Recently I convinced one of my friends to see the animated feature film „The Lorax” [2012, directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, voices: Danny DeVito, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White…] – a story about the guardian of the forest, trying to maintain the natural stability and protect the trees from the human destruction. On this occasion I thought about us – the public, visual consumers, feeding ourselves with the visual information received and carrying on, without trying to find out the story behind the story. In this particular case, I believe there are many who’ve heard about the mentioned film or maybe even seen it, and also “Horton Hears a Who!” [2008, directed by Jimmy Hayward and Steve Marino, voices: Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett…], but only few of them know the one that created these lovely stories: Dr. Seuss. This is why I’ve decided to present him to you all.
Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991) better known as Dr. Seuss, was a prolific American writer, poet and cartoonist, famous for his children’s illustrated poetry books. After graduating Dartmouth College, he followed literature at Oxford, for a very short period (1925 – 1926). It seems that he was more interested in doodling the notebooks than taking notes on the lectures. His colleague and soon to be wife (1927), Helen Palmer, told him that he was crazy wanting to become a professor, when it’s obvious that all his wants to do is drawing.
Dr. Seuss? Why this name? Seuss [correct pronunciation Zoice] is a Bavarian name and was his mother’s maiden name – Henrietta Seuss, whose parents emigrated from Bavaria (part of modern-day Germany) in the nineteenth century. Seuss was his middle name too – Theodor Seuss Geisel – but to family and friends he was known as Ted. One story about the use of Dr. Seuss name is that he was saving his real name for the Great American Novel he would one day write, although this never happened. In 1955 he received the first doctor honoris causa title, without literally owning a Ph.D.
His career began in advertising, with a Flit commercial (anti-mosquitoes spray) that goes like this: at a picnic, mosquitoes converge on a child, his mother cries: „Quick, Henry, the Flit!” and the father looks for the Flit to save the day. The slogan became a catchphrase nationally known, being used on radio sketches and music, also.
Why children’s books? Dr. Seuss used to say that according to his Standard Oil contract (makers of Flit) he was prohibited from undertaking many types of writing, but not from writing children’s books. Since his wife could not have children, in order to silence their friends that bragged with theirs, he invented an imaginary daughter – Chrysantheum-Pearl, whom he credited with many achievements and dedicated to her his second book. People often asked him how that a childless person could write so well for children and his answer was: „You make’em, I’ll amuse’em!” In 1968, he became the stepfather of two girls, daughters of his second wife, Audrey Stone to whom he got married.
Dr. Seuss and the WWII. During the WWII, Dr. Seuss joined the US Army, being commander of the Animation Department. He created posters, propaganda films, but also a series of training films – „Private Snafu” – written with the help of P.D. Eastman and the writer Munro Leaf and animated by Warner Bros., using Mel Blanc’s voice.
In 1945-46 he wrote, together with his first wife, Helen Palmer, „Our Job in Japan”, that became the basis for the film „Design for Death” (1947, directed by Richard Fleischer, 48 minutes) – a documentary about the Japanese culture, that won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1947. A second Academy Award was given for „Gerald McBoing-Boing” (1950, directed by Robert Cannon, 7 minutes, Academy Award for Animated Short Film) – the story of a little boy who speaks through sound effects instead of spoken words.
After WWII, in 1954, moving beyond his feelings of animosity towards Japan, Dr. Seuss created an allegory for the American post-war occupation of the country within the pages of the book: „Horton Hears a Who!” dedicated to a Japanese friend. In 2008 Blue Sky Studios produced an animated feature film based on this book. It’s the story of an elephant, which discovers a whole world living on a speck of dust. From that day on, his mission is to find a safe place for the tiny people of the so-called town of Whoville. The main idea of the film is that we all are persons, despite the differences – A person’s a person, no matter how small – just like the whovillers seemed so small, hardly to believe they really existed, so we can be mere specks in a giant’s world, trying to survive and make ourselves heard.
The imaginary of Dr. Seuss. Dr Seuss’ early artwork often employed the light shaded texture of pencil drawing or watercolors. After the WWII, discovers the use of pen and ink, normally using just black and, if necessary, 1 or 2 colors, so that later on (e.g. “Lorax”) to use the magic of colors. He liked creating elaborated, complex fantastic and utopist drawings, inventing a new architecture, new and strange animals, his nature transforming itself all the time. Movement was given by a series of lines, as in cartoon tradition. Lines were also used to illustrate the action of senses (sight, hearing, smell). Dr. Seuss used symbolism in order to reflect real events, daily problems and morals. Through his poetic rhythm he’s trying to prove to the little readers that reading is a really fun activity.
The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year. The winner is recognized for the literary and artistic achievements that demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading. The award was established in 2004 and first presented in 2006.