TODAY, HORTON HEARS a “Woo-hoo!”
Fans spanning the map will celebrate the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to generations of young and once-young readers as children’s author “Dr. Seuss” — the whimsical talent who proudly said he ended the monotonous reign of “Dick & Jane” books.
In his Massachusetts birthplace, Springfield Museums will salute the favorite son with activities and chats begat by his beloved “The Cat in the Hat.” In his longtime home of La Jolla, UCSD — the world’s main repository of all things Seuss, with about 10,000 items — will honor the icon at the Geisel Library.
And at the multiplex, the animated feature film “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” opens; the Bar-ba-loots and the Swomee-Swans and the poor Humming-Fish hope to win the box-office weekend by bulldozing Hollywood’s relatively soft early-March landscape. (The nation’s critics have given the 3-D CGI film a fair-to-middling score; Post critic Michael O’Sullivan, not-so-much.)
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
— Dr. Seuss, from "Happy Birthday to You!"
Friday is the 108th anniversary of Geisel’s birth; the man who gave us Thneeds and star-belly Sneetches, besocked Foxes and the Whoville’s great Grinch died in La Jolla in 1991, at age 87.
March 2 is also Read Across America Day, as “Lorax” stars including Zac Efron, Danny DeVito, Taylor Swift and Betty White serve as co-chairs for the National Education Association event (albeit with a Mazda SUV promotional tie-in — what rhymes with “irony”?). The NEA encourages people to “read with the trees” by cracking the binding on “The Lorax,” Seuss’ 1971 cautionary tale about care of the environment.
In its film trailers, “The Lorax” credits “the imagination of Dr. Seuss.” Truly, as an author of boundless invention, oh the places he would go.
OFTEN ELABORATING UPON the sights and memories of his Springfield boyhood (including the real Mulberry Street), Dr. Seuss created worlds of sloping vistas and winding waterways like quite no other. With these came the quirky words, the offbeat rhymes that make his works a sonic playground — all the better to engage the reader while sometimes sliding in a serious moral story.
Creatively, Geisel’s own early path ran through Dartmouth (working for the campus humor magazine) and then a stint at Oxford before the first “Seuss”-signed cartoon appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. He worked in advertising (his bugs for the Standard Oil pesticide Flit a clear artistic precursor to some of his later characters) and wrote his first children’s book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.”
As his feelings became inflamed about World War II, Geisel began drawing pointed, anti-isolationist political cartoons — as he strikingly worked furry animals into newspaper art about Nazis. Soon he joined the Army, working on animated training films that featured Private Snafu.
Geisel’s 40-plus illustrated children’s books — including “Green Eggs and Ham” and “Horton Hears a Who!”— have reportedly sold more than 200-million copies. The Emmy-winning Geisel helped create many animated specials, including the holiday perennial “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” with fellow legend and longtime friend Chuck Jones. And after his death, Hollywood made Seuss-spawned films starring Mike Myers (“Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat”) and Jim Carrey (“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which won an Oscar for makeup.)
Geisel also won a special Pulitzer Prize for his lifetime of achievement — nominated by my former colleague, Pulitzer-winning Jonathan Freedman. (Speaking of living in San Diego, in fact — including at UCSD — it was impossible to spend much time in town without confronting Seuss’ towering stature. My first boss in journalism, Neil Morgan, literally wrote the book [with wife Judith] on Dr. Seuss/Ted Geisel. And I once assigned an article on widow Audrey Geisel, whose Cadillac you might spot on the road thanks to its vanity plate: “GRINCH.”)
Then there’s one last anecdote:
A former colleague, San Diego newspaper columnist Don Freeman, once met with Geisel at the author’s La Jolla home. Freeman had one of his young sons in tow. Geisel, who never had children of his own, was a bit unsure around the kid, so — ironically unable to figure out how to entertain him — Geisel offered him a cookie. Each time the boy reappeared, Geisel — still unsure what to say — would play his only easy option: Offer the silent lad another cookie.
As Geisel, according to lore, said of children: “You have 'em — I'll entertain 'em.”