be left in dry ice-ll
for Theodor "Geissel."
Another pronounciation may do just as well;
Harry Smith of "Biography" says it "Gei-zell."
Anyway, we're all here to resound and rejoice
for the man whose original name sounds like "Soyce."
So let me without further ado introduce
the man whom ten million kids treasure as Seuss.
All right, enough with the galloping anapests that Geisel twisted into a million similes and smiles. The rest of the tribute, to the all-time best-selling children's book author (200 million copies in print; take that, J.K. Rowling), will be in prose. Ted Geisel's centenary the Seussentennial, his publishers call it is being celebrated with a U.S. postage stamp in his honor, a cross-country caravan of books and playlets and (my favorite) Charles D. Cohen's "The Seuss the Whole Seuss and Nothing But the Seuss: A Visual Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel." It's a trove of Seussiana, with special attention to Geisel's formative years in college and in the Manhattan magazine and advertising business. Indeed, Cohen seems to have run out of steam, space or interest when it came to Geisel's mature work in books and film.
That's fine with me. I missed the Seuss books when I was a lad; my literary companions Babar, Bugs Bunny and the Little Prince (and a lot of junk that I have elevated to the pop-cultural Pantheon in this column). I'm glad that Cohen has honored Geisel as a full-service wit: the humor-magazine work, the political cartoons, his cunning ad campaigns and Ted's creation of one of the most enduring, least endearing antiheroes in Hollywood cartoon history. What follows comes from studying the Cohen book, rerunning my favorites from Geisel's mid-period film work, and watching Peter Jones' excellent two-hour special for A&E's "Biography," which contains much poignant data about the artist's life that I've left out.
So here's a birthday tribute to Ted, a little Geisel geyser, a caboose to the Seussentennial.
A COMIC PRODIGY
German-American humorist: the phrase smacks of oxymoronality. The American expected to laugh at German-Americans (when he wasn't afraid of them), primed as he was with images of oom-pah-pah bands, clinking beer steins and Wagnerian sopranos of ample girth. It happened that Ted's father was co-owner of the Kalmbach and Geisel Brewery (later, and prudently, changed to the Liberty Brewing Company) in Springfield, Mass., and that his mother's measurements were an imposing six ft. and 200 lb. Further, the family names could have come from any ethnic vaudeville sketch of the period: Schmaelzle and Geisel on his father's side, Greim and Seuss on his mother's.
But people don't always live up or down to the clichés they are expected to inhabit. Ted's mother Henrietta ("Nettie"), for example, was indeed a mountain ... of maternal devotion. She read books and poetry to the boy, and Ted later proclaimed her as the greatest influence on his writing. His dad, Theodore Robert Geisel, may have been a beermaker, but he had a precision of mind and expression, as evidenced in a letter he sent Ted after the young man, a senior at Dartmouth, had got in trouble with the police after a loud drinking party. "While I do not object to your taking a drink," the brewer wrote his son, "I do object to your taking one in Hanover, while in college, if the rules of the college do not permit it. ... Abide by the decision of the authorities (and) serve your full sentence conscientiously. (M)ake an attempt the next few weeks to eradicate this blot from your good record."
Whatever the genes that produced him, Ted radiated a comic precocity. For the high school newspaper he wrote parodies of poems and contributed humorous drawings. At Dartmouth he stretched the limits of homework, writing a "book report" of the Boston & Maine Railroad timetable as if it were a modern novel: "Chapter 18 is word for word exactly the same as Chapter 17, only it is run backwards." Ted joined the campus humor magazine, Jack-O-Lantern, where he became editor-in-chief, until removed as punishment for the drinking incident. (Prohibition was in force, not only making Ted's spree illegal but putting his father's brewery out of business.)
