Dr. Seuss was bullied and glorified, rejected and admired. Clearly, I can't rhyme as well as him, but that's why I love him. Here’s Dr. Seuss biography and everything you need to know about the man who helped us grow.
Dr. Seuss is one of those authors we all grew up loving for his endearing stories and witty and profound messages. His illustrations have become visual icons, and his teachings universal, but who was he and how did he become such an important cultural emblem? Here is everything you need to know about one of the most important cultural figures of the past century. From his life to his work, to his art, political views, teachings, and movies, we’ve got it all.
Dr. Seuss Biography
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Massachusetts on March 2, 1904, to a German immigrant family. When WWI started, he and his family suffered discrimination, which socially isolated them, making Seuss become very introverted. Still, he always had a desire to create and share his work with the world. In 1925, while studying at Dartmouth College, he became editor-in-chief of the humorous magazine Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, which shaped his future as an author and artist.
One day, as a college student, he was caught drinking some gin. At the time, Prohibition was still going on, and as a punishment for his acts, the university’s administration forbid him from participating in extracurricular activities, including his beloved work at the magazine. This episode would become crucial in his career since, out of sheer stubbornness, he decided to keep working under a pseudonym. From that moment on, he would be known as Seuss.
After graduating from college he continued his education at Lincoln College in the UK with the aim of getting a doctorate in English Literature. During his time at Lincoln, he met Helen Palmer, who would become a highly-acclaimed children’s author, and Seuss' wife. At the time, Seuss was working as an English teacher, but Palmer encouraged him to quit his job to pursue a career as a writer and, most importantly, an artist.
In 1927, Seuss returned to the US without getting a degree but, encouraged by his soon-to-be wife, he started looking for opportunities at magazines and book publishers. Despite all his efforts, he only managed to get one of his cartoons published on The Saturday Evening Post. Still, this gave him the confidence to continue working. Soon later, he decided to move to New York City and, later that year, got an offer to write and illustrate at the humor magazine Judge, where he started signing his work as Dr. Seuss (although he never got his PhD). He married Helen that same year.
His work at Judge gave him great exposure. After one particular cartoon in which he mentioned the bug spray "Flit," he got hired by them for a campaign. This gave him even more exposure and magazines all over the country (including Life, Liberty, and Vanity Fair) started asking him for collaborations. As his popularity grew, so did his economic and social status, and Seuss soon found himself in some of the wealthiest intellectual circles of his time. However, he still wanted to create his own stories.
Perhaps the first time he did something that could be compared to his core work was the publication of a children’s compilation of sayings he was asked to illustrate. Unfortunately, and despite the fact that it got a sequel, it didn’t have the success he was aiming for. Still, he was determined to keep trying. It all came together when, while returning from a trip to Europe, he came up with the poetry rhythm of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Although it was rejected by dozens of publishers, he did manage to publish it in the end. He would go on to publish four more books, including the strange The Seven Lady Godivas about a group of naked warriors before the outbreak of WWII.
Despite all the success he got after becoming the literary sensation he still is (more on that later), Dr. Seuss kept working hard on his stories, but life was about to challenge him like never before. In the sixties, his lifelong partner, Helen, was diagnosed with cancer. Then, an affair he had with a woman named Audrey Stone Dimond would also affect her greatly, sinking her in a terrible depression. She killed herself in 1967, leaving Seuss a heartbreaking letter in which she told him that life without his love was not worth it. This shocked him deeply, leading him to say that he “didn’t know whether to kill myself, burn the house down, or just go away and get lost.” He married Audrey the following year.
However, cancer seemed to follow him. After decades enjoying great success and getting tons of awards, Theodor Geisel Seuss died of oral cancer on September 24, 1991.
Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons
With the outbreak of WWII, he started thinking that his children’s illustrations were out of place. He once said, “while Paris was being occupied by the klanking tanks of the Nazis and I was listening to my radio, I found I could no longer keep my mind on drawing pictures of Horton the Elephant. I found myself drawing pictures of Lindbergh the Ostrich” (Lindbergh was a renowned pilot). Seuss was a very politically active man and highly disagreed with the government’s initial neutral position in the war.
Convinced that the US would eventually find itself involved in the conflict, he and a group of artists decided to prepare people for what was to come. In his view, the best and easiest way to do so was through his cartoons' sense of humor. So, between 1941 and 1943, he published over 400 cartoons in PM, a liberal New York newspaper.
Most of his cartoons made fun of the isolationists, a group of politicians who were calling for the government to stay neutral in the war. He also made many mocking cartoons of figures like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Hideki Tojo. In a way, it could be said that this period of his work was his most personal: having been personally discriminated as a child due to his origins, he saw that the conflict's racist roots were a matter of crimes against humanity, and he wasn’t wrong. Because of that, most of his political cartoons tackled racism and prejudice, and although he stopped making them during the war, his message against discrimination would be a constant in his iconic books.
Dr. Seuss Books
Dr. Seuss’ success would come after the war when he went back to his children's stories. He moved to California, thinking that a change of air would help him turn the page and focus on his work. He published some of his most iconic and well-known books during the fifties. Works like If I Ran The Zoo (1950), Horton Hears a Who! (1955) (a book inspired by a trip to Japan and accepting others as equals despite cultural differences), The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), and Green Eggs and Ham (1960).
