Green Eggs And Ham "' 8: O Dr.$euss Enterprises. LP. 1960. All rights reserved.
GREEN EGGS AND HAM, THE CAT IN THE HAT and How The Grinch Stole Christmas are among the best loved children’s books ever. Their author, Dr Seuss, has racked up sales topping 400 million copies of 44 illustrated books published in eighteen languages. He’s the world’s most popular children’s author, awarded one Pulitzer Prize, three Oscars and two Emmies.
R.E.M. like him (witness ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite’), Ricki Lake likes him (her favourite book is The Lorax) and Detective Sipowicz read Green Eggs And Ham to his possibly terminally ill son in the ﬁnal episode
of the last series of NYPD Blue. Theodor Seuss Geisel — Seuss was his mother’s name, the Dr was a bogus prefix to lend some scientific weight — was born in 1904 in Springﬁeld, Massachusetts. That’s Springﬁeld where the Simpsons live and, yes, creator, Matt Groening, is another fan.
But it wasn’t until Geisel was 50 that the Dr Seuss we know today emerged. By that point, he’d studied literature at Oxford, bummed around Paris with Lost Generation luminaries such as Hemingway, Joyce and Stein and produced around 400 cartoons satirising
Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese for a left-wing newspaper. He’d also published a children’s book, And
To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry
Street (1936), and served under Major Frank Capra — later to direct It ’s A Wonderful Life — making US Army wartime propaganda documentaries, two of which, Hitler Lives and Design For Death, won him Oscars.
But true inspiration struck in 1954 when he read a report in Life magazine suggesting children were bored by their text books. His response was to write The Cat In The Hat. ‘A person’s a person no matter how small,’ said Seuss, every bit the loveable old uncle, all white beard, giant spectacles, deep wrinkles and smiles. ‘Children want the same things we want; to laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained and delighted.’
You might add educated. Seuss believed you could get children to read by using short, simple words. They’d be lured in by the equally simple illustrations and the funny, fantastical stories, many of them with a subversive twist. Take the absurd but anarchic Cat In The Hat: while mum’s out of the house two children are visited by the eponymous cat who wreaks havoc with a series of tricks intended to delight the kids. When mum returns the mess has miraculously been cleared up and the book ends with the lines: ‘Should we tell her about it? Now, what SHOULD we do? Well . . . What would you do if your mother asked you?’
Elsewhere, Seuss took shots at dictatorships (Yertle The Turtle), racism (The Sneetches), anti-capitalism (The Grinch . . .), environmentalism (The Lorax),
even nuclear warfare (The Butter Battle Book).
He got away
How The Grinch Stole Christmas "' 8: O Dr.Seuss Enterprises. LP. 1957. o All rights reserved.
Would you, could you eat green eggs and ham? Did the cat in the hat come back? And how did the Grinch steal Christmas? If you know the answers, go to the head of the class. If not, read on. W0rds: Miles Fielder
with this kind of moralising without falling into the trap of sermonising, because the loopy language and imaginative illustrations made his tales so much fun to read. \\
So given Dr Seuss‘ \ enormous popularity, why have we seen so few of his \\ books adapted for the big and \ small screens? He did put his \ name to more than a dozen animated ﬁlms, among them his \ third Oscar winner, 1951’s Gerald . \ McBoing-Boing and the I966 \ adaptation of The Grinch Who \ Stole Christmas by Chuck Jones, \ creator of Tom And Jerry. In America Christmas ain’t Christmas without The
Grinch . . .; over here it’s a different story. There’s also the rarely seen live action ﬁlm, The 5000 Fingers Of Dr T, which Seuss co-wrote and contributed song lyrics to. It’s a bizarre kids fantasy with set designs straight out of one of his books. It achieved cult status, though Seuss hated it, believing the ﬁlm too scary for children. He never again allowed his work to be adapted as anything other than animation; he didn’t think any other medium could reproduce his books faithfully.
After his death in 1991, neither did his widow Audrey. Until now, that is, when four projects have been given the go ahead by the Seuss estate. There are two Seuss films in development, The Cat In The Hat and 0h, The Places You’ll G0.’, while Seussical is a stage musical that, after some problematic previews in Boston, is scheduled to open in New York on the day this issue of The List hits the shops. The other project is the blockbuster live action ﬁlm, The Grinch. With Hollywood’s highest paid comedian Jim Carrey (see interview) playing the gross green grump and director Ron Howard piling on the special effects, The Grinch is guaranteed to scoff the largest part of the Christmas box office pie. Ironic that, considering Seuss’ family fable is a critique of the commercialisation of Christmas. Wonder what the doctor would have thought of that?
The 1966 version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is just out on video (Warner £9.99). The new movie The Grinch opens on Fri 1 Dec.