A classmate recalling young Geisel said, "Everything Ted did seemed to be a surprise, especially to him." Who knew the source of his strange whimsy? One of his Jack-O-Lantern contributions was a news story on "the Zimkowitz annual baseball game" in the form of a box score: 19 Zimkowitzes in two columns of agate type. Nineteen, not 18: Yes. One family member had "batted for Zimkowitz in the ninth." There are also hints of Seuss creatures to come, like a two-legged elephant, with shoes. The chimerist in Ted responded to the elephant paradox: a creature that was both goofy-looking and gravely dignified.
Ted's work for Jack-O-Lantern was breezily collegiate, rarely sophomoric. As editor-in-chief he acknowledged with a third-person flourish that "He writes only for the extreme left wing of college student, for the man of social perversity." He composed a droll piece that literally translated French to English. (Everyone French student who thinks himself a wit tries that, but Geisel's was good.) He offered raffish etiquette tips: "a man should not sit down before a lady. It is, however, advisable to violate this rule if the lady expects to sit on his lap." He did lots of cartoons. One, with two chimneysweeps on a roof, had this dialogue: "Shall I go down first?" "Soot yourself."
In the summer of 1925, between college graduation and graduate courses at Oxford University that fall, Ted subbed for the vacationing writer of the On the Firing Line column for the Springfield Union. His job was to cull items from other papers and put a spin on them. He answered the household-hint question, "How can chewing gum be removed from a carpet?" with this: "Don't take chances, is our advice. A new package will only set you back a nickel."
Oxford taught Ted one important lesson: He was not suited for scholarship. Actually he was told that by a young classmate peering over his shoulder at the impish illustrations, such as a two-legged dog with wings (and shoes) that he drew in the margins of his notebook. The classmate was Helen Palmer, a Wellesley grad taking her Master's in education, and Ted thought her judgment so acute that, a year later, he married her. He also left Oxford after a year. The only doctorate he'd need would be self-awarded.
Geisel had been back in New York for only a year before he got a job with Judge, the top humor magazine of a decade rich in them. S.J. Perelman, a month and a day older, was there at the same time, and the two men have similar profiles. Both were Ivy Leaguers who had edited their college humor publications (Perelman's, at Brown, was the Brown Jug); both made their names first as cartoonists at Judge and another popular gag mag, Life (pre-Luce); both branched out to movie work and books. One difference: Perelman went to live at the New Yorker; Geisel never got into that magazine, except in advertisements. Another difference: Perelman's early work, which burlesques either contemporary or antique topics that are unfamiliar to me, is a little too hip for my room. Geisel's makes me laugh. The stuff is timely and, standing the test of three-quarters of a century, timeless.
Ted's first cartoon, a lampoon of the Lawrence of Arabia craze, appeared in the July 16, 1927, issue of the Saturday Evening Post. The 23-year-old landed a piece in Judge three months later, and he was soon on the staff. His earliest contribution was a series on a croupier, utterly impassive as chaos explodes around him either at work (a gambler puts a pistol to his forehead) or at home (the kids attack each other while the croupier rakes in a plate from across the dinner table). His fascination with wordplay paraded itself in his oddments of fictional language: "lurch," "gog" (what is a gog?), be-"fuddle." Within a year he had added a byline that would stick for 60 years and more: Seuss.
PEDDLING BUG SPRAY AND LIBERALISM
One Judge cartoon led to a livelihood. In it, a dragon crawls ferociously into the bed of a "mediaeval tenant" who complains, "And just after I'd sprayed the whole castle with Flit!" Flit was a bug spray, and its manufacturer, Standard Oil of New Jersey, soon hired Geisel to create an ad campaign. "Quick Henry the Flit!" became one of the best-known catch phrases from between the wars. (It lingered decades later in a cartoon, appearing in one of Harvey Kurtzman's magazines Trump or, more likely, Help! As I recall it, a man summons his butler with the phrase; the butler reappears with an effeminate fellow who sprays the offending bug. The ad line was new to me, as was the word flit to mean homosexual; this is how the child Corliss picked up street wisdom.)
