Dr Suesss on the loose

The master of quirky rhymes and fantastic illustrations lives on.  

It's 75 years since Dr Seuss published his first book and since then a whopping 600 million copies have been sold worldwide - not bad for a guy voted least likely to succeed at his college in New Hampshire.

Dr Seuss (pronounced "zoice") was born Theodore Seuss Geisel and displayed his quirky, maverick personality early. An art school drop-out, he was caught drinking illegally at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and later at Oxford University he dropped out of his literature studies to become a cartoonist.

Issue 17Suess1His first book under the name of Dr Seuss, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, was repeatedly rejected by publishers. The exact number of rejection letters is unclear as Ted Geisel liked to embellish the truth and the versions of his back story were many and varied.

"You never got a straight answer out of him," says Susan Brandt, president of Dr Seuss Enterprises. "He was kind of a goofball."

But while Dr Seuss towers like a giant in the world of children's literature he was actually a very shy man, particularly if he had to face a room full of children. Ted, who had no kids of his own, felt intimidated, afraid he would disappoint them by his ordinariness.

But within his inner circle he liked to act up, playing practical jokes on his friends and throwing famous dinner parties where guests had to each wear a different hat.

He loved hats and, according to the folklore, identified strongly with the Cat in the Hat. His editor Michael Frith once said, "The Cat in the Hat and Ted Geisel were the same. This is someone who delighted in the chaos of life, who delighted in the seeming insanity of the world around him."

He may have loved it but he also tried to bring change and highlight injustices through his books. Many of them, such as The Lorax and Yertle the Turtle, have a strong message but Ted went to great lengths to avoid preaching to children, as he said, kids could see a moral coming a mile off.

"He always worried about being too preachy," says Susan. "But he had so much that he wanted to share, and if he did it in an engaging, whacky, fun way the kids would get the message."

Since his death at age 87 in 1991 his widow Audrey, herself now 90, has been at the helm and makes sure things are done in the way Ted would have wanted them done.

Audrey is even involved in the casting for Seuss movies, and was pleased as punch to see Danny DeVito cast as the Lorax in the movie of the book, due for release this March.

Like Ted before them, the Dr Seuss team routinely rejects deals that don't preserve the magic of Seuss. "It's about making sure that bond and specialness continues to exist for every generation," says Susan.



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