Dr. Seuss’s rhymes were a prominent part of most of our childhoods thanks to classics like Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. He had such a gift for getting kids to read his books, and it’s no surprise that the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day just happens to fall on his birthday.
But, you’ll be surprised to find out that his life was filled with much more controversy than we ever imagined. In fact, a lot of his past (even in cartooning) is repulsive, to say the least.
So It Begins…
Before we get into the sketchy part of his past, let’s first talk a little bit about why he’s become a household name in the first place. The name “Dr. Seuss” and “childhood” go hand-in-hand for most people.
He wrote a plethora of books and treated all of them like they were his children (he didn’t actually have any, we’re going to get into that a little later don’t you worry).
He was born Theodore Seuss Geisel. He’s gone down as one of, if not THE most popular children’s author of all time. He has sold over 600 million copies of his book and they’ve been translated into more than 20 languages by the time of his death.
He was raised in Springfield, Massachusetts. His dad owned the family brewery (until prohibition hit) while his mom stayed home with the kids.
You’ve Been Pronouncing It Wrong
If you say “Dr. Seuss” ten times over, you’re probably going to say it the same way every time. That’s normal. The idea that we’ve probably been saying his name wrong the whole time is actually unfathomable.
But, it’s true. His family emigrated to the US from Bavaria which gives the pronunciation more of a “Zoice” sound. That contradicts the “Soose” sound we know well. He had given up on correcting people.
He Illustrated Many Books
He wrote 45 books. Sure, you might have only heard of a dozen or so of his books, but he actually wrote quite a few. He published his first cartoon while studying at Dartmouth and would go on to have one of the best cartoon creating careers of all time.
His works are timeless, and we’ll explore many of them. His ideas for books didn’t come in a conventional way AT ALL.
He Is A Bonified Star
Yes, he even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically a plaque that goes to all of the whos-who of famous people in show business.
In 2004, he became star No. 2,249 in front of a crowd of about 100 people. His widow, Audrey, spoke briefly and said that if he was able to live longer, he would’ve agreed to have more of his 45 books turned into movies.
Roosevelt Traumatized Him
As a kid, he was traumatized by President Theodore Roosevelt. World War I was in full swing and the young Seuss was a boy scout doing his part to help the war effort.
He went door-to-door and became one of the most successful war bonds salesmen in his town. So, he got invited to receive an award from the President of the United States. Well, it didn’t end very well.
Scarred For Life
Seuss and nine other boy scouts were honored for their efforts. They were brought up on stage at the Municipal Auditorium and presented an award by Roosevelt.
Roosevelt only had nine medals, so by the time he got to Seuss, he was empty-handed. Roosevelt turned to the organizers and angrily barked, “What’s this boy doing here?” They quickly got Seuss off of the stage, and he was scared of being on stage in front of crowds for years.
He Got Fired Early
He was fired from his college magazine for drinking some gin. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, I mean, drinking and college go together like peanut butter and jelly.
But, in the 1920s, slamming some alcohol during the era of prohibition was breaking the law. The school didn’t end up reporting him to authorities, but they did cut him from writing for the school newspaper at Dartmouth. So, he started writing under his mom’s maiden name which is where Dr. Seuss came from.
He Got His Start In Pesticides
Everyone has there own path to success and some are more unconventional than others. This one is certainly unconventional. Seuss began his career advertising for a pesticide company.
The company, Flit, saw one of his cartoons and hired him on the spot. He created the slogan, “Quick Henry, The Flit” which became a national sensation. Comedians like Jack Benny even used it in his act because it was such a household slogan.
His First Major Success
The cartoons he made for Flit weren’t exactly politically correct. They often involved big-lipped, dark-skinned Africans acting like savages. In one example, a group of African cannibals is saved by Flit-carrying European who were about to make their lunch.
The job with Flit gave Seuss national attention. He would do cartoons for Standard Oil, as well as earning some money doing his own experiments on the side. One of those side jobs was doing war propaganda.
He Worked In Propaganda
As World War II came, Seuss made his way into the army, but not with a gun, but with a pen. He actually found himself working next to Marvel’s Stan Lee sketching up pamphlets that warned soldiers about the dangers of catching venereal diseases abroad.
Seuss also worked with Chuck Jones, who is the director behind the Looney Tunes. He was a crucial part of a team making propaganda videos for soldiers.
These Didn’t Age Well
He made political cartoons as well, pushing people to buy war bonds, something that reminded him of his time as a kid when he used to go door-to-door. He had some very aggressive drawings of the Japanese.
A lot of his cartoons voiced his support for Japanese internments camps. He saw them as the only way for the Americans to beat their enemy during the war. But, his tone changed after the war when he went to visit Hiroshima.
Japan Ended Up Inspiring One Of His Books
After all the propaganda Seuss put out toward the Japanese, he wanted to go see Hiroshima. He ended up becoming inspired to write a book while on that trip to Japan. The book was Horton Hears a Who, which, according to Seus,s was dedicated to one of his friends, Mitsugi Nakamura.
The book’s main theme was “a person’s a person no matter how small.” Seuss used the book as an allegory for the American post-war occupation of Japan.
He Tried To Get Into Erotica
Seuss started to dabble in writing books ONLY so that he could do erotica. He contributed art to The Bedroom Companion, which was showing a lonely, lust-filled woman stuck on an island with a young boy.
He tried to draw naked women for another book, but they didn’t turn out very well. He was forced to settle for a career as a legendary children’s writer. “I tried to draw the sexiest babes I could, but they came out looking absurd.”
He Wrote His First Book In 1931
Seuss published his first book in 1931 and it opened to rave reviews. The New York Times called it “hilarious,” and the news wrote about the craze for Seuss’s new book: Boners.