The Flit ads were a sensation, and are still funny, especially those that no corporation would approve today. A girl with her brother explains to dad: "Willie just swallowed a bug, and I'm having him gargle with Flit." A male and a female mosquito stand before a minister mosquito, with a scowling fourth figure holding the spray at the groom: "The Flit Gun Wedding." A bug stands in front of the business end of the spray gun, a rope attached to the pump: "The suicide." In a tribute to his ancestors, Geisel did one ad in semi-German: "Quick Heinrich, Das Flit" (Should it be "Raus"?) The campaign expanded to book form, with a collection of the published ads, and a promotional movie, produced by Warner Bros. It showed a whale being menacing by a mosquito; Orca snarls, "Quick Jonah! The Flit!" and a man in a polka-dot bathing suit emerges from the whale's mouth to repel the attacker.
In his cartoons or his children's books, Geisel had the great salesman's gift for distilling an idea, making it glamorous and amusing selling without shouting. Recognizing this, Standard Oil put him on other products, such as the auto additive Esso-lube. A Seussian creature would lurk on a car hood: Beware the "Moto-raspus"! Battle the "Karbo-nockus"! (Standard's oil to the rescue.) In a nod to dad, he also worked for Schaefer Beer; one cartoon had a stuffed moose head that comes to enthusiastic life when a waiter walks by with a bottle of Schaefer Bock Beer.
Ad work made Ted a nice living, and allowed him a surprising creative latitude, but toward the end of the 30s he was itching to expand. He wrote his first book for kids: "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," the story of a baby von Munchausen who devises whoppers as he strolls home. His big early success was with "Horton Hatches the Egg," the 1940 parable of an elephant who sits on a bird's egg for 51 weeks until, when the chick hatches, it has four legs and a trunk an elephant bird. ("Horton" was made into a terrific 10min. cartoon directed by Warners' Bob Clampett. Both books are still in print, still enthralling young readers with their respective abettings or anarchy and fidelity.
As Europe erupted in war, real life roused Ted from his verdant and productive dreamlife: "I found that I could no longer keep my mind on drawing pictures of Horton the Elephant. I found myself drawing pictures of Lindbergh the Ostrich." Annoyed by the controversial air hero Charles Lindbergh and the blinkered isolationism he was seductively selling to America, Geisel became the editorial cartoonist for PM, the left-wing New York City newspaper. "The New Yorker dismissed us as 'a bunch of young fogies,' " Ted later wrote. "I think we were a bunch of honest but slightly cockeyed crusaders, and I still have prideful memories of working alongside ... dozens of other hard-working souls who helped Marshall Field lose $30 million backing a truly unique newspaper that refused to accept advertising."
The Geisel PM cartoons that Cohen reproduces enlist the Seuss menagerie in a dirty holy war. One panel has both a Hortonish elephant ("G.O.P.") and an "isolation ostrich: smiling indulgently at their "baby" a squalling hybrid label a "GOPstrich" as the elephant says, "He's a noisy little-so-and-so, but, sweetheart, he's all ours!" A serpent with swastikas snakes across the Atlantic while a figure marked Lindbergh pats its head, declaring, "'Tis Roosevelt, Not Hitler, that the World Should Really Fear." Seuss' mascot for America, an eagle with an Uncle Sam beard and striped top hat, sits in stockades wearing an "I am part Jewish" sign on its beak and a public notice (signed by Lindbergh), "This Bird is Possessed of an Evil Demon!" Once the U.S. finally entered the War, Geisel fired his heaviest artillery: the Ameri-bird confronting huge German and Japanese mosquitos with a canister labeled "U.S. Defense Bonds - Stamps" and the caption, "Quick, Henry, THE FLIT!"
