Oh, the places his stories went!
In fact, the children’s literary master was so skilled at getting youth to read, that the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day purposefully coincides with his birthday, March 2.
“I’d rather write for kids, they’re more appreciative,” Dr. Seuss — who wrote more than 60 books — once said, according to his 1991 New York Times obituary. “Adults are obsolete children, and the hell with them.”
But there was more to the writer — who would have turned 114 years old on Friday — than just whimsical rhymes. In fact, the man who made millions of children laugh had a personal life filled with great sadness— and had illegal gin to thank for his famous moniker.
“Dr. Seuss” isn’t the author’s real name
Born Theodor Seuss Geisel on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Mass., Seuss began using multiple pen names after he got in trouble for drinking bootleg gin while attending Dartmouth (it was the Prohibition era, after all). He was booted from his position of editor-in-chief at the college’s humor magazine, Jack-O-Lantern, but continued to publish work under different names. Seuss eventually shortened “Dr. Theophrastus Seuss” to “Dr. Seuss,” according to biographer Philip Nel via PBS.org. Nel said that Seuss originally planned to save his real name for when he became a novelist.
He used his drawing skills for advertisements and war propaganda
Before Dr. Seuss published his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1937, he made his living writing copy and creating advertisements for major companies like NBC and Ford Motor Company. His ads for Flit bug spray were immensely popular, so much so that he worked for the company for 17 years, according to PBS.org. In 1941, his work became political when he started making cartoons for a left-wing newspaper that pushed for the U.S. to enter WWII. Seuss then worked with director Frank Capra to create war propaganda films.
Dr. Seuss had a surprising and sometimes sad personal life
Though he wrote books for children, Dr. Seuss didn’t have any of his own because his first wife, Helen Geisel, couldn’t bear children. According to History.com, she was depressed because she suffered from partial paralysis from Guillain-Barré syndrome and possibly suspected that he was having an affair with her friend Audrey Dimond. She committed suicide in 1967. A year later, Seuss married Dimond, who had two daughters from a previous marriage. Whenever Seuss was asked how he could write for children when he didn’t have any of his own, his go-to response was “You make them, I’ll amuse them,” according to biographer Nel.
Dr. Seuss won many awards for his work in TV and film
Not only a successful children’s author, Dr. Seuss also wrote for film and TV, according to the New York Times. His documentaries, Hitler Lives and Design for Death, both won Academy Awards in 1946 and 1947, respectively. In 1951, he added an Oscar to his shelf of awards for his cartoon short Gerald McBoing Boing.
One of his most famous works was the result of a bet
Write a book using 50 words or fewer. That was the bet Dr. Seuss made with his editor Bennett Cerf and the result was Green Eggs and Ham (“I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am”). In 2012, Publisher’s Weekly reported that the book had hit a landmark, selling approximately 15 million copies since its 1960 publication date.
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Dr. Seuss wrote two adult novels, one with nude drawings
In 1939, Seuss published The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History’s Barest Family, which is a retelling of the legends of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom. The book included pictures of female nudes. “[Seuss] would like to say he felt it was a flop because he couldn’t draw sexy, naked ladies,” Nel said, according to PBS.org. “And he has a point. Imagine naked ladies drawn by Dr. Seuss. Not particularly erotic.”