Ted Geisel, AKA as Dr. Seuss, charmed us with The Cat in the Hat and the Lorax, but for me personally, he charmed me with his approach to his artistic life.
I grew up on Dr. Seuss. The first books I read myself were “Hop on Pop” and “Green Eggs and Ham“. On my birthday near the end of Rocko, my friend and Rocko Art director Nick Jennings gave me a book that had just come out about Ted Geisel . Much of his life resonated with me ( His wife had also committed suicide,) but it was his artistic approach and commitment which caused me to mark some pages as important.
In 1953, At the age of 49, Ted had gone through many incarnations of what his art expression could be, including a few children’s books which did not do well. He had just finished a disastrous movie experience with “The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T” and vowed he would never work in entertainment again. He sat with his agent who had just brought him a lucrative offer in entertainment and he replied “I’m Done with that. I’d like to give up movies and advertising and anything else that means dueling with executives and committees hmmm? I’m going to devote myself to children’s books.” Now Ted had never expected any riches from children’s books. His royalties from past books were very small. He told his friend Chuck Jones whom he had gotten to know at Warner Brothers ” We can get by on $100 a week. If I can make that in royalties we would be fine”. Chuck was skeptical. “You know, screenwriters make 5 times that much.” But Ted was not swayed. Doing children’s books brought him bliss. He felt the calling. This is what he would like to do. It was his joy. Even if they did not sell well.
Well, the results show what a commitment in your life to a solid path chosen from spirit can do. Ted wanted to remain so autonomous, he refused contracts and advances for his books. He chose only royalties after if was published, that way he was not tied to any one publisher, nor did they have a say in what he did. ( But he stayed with Random House which treated him well). He also refused any offer to create animation from his books. It was only after good friend Chuck Jones pleaded with him to make Grinch, and agree to Ted’s long list of demands, did he give consent to “exploit” one of his books into a 1966 TV special, which of course has remained a Christmas classic. ( and it sounds as if he definitely would not have wanted all of these features that have been made from his books. Before his death he had refused all offers to do anything else. Like Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes wanted with his strips, he wanted the books to remain the art form in itself.)
Because of his commitment, Ted Geisel has remained an inspiration to me. And although he didn’t have children which also comes into the equation when you make certain creative decisions, his devotion to his creative life has always been a guiding light.