GEISEL GOES TO WAR
The War Department had called on director Frank Capra to amass a film unit, mainly for documentaries that would instruct soldiers and citizens on the government's enemies, aims and ideals. (From this unit came the "Why We Fight" series and many other powerful non-fiction films.) Geisel, who had sold bug spray and motor oil through humor, and honed his satirical skills on the isolationists for PM, was the prefect recruit for this task. At the end of the war this son of German-Americans wrote a training film called "Your Job in Germany," which said that the German people would have to prove they were no longer Hitler's willing patsies. But most of his wartime Geisel spent on a cartoon series called Private SNAFU (from the military acronym Situation Normal All Fouled Up, or word to that effect).
Working mostly with the directors of Warner Bros. cartoons Clampett, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Frank Tashlin Geisel dreamed up a series of 3-5 min. animated comedies that taught soldiers proper behavior by showing them the very improper behavior and attitude of a certain recalcitrant draftee. SNAFU was a cocky doofus who looked like one of the Seven Dwarfs in uniform (say, Grumpy crossed with Dopey) and spoke with Bugs Bunny's voice (courtesy Mel Blanc). His refusal to obey the rules gets him into awful scrapes he often ends up dead and threatens to compromise the war effort.
The films, which came out about once a month and were shown only to the military, were racier than commercially released cartoons could be: hell and damn in the dialogue, plenty of butt comedy, and mermaids out of Vargas, with large breasts and pert nipples. The films reveal what kind of cartoons the Warner Bros. guys would have made if the Hollywood censor had been a bit more lenient. They also display the Geisel wit in more luxuriant fester. Ted had written a grown-up children's book called "The Seven Lady Godivas" in 1940. Much later, he created, for his own pleasure, Beardsley-like art of a slightly bawdy nature (a woman with a long-necked cat at her pubis a pussy). SNAFU gave him the chance to write adult humor for adults, or for boys who were being trained to die as men. The series tried to ensure that more of those boys would come home alive.
In many SNAFU cartoons, vigilance a kind of protective paranoia is the motto. "Spies" (directed by Jones for an August 1943 release) darkly suggests that German and Japanese agents lurk everywhere: in a baby carriage, a mailbox, a street lamp, a drain, a horse's head, inside a telephone. The antlers of two moose-head trophies, of the kind Geisel used for his Schaefer Beer ad, merge to form a swastika. A luscious babe SNAFU meets at a bar is seen noting his indiscretions on a tiny typewriter under the table; another babe's breasts are tape-recorder reels emblazoned with swastikas. "Booby Traps" (Clampett, January 44) has SNAFU cozying up to a lifesize doll; X-ray vision reveals her buttocks and boobs to be round bombs. The message: "If you are a boob, you will be trapped." (Geisel's authorship here is doubted by Cohen, accepted by others. But the cartoon is so funny it'd be a shame to attribute it to someone else.)
"Fighting Tools" (Clampett, October 43) alerts soldiers that great weapons are useless without careful maintenance; SNAFU ends the cartoon as, literally, a horse's ass in a German Prison Kampf. "The Goldbrick" (Tashlin, September 43) has SNAFU urging his fellow GIs, "I'm a goldbrick, be like me, use your head / With a heart of pure gold and a backside of lead," before singing a hymn to the lazy life to the tune of "Tit Willow" from "The Mikado." It ends with a bucktoothed Jap (they always had prominent dentures and were always called Jap) threatening, "Here lies a goldbrick, I must go find more. / If I find enough goldbrick, Japan could win war."
SNAFU movies also addressed nostalgia for "The Home Front" (Tashlin, November 43). SNAFU is shivering in an outpost where "It's so cold, it would freeze the nuts off a Jeep," thinking enviously of the folks who have it easy back in the States except that his girl friend has joined the WACs, grandpa is shooting rivets onto a battleship and mom is farming harder than Renee Zellweger in "Cold Mountain." And a couple of SNAFUs, including "Private SNAFU vs. Malaria Mike" (Jones, March 44), revived Geisel's Flit villain, the mosquito, to advise soldiers in the South Pacific to keep their beds netted and pants up. (SNAFU's pulchritudinous ass is a frequent target for enemy dive bombers.)
