Dr. Seuss’ memory will live on (from what we perceive) forever. No other author has done more to encourage reading in children than the storyteller and his 44 books. But for a writer that has been so impactful to so many, a lot isn’t known about the varied life and career that he has had outside of his famous works. Here are seven interesting, unusual, and hushed-up facts from the good doctor’s life.
Prohibition (likely) gave Seuss his pen name
Sure, we all know Dr. Seuss’ real name is Theodore Seuss Geisel, but do you recall why he took up a pen name to begin with? The writer told a number of stories as to how he came to have his name, but the most likely one involves Prohibition. Geisel was the editor-in-chief of his college’s humor magazine, the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, in 1925 when he was caught drinking gin with friends in his room. He was placed on probation for breaking the law and stripped of his editorship, but refused to stop writing. Instead, he submitted using a series of pseudonyms – L. Pasteur, L. Burbank, D. G. Rossetti, T. Seuss, and Seuss – which he stuck with, adding “Dr.” to his favorite several years later, claiming that it was because his father always wanted him to earn his PhD.
Seuss wrote for an Oscar-winning documentary
During World War II, Seuss was an active cartoonist and motion picture writer for the American war effort. Most were instructional cartoons or morale pieces for military servicemen and women, some of which were eventually released commercially. Design for Death, a documentary about Japanese culture, was based off a previous short he had written for the War Production Board. While the film garnered praise at the time, many noted that its descriptions of the country’s history bordered on propaganda. Although Seuss himself didn’t go home with a gold statue, the producers and director earned the 1947 Academy Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary.
Seuss wrote two books for adults, with wildly different results
The doctor wasn’t kidding when he said he thought “adults are obsolete children,” and that was probably because his first attempt to write for them was a disaster. The Seven Lady Godivas, only his fourth published book, chronicled the adventures of seven nude sisters. The combination of the story being too risqué and the book itself too expensive for 1935 let to a very poor reception. Estimates of how many copies were initially sold range from 50 to 2,500, and the remainder were liquidated. His next adult book wasn’t written until 1986—51 years later! You’re Only Old Once, which follows an elderly man on his way through a clinic, became a number-one New York Times bestseller, and remained on the charts for 60 weeks.
Seuss also wrote his own movie-musical
After having some post-war success in selling his stories as cartoons, Seuss saw a chance to break into film. What started out as a 1,200-page script featuring “themes of world dominance and oppression coming out of World War II” eventually morphed into The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, a story of a boy whose piano lessons turn into a Wizard of Oz-like daydream. Much like The Seven Lady Godivas, it’s not talked about much because it wasn’t successful when it was released; its Hollywood premiere had low ticket sales and some patrons walked out after 15 minutes. Since then, though, a number of contemporary reviews fondly look back on the film’s surreal creativity.
Seuss modeled The Grinch after himself
While Seuss kept mum about where most of his ideas came from, he was very open about one “nasty anti-Christmas character” that resembled himself. Shortly after the book’s publication he said, “I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noted a very Grinchish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! Something had gone wrong with Christmas, I realized, or more likely with me. So I wrote the story about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.” The resemblance stuck so much that even Seuss’ license plate was “GRINCH”.
Green Eggs and Ham was written on a bet
The bestselling book in Seuss’ catalog has a specifically simple vocabulary, counting up to just 50 different words. This came out of a bet between Dr. Seuss and his publisher, who challenged him to write an entire book using a 50-word restriction after his success with The Cat in the Hat, which limited him to using only 250 words that young readers were expected to learn. For his win, Dr. Seuss was supposed to get $50, or $382 with today’s inflation, but he was never paid.
And to Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street! was rejected by many, many publishers
Seuss’ first book and one of his most well-known stories was almost nothing but ash. The claim from Seuss was that he was rejected from 20 to 43 publishers, for reasons including: fantasy not being a big seller, children’s books in verse being passe, and the story having no clear “moral message.” Out of anger, Dr. Seuss was intending to burn the manuscript when he had a chance run-in with an old friend from Dartmouth who had become a junior editor at Vanguard Press. He introduced Seuss to the president of the company, who read and agreed to publish the book. As he said about his luck many years later, “If I had been walking down the other side of Madison Avenue, I’d be in the dry-cleaning business today.”
Featured image courtesy of The Republican Newspaper