After discovering that his work was being extremely helpful in teaching children around the world to read, and after reading a study about the high rates of illiteracy in the US and the world, he met with William Ellsworth Spaulding (director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin) to write a book comprising the 250 words they thought were important for children to learn. That gave birth to The Cat in the Hat. From then on, he conceived his poetry in terms of education levels, all while retaining his entertaining style.
Here’s a list of his most important works:
And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937)
The Seven Lady Godivas (1939)
The King’s Stilts (1939)
Horton Hatches the Egg (1940)
Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose (1948)
If I Ran the Zoo (1950)
Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (1950)
Scrambled Eggs Super! (1953)
Horton Hears a Who! (1954)
The Cat in the Hat (1957)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957)
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (1958)
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960)
Green Eggs and Ham (1960)
Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book (1962)
Fox in Socks (1965)
I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today! and Other Stories (1969)
Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?: Dr. Seuss’s Book of Wonderful Noises! (1970)
The Lorax (1971)
There’s a Wocket in My Pocket! (1974)
I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)
You’re Only Old Once (1986)
Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990)
Dr. Seuss Poetry
Of the over forty books Dr. Seuss published, only four of them were written in prose. Poetry played a huge role in his storytelling because he thought that the rhythm and verse structure was more appealing for readers and more helpful in didactic terms to teach children.
Moreover, he always said that one of the things he remembered dearly from his childhood was his mother’s particular way of singing random stuff that happened throughout her day. In that way, most of his work was written in the meter and rhythm structures of limericks.
Despite the importance of his work, he was never considered one of the best poets of the 20th century because he wrote for children. However, like those praised by the literary world, he was actually quite meticulous in his poetic structures. Most of his work is written in anapestic tetrameters, but he also used amphibrachic tetrameter and trochaic tetrameters, very complex poetic forms that gave his lines that iconic sound and power.
Dr. Seuss Art
Since the beginning of his career, Dr. Seuss created an emblematic aesthetic that was present in all of his work. His preference for bold contour lines and some very specifically placed colors (most of his early work is in black, white, and hints of red or blue) became his artistic signature, one that, despite its simplicity, was quite hard to copy.
Besides his characters' style, Dr. Seuss was particularly in love with architecture. Most of his illustrations have an intricate and clear focus on the construction of the environment his characters lived in, creating unique and fascinating worlds we all wished we could explore in real life.
However, besides his well-known illustrations, he had a very keen sense of artistry he took to different disciplines beyond paper. Perhaps some of the strangest work is his taxidermy approach to art. Using real animal parts, Dr. Seuss gave life to some of his strange and bizarre animal characters. His love for animals came from his childhood and the time he lived right next to the Springfield Zoo. Being able to appreciate them on a regular basis developed an interest that would be present in his regular job and his strange taxidermy sculptures.
He also found time in his busy schedule to delve into different art styles with really impressive surreal paintings that are highly unknown but as mesmerizing as his popular work. Most of these artworks do have some similarities to his illustrations in terms of characters and forms. However, he also produced more complex and intricate compositions filled with bright colors and strange shapes. Still, most of these works also kept his witty and endearing title style, taking the viewer into one unknown corner of the life of a man we think we’ve known all our lives.
Dr. Seuss Quotes
Most of Dr. Seuss’ stories and characters are memorable by themselves, but one thing that ties them together is the messages and lessons they left us. I can’t think of more iconic and emotional quotes that have shaped generations than those unique verses Dr. Seuss gave us. Here are the best you can find in his books you probably know by heart:
“You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” (Happy Birthday to You!)
“Don’t give up! I believe in you all. A person's a person, no matter how small.” (Horton Hears a Who!)
“Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them."
“To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.”
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” (The Lorax)
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose.” (Oh, the Places You’ll Go!)
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
“I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights”. (Yertle the Turtle)
“Oh, you get so many hunches, that you don't know ever quite, if the right hunch is a wrong hunch! Then the wrong hunch might be right!” (Hunches in Bunches)
Dr. Seuss Movie Adaptations
Dr. Seuss’ legacy goes beyond books and illustrations. In the past decades, his works have been the inspiration for so many movies that gave us another look at his wonderful world. Fun fact, Dr. Seuss’ family hated The Cat in the Hat so much, they refused to allow studios to make more live action films. That’s why, afterwards, all of them have been animated. Actually, Warner Pictures is allegedly working in an entirely new version of the story. Which one’s your favorite?
Horton Hatches the Egg (1942) Dir. Bob Clampett
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (1943) Dir. George Pal
And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1944) Dir. George Pal
Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950) Dir. Robert Cannon
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) Dir. Ron Howard
The Cat in the Hat (2003) Dir. Bo Welch
Horton Hears a Who! (2008) Dir. Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino
The Lorax (2012) Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda
The Grinch (2018) Dir. Scott Mosler and Yarrow Cheney
Though, in life, Dr. Seuss was a bit reluctant to allow his characters to be marketed, he did allow some commercial liberties, especially in TV cartoon adaptations. Ever since he died, the Seuss brand has grown exponentially, inspiring many products based on his unique world. Today, there are museums, parks, and even libraries inspired by his work, and his relevance seems to know no limits. We’ll probably be hearing of Dr. Seuss for a long, long time.
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