Mr. “Seuss”: The Unauthorized Collection
Meet Theodor Geisel, the flawed man behind your favorite children’s books.
By Jared Hussey
Theodor Seuss Geisel is perhaps one of the most well-known children’s book authors to have ever walked this Earth. His books have stood tall against the test of time, teaching young people important life lessons — rhyme after rhyme. (Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ll leave the rest of the rhyming to Teddy.)
Despite the subject nature of his most famous works, “Dr. Seuss” was not always the friendly writer we consider him today. It took years for him to perfect some of his books, and there were many lines that editors and publishers left on the cutting room floor. In fact, some whole books were destroyed, with only a few pages of work salvaged for us to read and examine. Publishers were afraid that, if readers stumbled upon the unfriendly writing, it would ruin Teddy’s image completely.
In 1996 — a whole five years after Theodor passed away — I began picking up the pieces, trying to trace the whereabouts of his missing work. Now, nearly 20 years later, I’m proud to say I’ve stumbled upon several noteworthy omissions and alterations to the already-impressive Dr. Seuss bibliography.
Without further ado, I present to you some of my findings:
Loose Change on the Goose Range
This is perhaps the most famous unpublished work from “Dr. Seuss,” for reasons that will shortly become apparent. Geisel wrote it during his time at Oxford, but publishers told him to trash it because it didn’t have “enough imagination.”
The story features a society of geese who live on a “Goose Range,” which functions as a microcosm of our own world. One goose, Danny Detective, tries to make a name for himself as he investigates the destruction of a beloved landmark. Who was responsible for this tragedy? Was it the Destroyer Ducks who live on the outside of the Range, or the Governor Geese who run the society?
Unfortunately, we will never know who is guilty because the final pages are missing from the only known print of the book.
As this was written in 1926, some lines seem — dare I say? — prophetic.
One of the supporting characters, Moorely Mike, recites the following lines to a discouraged Danny Detective:
“Dreams are just dreams, but dreams can be real, and real is real real and jet fuel can’t melt steel.”
Later in the story, Danny sings to himself in the bath:
“Wash away the dirt, wash away to be clean, but you can’t wash away the fact jet fuel can’t melt steel beams.”
Finally, strangely enough, Danny becomes the mentor and encourages a young neighbor goose by saying:
“People will say you can’t be brave and you can’t be a hero, just like they said there was no thermite found at Ground Zero.”
Ground Zero, of course, was referencing the aforementioned beloved landmark. I understand this is all coincidence, but it at least makes you think, no?
One Fish, Two Fish, Grey Fish, Grey Fish
Thanks to the creative simplicity Geisel used in his writing, his books had a mass appeal. It seemed as if he could make art by just recycling the same one syllable words, and he did. The famous One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is a lesson in diversity. However, the original text was very different:
This book was originally to be targeted at color blind children, but the publisher decided against it due to the lack of sales it would lead to. The word “grey” was replaced with different colors, and the poor color blind kids whom Geisel sought to console were left without a book for themselves.
Dr. Seuss and menthols
Following his initial success, several companies approached Geisel for promotional opportunities. One of these companies was none other than cigarette conglomerate Marlboro. To appeal more to young children, “Dr. Seuss” released several poems advocating the purchase of menthol cigarettes for the brand. Although most poems were destroyed or lost, I found one that probably gives us the gist of the campaign:
After the Surgeon General warning was added to the box, Geisel bought back all of the advertisements he created for Marlboro, as he knew these promotions could seriously damage his career.
The Cat in the Hat
One of the most beloved “Dr. Seuss” books featured a feline in funky headwear. It’s a story that has survived long past its publication date of 1957, with an animated short and even a movie starring Mike Myers.
However, did you know that the first few drafts of The Cat in the Hat were very different from the final revised copy?
During the 1950s, Theodor was having trouble accepting his career path. He loved writing, but he thought he also had potential to teach kids important life lessons that other children’s book authors might not incorporate into their work.
The first draft of The Cat in the Hat featured no pictures and focused on two spoiled rotten, foul-mouthed kids who let a cunning, talking cat into their home while their mother is away. Wary of the creature at first, the children eventually learn to accept him and his two “idiot” accomplices.
The group goes on a drug-induced adventure throughout the story, culminating in a gruesome, gut-punching conclusion. The following are four pages from Geisel’s original manuscript, dated March 12th, 1952, with the publisher’s notes included:
Perhaps most shocking is the gloomy ending to the book:
The lesson is no doubt learned, but publishers had a hard time trying to distinguish the intended demographic for this book. After five years of editing, “Dr. Seuss” finally circled back to his roots and delivered the version of The Cat in the Hat we know today. The publishers loved it.
