Dr. Seuss: 5 Fascinating Things to Know From Bavaria to Mulberry Street
Beloved author Theodor (Ted) Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss, would have turned 113 on March 2nd.
Here are 5 fascinating facts about Dr. Seuss I recently learned:
5. That's Zoice, If You Please
At age 19, I saved my salary as a library assistant for a grand plan. Finally, the day arrived—I left for an almost two-week tour of Germany and Austria with my aunt and uncle.
Outstanding in my memory now is our tour of the castles in Bavaria.
Because of that memory, it was fun to learn that Ted Geisel's family came from Bavaria. His mother's maiden name was Seuss, properly pronounced Zoice. It is also Ted's middle name.
He first signed his name as Seuss in his senior year at Dartmouth College, as he regularly published cartoons in the college's magazine. Not surprisingly, it was a publication for humor.
Americans pronounced Seuss as Soose, and that is how it is now pronounced whenever one of his books is opened to read aloud.
4. He Attended the University of Oxford
Portrait of Jonathan Swift by Charles Jervas
According to the website Seussville.com, Geisel planned to earn a Ph.D and make his living as a scholar of the satirist and clergyman Jonathan Swift (Gulliver's Travels).
However, along with some lecture notes, doodling filled quite a bit of Ted's notebooks. One day, his classmate and future wife, Helen, looked over his shoulder:
“You’re crazy to be a professor," she said. "What you really want to do is draw. That’s a very fine flying cow!”
Ted realized that Helen was right. He wanted to draw.
3. He Became Famous for Something Else First
While seeking to become a cartoonist, Ted had to look for other work to make his main living—using his creativity in the advertising game. It surprised me to learn from Seussville that he worked in advertising for 30 years.
His big break came in 1928 when he drew an ad campaign called "Quick, Henry, the Flit!" It was all about...well, insecticide.
The humorous cartoons might show a little boy's family beset by fanciful but alarming insects while eating outside. When the large insects threatened, the mother would exclaim to her husband, "Quick, Henry, the Flit!"
The phrase caught on, and people all over the United States would say the phrase as a joke, including on radio shows and even in a song.
The drawings Geisel did for the campaign gave a preview of the offbeat, whimsical but (mostly) friendlier creatures he would later create for his books.
2. Lou Rawls Did Not Sing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch"
As a child watching reruns of Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I somehow got it into my head that Lou Rawls sang the memorable songs for the show. Others thought it was narrator Boris Karloff or even Tennessee Ernie Ford.
I just learned that it is the marvelously-named Thurl Ravenscroft who sang all the songs. Ravenscroft's voice is also famous in the ads he did for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes...as Tony the Tiger:
By mistake, Ravenscroft was left off the closing credits of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. According to IMDB, Ted Geisel and fellow producer Chuck Jones ordered an ad that filled an entire page of Variety, giving credit to Ravenscroft and trying to correct the mistake.
And, I reminded myself that Lou Rawls sang the songs for the Garfield animated shows.
1. Arriving at Mulberry Street and Over 20 Rejections
And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street received, by one count, 29 rejections from publishers. Finally, as Ted walked down Madison Avenue one day, he decided to trash the manuscript.
On his way, he met a classmate from his younger days. The classmate, Mike McClintock, had only recently taken on the job of juvenile editor at Vanguard Press.
McClintock heard his friend's publishing woes there on the street, took the manuscript in hand and had it published in 1937.
In the 1930s, the standard books designed to help children learn to read were full of uninspiring, repeated words and stories that were hardly page-turners.
Dr. Seuss drew as no one else had ever drawn, and he wrote poetry that twirled, rolled and whirled as a child kept on turning the pages.
The books written by Dr. Seuss fired up the imagination of a new generation and gave a gift—the love of reading.
Linda Borromeo is the author of Mystery Shores, a book for children ages 10 and up. Set along the misty Pacific Northwest coast, the story is filled with animals, birds, a lighthouse and secrets that young sleuths Christie and Melina must solve.