Look, the name might be a little misleading. A boner, of course, is an error. The book was full of mistakes made by kids. The book wasn’t for kids since it was a little more raunchy for the time, but the publication was so successful, he had to make sequels of it.
He Invented Words
He was the first person to be recorded in history calling someone a “nerd.” He slipped the word into his book If I Ran the Zoo, in which a character promises to bring a “nerd” back from Ka-Troo.
While the use of the word is a bit different from the way we use it now, it still used as somewhat of an insult in today’s society. A true wordsmith and innovator.
He Was Getting Very Comfortable
By the time that Seuss wrote Hop On Pop, his editors, he believed, would publish anything he wrote. It’s almost like the whole Ron Burgundy teleprompter scene in the movie Anchorman.
Seuss decided that he’d test this theory out and slipped a family-unfriendly line into his manuscript. “I always cut whole words apart, Con Stan Tin O Ple, Tim Buk Too, Con Tra Cep Tive, Kan Ga Roo,” was slipped into the book. The editors caught the fact that he tried to get people to say “contraceptive” and cut it from the final draft.
He Was Afraid Of Children
He never wanted to have kids. In fact, they kind of scared him. He told reporters that they made him uncomfortable and when there’s a mass of them, they actually terrify him.
His second wife had children going into their marriage already, and her daughter said that Seuss was like the Grinch when he was having a bad day. In fact, Seuss based The Grinch on himself, getting the idea after looking at himself in the mirror after Christmas. He drove with a GRINCH license plate.
He Cheated On His Wife While She Had Cancer
Seuss’s wife, Helen, was the reason that he decided to do cartoons in the first place. She told him to do more with his talent than just become a school teacher. She pushed him to chase his dreams.
Seuss would go on to cheat on her while she was dying of cancer. With his wife on the verge of dying, Seuss slipped out of the house with a younger woman.
He Married His Mistress
The younger woman was Audrey Stone Dimond. She was a longtime friend of both Helen and Theodore. When Helen found out, she was heartbroken.
The pain was too much for her to bear, and she ended up taking her life earlier than the cancer killed her. Within a year of Helen’s death, Audrey and Dr. Seuss would end up marrying. They would stay together until his passing in 1991.
She Thought He Was An Actual Doctor
Audrey, his last wife and former mistress, didn’t even know he wasn’t a doctor. She taught nursing at Indiana University and doctors were a very understood title at the time.
She said, “I was being ushered down this line of about a dozen M.D. doctors and I came to Ted (Theodore) and they said, ‘And this is our very own dear Dr. Seuss,’ it was such a setup.” He didn’t say anything to her the first time they met.
He Did Become A “Doctor”
Even though Audrey may have thought that he was a doctor, he wasn’t. He added the “Dr.” to his name in order to give some credibility to his writing. With that being said, he did become a doctor until 1956 when Dartmouth awarded him an honorary doctorate.
He was a big proponent of “faking it till you make it” which is exactly what he did. It obviously worked for him.
He Won Two Academy Awards
It might surprise you to know that he ended up winning two Oscars and several more Emmy awards. His first Oscar was in 1947 for the war propaganda film, Design for Death, which he co-wrote with his first wife Helen.
His second Academy Award was a few years later in 1951 with Gerald McBoing-Boing, which was an animated short film which told the story of a boy who could only speak through sound effects instead of the spoken word.
Add Two Emmys Too
Honestly, what can’t he do? The celebrated author and Oscar winner also won two Emmys, which he earned in 1977 and 1982. The first was given for Halloween Is Grinch Night and the second was for The Grinch Grinches The Cat In The Hat.
Needless to say, it seems like the word ‘grinch’ followed him around and led to the most success. The Grinch has been remade twice from the original.
One Of His Most Famous Works Was A Bet
Editor Bennett Cerf made a bet with Dr. Seuss that he couldn’t write a book using 50 words or fewer. The result of that bet was Green Eggs and Ham.
In 2012, it was reported that the book had hit a landmark, selling approximately 15 million copies since its 1960 publication. Imagine doing a project just to prove your friend wrong in a bet and it ends up making you millions of dollars?
The Hitler Story
I bet you didn’t think that your favorite turtle is actually Hitler. If you haven’t read the story, it’s about Yertle, the king of the pond always wanting more.
He demands other turtles to stack on top of each other to survey the land. Long story short, or short story shorter, Yertle is actually a dictator made to represent Hitler. This was the first children’s book to have a character burp in it too.
The Lorax Controversy
The book The Lorax is widely recognized as Dr. Seuss’s take on environmentalism and how humans are destroying nature. Groups within the logging community weren’t very happy with this work, and even put out their own version called The Truax, which was from the logging point of view.
The Lorax used to contain the line “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie” but it was taken out after the Ohio Sea Grant Program cleaned up the conditions of the lake.
His Hat Fetish
It was widely known that Dr. Seuss LOVED hats. I mean, it’s not hard to make that connection when he basically made the long red striped top hat famous with his characters in The Cat in the Hat.
He had a secret closet filled with hundreds of them. He would go into the closet if he was having writer’s block. Some stressed writers like candles, soothing music, or alone time — he just needed to look at a hat.
The Cat In The Hat Origins
Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat because he thought the famous Dick and Jane primers were insanely boring. Seuss found out that kids weren’t interested in the material that Dick and Jane were offering because it was boring.
He created The Cat in the Hat to counter Dick and Jane and takes great pride in the fact that he got that series out of schools. He’s even cited it as his “greatest satisfaction.”
Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
Oh, The Place You’ll Go! was the last book that Dr. Seuss ever wrote. It was published in 1990, and he would pass away just a year later. The book sells about 300,000 copies every year because so many people give it to college and high school grads.
It’s a book that’s written in the second person, and uses future tenses as it talks about the journey of life and its many challenges.