Kyle and Kylie
In December of 1971, Geisel began working on a children’s book about two siblings — Kyle and Kylie — who develop a romantic relationship while away at summer camp. However, when the two kids return home, their love is met with resistance from both of their parents.
“Dr. Seuss” wanted to craft a book that dealt with such a taboo subject head-on, but unfortunately, his publishers felt like incest was not a popular topic in the realm of children’s books. Geisel was forced to trash Kyle and Kylie, and we are only left with one surviving line from the original manuscript:
“Falling in love isn’t easy to do, especially when your mommy is her mommy, too!”
Stories like this could have ruined Theodor’s career, but you must admire his bravery for at least trying to take some risks and venturing out of his comfort zone.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a favorite holiday story among multiple generations. The tale details the transformation of a hideous green monster, from greedy and selfish to fun and loving. You must be thinking: “Let me guess… Dr. Seuss originally penned Mr. Grinch to be a sick and twisted murderer who feeds on the people of Whoville?”
Well… Yeah. If you were thinking that, you’d be right.
The first rough print of the book has been torn apart by publishers and members of the Geisel estate. I found some pages in Theodor’s old binder in Oxford that give us a glimpse of how drastic the Grinch changed from conception to finalization.
The point of this was to teach kids never to trust strangers (which completely opposes the removed line from The Cat in the Hat, but that’s a debate for another day). Publishers quickly shot this down, as cannibalism does not belong anywhere near a children’s book. Geisel reluctantly agreed, and got to rewriting. After about a year, the basic story of the Grinch — the holiday character we all know and love — was born. However, some lines needed fine tuning.
I lifted this line from a draft dated August 8th, 1957, only 3 months before How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was published. Looking at this carefully, we can see how the usual “Seuss”-imagination wasn’t quite there yet:
This moment in the story is the Grinch’s epiphany, and publishers knew the lines had to be stronger and pack a more emotional punch. Luckily, two days before its publication date, Teddy changed the lines to the now-famous:
There are two quotes in particular that are often misattributed to “Dr. Seuss.” One explanation for these misattributions is the simple fact that Geisel was around when these quotes were popular, and people were too lazy to correctly source them. The first quote is:
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
You see it on Facebook, and you may have even had it written on a Post-it note in your office. Sure, it sounds like something “Dr. Seuss” would say, but it is easy for anyone to mimic his attitudes and make up a quote. The truth is, no one knows where this quote originally comes from. Perhaps “Dr. Seuss” is closely linked with this quote because of a similar line of his:
“Don’t cry because it’s over. That’s what they want.”
The next quote deals with identity and accepting yourself:
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Again, it does sound like something he would say. However, the closest “Dr. Seuss” had ever come to saying this was when he was at a bar in Boston with his friend Derrick:
“Be who she wants you to be, Derrick. Feel what she wants you to feel. Come on, Derrick, do you really want to be alone forever? It doesn’t matter, Derrick. Nothing matters.”
Is it possible this quote morphed into the famous misattribution? Yes. People would much rather hear something hopeful from a beloved children’s book author than something so disheartening. We tend to forget, while Teddy was “Dr. Seuss,” he was also Theodor Geisel, a human person.
The man behind the ‘doctor’
While Geisel was a talented children’s book author, we sometimes overlook certain aspects of his life to preserve our preconceived notions about him. We believe that he was a totally good, perfect man with a terrific code of ethics and moral standards, and we want it to stay that way. But nothing and nobody is perfect.
I leave you with some facts about Theodor Geisel, which may help you understand how flawed he truly was:
- He never actually had any children of his own.
- He was not really a doctor.
- He cheated on his first wife while she suffered through cancer and other illnesses.
- She later killed herself.
- This was her actual suicide note:
“Dear Ted, What has happened to us? I don’t know. I feel myself in a spiral, going down down down, into a black hole from which there is no escape, no brightness. And loud in my ears from every side I hear, ‘failure, failure, failure…’ I love you so much … I am too old and enmeshed in everything you do and are, that I cannot conceive of life without you … My going will leave quite a rumor but you can say I was overworked and overwrought. Your reputation with your friends and fans will not be harmed … Sometimes think of the fun we had all thru the years …”
They say don’t judge a book by its cover. Also, don’t judge a person by his books.
The truth is always there. Sometimes, you just have to do a bit of research.