The most Seussian SNAFU of all is "Rumors" (Freleng, December 43), which begins with Geisel doggerel: "Twas a bright sunny day / With the air fresh and clean. / Not a rumor was stirring / Except in the latrine." There, SNAFU misinterprets another soldier's joke about a bombing as a warning that the base is under attack. To a third GI he whispers, "I think we're in for a bombing," and a sign sprouts: HOT AIR. "The hot air is blowing, a rumor is growing," the narrator warns. "Balloon juice is phony, but it makes good baloney." A soldier with a mouth shaped like a howitzer is told: "Now shoot off your face" the mouth goes BOOM! "and baloney is flying all over the place." The hysteria is spread by airborne sausage skins, baloney balloons, are flying in formation (in misinformation formation, that is) with news that "the Japs are in California!", the Nazis have bombed the Brooklyn Bridge, they're parachuting onto the White House lawn, until, within minutes, "The British are quitting!" and "it's all over. We've lost the war." Finally the camp is quarantined with "rumor-itis," and the cartoon ends with the familiar logo of Fox Movietone News a cameraman at work, except that his camera grinds sausage. Words pop onto the screen: "Sees. Hears. Knows. Nothing."
DR. T MEETS (AND DEFEATS?) DR. SEUSS
Geisel was proud of "Your Job in Germany," steamed when Warner Bros. recut it, released it under the names of director Don Siegel and writer Saul Elkins, and won the Oscar for best documentary short subject. It was the third consecutive year a Geisel war movie had received an Oscar nomination, and never with credit to him. By now the Geisels had moved to La Jolla, near San Diego, and Ted was still itching to make a real movie. (With his lyric gift and Manhattan prominence, I can't figure why he hadn't worked on a Broadway show in the '30s.) He got his chance when producer Stanley Kramer, then the serious young producer of note ("Champion," "The Men," "Death of a Salesman," "High Noon"), signed him to write the script and lyrics for an ambitious musical, "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T."
The plot was the nightmare and revenge fantasy of a boy forced to take piano lessons under the stern eye of Dr. Terwilliker, whose mad ambition (in the boy's dream) is to have 500 boys play a piece of his at the world's largest piano. The project was a nightmare for Geisel, too. "Hollywood is not suited for me," he said when it was over, "and I am not suited for it." He rebelled, futilely, when Kramer insisted that a love interest be added to Geisel's. Geisel hated all the compromises of a studio production, the sapping of his vision. He recalled that in the climactic scene, one boy at the 500-player piano vomited, cueing "one after another of the boys to go queasy, in the greatest mass upchuck in the history of Hollywood." Geisel felt the same way, often describing the movie as the worst experience of his professional life. Dr. T. might have 5,000 fingers for the movie; Dr. Seuss raised just one.
Look, I was nine when I saw the movie in 1953; what could a kid know? This one thought, and thinks, that "Dr. T." is a bold and spooky parable of persecution and revolution. What's bold? Well, for a start, the conception of the main characters. Except for young Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig, who a few years later became Lassie's best friend on TV), they are weak or venal. Dr. Terwilliker (the sublimely snide Hans Conried) is a musical megalomaniac who wants every child in the world to learn his Happy Fingers piano technique. Bart's mother Henrietta (Mary Healy) is hypnotized by the bad Doctor into becoming "second in charge of the whole Happy Fingers racket." And the putative hero, the music-loving plumber August Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes, Healy's frequent co-star and, for 58 years, her husband), is a complacent fellow who takes ages to take sides with Bart against Dr. T.
