publishers Weekly, 10/25/91; and the Times (London) 9/27/91. □

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Seuss, Dr.

Dr. Seuss, pseud. of Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904–91, American author and illustrator of children's books, b. Springfield, Mass. His books are known for their blend of whimsy, zany humor, catchy verse, and outlandish illustrations. His style is evidenced in such books as Horton Hears a Who (1954), The Cat in the Hat (1957), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), and Oh, the Places You'll Go! (1990). In 1986 he published You're Only Old Once, about growing old. Although some early critics objected to his carefree style and sometimes violent illustrations, his books are immensely popular.

See biographies by J. and N. Morgan (1995) and D. E. Pease (2010).

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Geisel, Theodor Seuss

Theodor Seuss Geisel: see Seuss, Dr.

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