The movie is also daring in its extravagant (though seemingly not expensive) sets by Rudolph Sternad, who designed 23 films for Kramer, from "Champion" in 1949 to "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" in 1963. Sternad worked from Seuss sketches to devise rolling, arid science fiction landscapes, ladders that stretch to the sky, gilded bedrooms and grotty dungeons and, for the 500 boys to play at the climax, a gigantic two-tiered piano with 44,000 keys. Seuss peopled these vast, forbidding vistas with characters from his own teeming imagination (and his old notebooks): hulking sentries, their skin painted dark green; writhing musicians (for the big ballet, a mandatory item in any early-'50s musical); and two nasty roller-skating gents joined by a single long beard.
I guess "Dr. T." left out some prime Geisel, but there's more of it here, in more concentrated form, than anywhere else. In one scene Dr. T. takes Bart and Zabladowski on a tour of his dungeons, where various musicians are being tortured. "The lovely rumbling sound you hear" BOOM! BOOM! "is one of my favorite prisoners. He was a bass drummer in an orchestra I once conducted. Do you know the part in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony where the drummer is supposed to go 'ah-boom-boom-boom Boom'? Well, this stupid lout always went 'ah-boom-boom-boom Boom. Boom.' One extra boom. He'll be here forever." He approaches a cell with a man striking a huge drum, and Zabladowski asks, "You mean he has to keep beating that drum forever?" Dr. T. blithely sneers, "Oh, that isn't the man I'm punishing. My man is inside the drum." And we see, in silhouette, a figure pressed against the drum skin, pleading for Terwilliker to "Let me out!" Seussian whimsy at its starkest and darkest.
Apparently some scenes and songs are missing, prompting Cohen to call this "the kind of movie that begs for a restored and expanded release on DVD." I'd also ask for a CD of the score, with Seuss lyrics and music by Frederick Hollander, the cut-rate Kurt Weill who wrote most of Marlene Dietrich's most famous ballads. Most of the tunes are bright and cynical in the Berliner fashion: the perky "Get-Together Weather"; a mock school song for Terwilliker Academy; an elevator song as a guard takes the prisoners to the dungeon and itemizes the evils, floor by descending floor, like a department-store employee. There's also an aching ballad "Because We're Kids," performed by Rettig that encapsulates, like no other song I know, the frustration of the young at the power that grownups capriciously wield over them:
"Now just because we're kids, Because we're sort of small, Because we're closer to the ground And you are bigger pound by pound, You have no right, You have no right To push and shove us little kids around. Now just because your throat Has got a deeper voice And lots of wind to blow it out At little kids who don't dare shout, You have no right, You have no right To boss and beat us little kids about. Just because you've whiskers on your face to shave, You treat us like a slave. So what? It's only hair. Just because you wear a wallet near your heart, You think you're twice as smart, You know that isn't fair. But we'll grow up some day, And when we do I pray We won't just grow in size and sound And just be bigger by the pound. I'd hate to grow, Like some I know, Who push and shove the little kids around."
Less a kid's fantasy than a nightmare with horrible heights, long chases, the loss of a mother's love the movie ends in anarchy: Dr. T.'s musical plan is foiled, the kids run amok and a Rube Goldberg-style A bomb blows the whole place up. (By now Bart Collins has outdone Bart Simpson on the destructo scale.) Not since Jean Vigo's "Zero de Conduite" have filmmakers so fervently called for a revolt of the underage. Even the laconic Zabladowski falls under Bart's revolutionary spell. "People should always believe in kids," he says sagely. "They should even believe their lies."
But Dr. T. owns the movie's fingers, and its sullen magic. The part is made for Conried, for whom 1953 was a big year. He had another run-in with a metronome in that year's Disney feature "Peter Pan," where he voiced Captain Hook, and co-starred on Broadway in Cole Porter's "Can-Can"; get the original cast CD: his rendition of "If You Love Me Truly" is a cynical gem. As Dr. T. he has the film's fastest, dizziest, Seussiest song, "Do-Mi-Do Duds" ("do" and "mi" for the notes on the scale), as he dresses for what he believes is his greatest triumph. Let's go out by singing along, and if you don't know the tune, make up your own:
Come on and dress me, dress me, dress me in my finest array, 'Cause just in case you haven't heard, today is do-mi-do day. Dress me in my silver garters, dress me in my diamond studs, 'Cause I'm going do-mi-do-ing in my do-mi-do duds!
I want my undulating undies with the marabou frills. I want my beautiful bolero with the porcupine quills. I want my purple nylon girdle with the orange-blossom buds, 'Cause I'm going, do-mi-do-ing, in my do-mi-do duds!
Come on and dress me, dress me, dress me in my peekaboo blouse With the lovely interlining made of Chesapeake mouse. I want my polka-dotted dickie with the crinoline fringe, For I'm going do-mi-do-ing on a do-mi-do binge!
I want my lavender spats, and in addition to them I want my honey-colored gusset with the herringbone hem. I want my softest little jacket made of watermelon suede And my long persimmon placket with the platinum braid.
I want my leg-of-mutton sleeves, and in addition to those I want my cutie chamois booties with the leopard-skin bows. I want by pink-brocaded bodice with the fluffy fuzzy ruffs And my gorgeous bright blue bloomers with the monkey-feather cuffs.
I want my organdy snood, and in addition to that I want my chiffon Mother Hubbard lined with Hudson Bay rat! Dress me up from top to bottom, dress me up from tip to toe, Dress me up in silk and spinach for today is do-mi-do. Do-mi-do day! Do-mi-do day!
So come and dress me in the blossoms of a million pink trees! Come on and dress me up in liverwurst and camembert cheese! Come on and dress me up in pretzels, Dress me up in Bock beer suds, 'Cause I'm going. Do-mi-do-ing. In my do-oh oh-oh-oh oh-oh-oh oh do-mi-do Duds!
GEISEL TAKES CHARGE
Between "Dr. T." and his next Hollywood job, Geisel had vaulted from an author whose children's books sold steadily to the top of the best-seller list. "The Cat in the Hat," with a vocabulary of only 225 words, opened up the joys and sheer, surrealist fun of reading to pre-schoolers. Also, the Hollywood producer who wanted to work with Geisel was his old Private SNAFU friend Chuck Jones. They were kindred spirits: Chuck used fake-Latin names for his Road Runner and Coyote, as Ted had for his Esso-lube beasties. The cute, round-faced Jones even looked like some of the more benign Seuss creatures.
By all accounts, their collaboration on the 1966 network cartoon "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" was amiably collaborative. Smartly elaborated from the book by Geisel, beautifully directed by Jones and designed by Maurice Noble, the 25-min. film delighted audiences and became a holiday standard. "The Grinch" and the ineffable "Horton Hears a Who," which the same team produced four years later, It had an educational function as well: it taught kids that there was a higher form of animation than the cheap, stilted stuff they'd been exposed to on the many Hanna-Barbera series. Here was character created through line and movement, humor and heart in the grand scheme and the tiniest, Who-size details. Fabulous work all around.
Over the last two decades of his life, Ted would supervise other half-hour specials, with animation artists of gradually diminishing stature: Freleng on "The Lorax" and "The Hoober-Bloob Highway," Ralph Bakshi on "The Butter Battle Book." The character detail was more meager, the backgrounds less vivid. Each of the later films was more didactic than artistic: decrying corporate greed and ecological devastation ("The Lorax"), indoctrinating children before they are born ("Hoober-bLoob"), delineating the madness of America's arms race with the Soviet Union. Of course the liberal in me, and the humanist too, cheer these sentiments and hope they stuck in the DNA of the kids who watched them. These films may be among the most salutary treasures in Geisel's legacy.
But the curious kid in me still loves the Zimkowitz box score, the Flit ads, Private SNAFU's adventures with Axis pinup girls and the terrifying, hilarious Dr. T. in his do-mi-do duds. Thanks, Ted Geisel however your name is pronounced for appealing to my better nature, and my true one.