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Theodor Geisel, Dr. Seuss, Dead at 87

September 25, 1991 GMT

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Theodor Seuss Geisel, the master of rhyme and doodle who as Dr. Seuss wrote such whimsical children’s classics as ″The Cat in the Hat″ and ″How the Grinch Stole Christmas,″ has died. He was 87.

Geisel died Tuesday night at his home in La Jolla, and his family was at his bedside, said his 33-year-old stepdaughter, Lea Dimond. He had been ill for several months, she said.

He wrote and illustrated 47 books, selling more than 100 million copies in 18 languages. He was awarded a 1984 Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to children’s literature.


″If you asked people today to name one children’s author, I’d venture it would probably be Dr. Seuss,″ said Julie Cummins, the New York Public Library’s coordinator of children’s services.

His works seemed like journeys into nonsense, magical worlds of truffula trees, green eggs and ham, ziffs and zuffs and nerkles and nerds, where top- hatted cats run rampant through youngsters’ homes while goldfish scold.

But they often included subtle messages on issues important to him, from internationalism to environmentalism.

When asked two weeks ago whether he had any final message, a valedictory Geisel told the San Diego Tribune: ″Whenever things go a bit sour in a job I’m doing, I always tell myself: ‘You can do better than this.’ The best slogan I can think of to leave with the U.S.A. would be: ‘We can do and we’ve got to do better than this.’ ″

In his 1986 book, ″You’re Only Old Once,″ Geisel came to grips with his own mortality. He subtitled the work ″A Book for Obsolete Children,″ and described it as a book for adults in a children’s format.

An immediate best-seller, it took a satirical look at the medical profession through the eyes of an old man who has to be poked, prodded and examined during a stay in the Golden Years Clinic. He is confronted by an array of medical gadgetry capped by a mechanized pill drill and a patient assembly line.

Geisel spoke for many a frustrated patient when he wrote: ″When at last we are sure you’ve been properly pilled, then a few paper forms must be properly filled so that you and your heirs may be properly billed.″

In his 1984 best-seller, ″The Butter Battle Book,″ Geisel offered a parable for the atomic age. It chronicled the escalating arms race between the Yooks, who eat their bread butter side down, and the Zooks, who do just the opposite.


It ends with the two sides at the Yook-Zook border, each armed with the ultimate weapon - a Big-Boy Boomeroo bomb.

A boy asks his grandpa, ″Who’s going to drop it. Will you? Will he?″

″Be patient,″ grandpa says. ″We’ll see. We will see.″

Geisel was childless himself - after his first wife’s death in 1967, he married Audrey Stone Diamond, a mother of two - but had an unrivaled gift for delighting children.

″You make’em, I amuse ’em,″ he said.

Born March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Mass., son of a brewer who ran a zoo for a time during Prohibition, Geisel graduated in 1925 from Dartmouth, where he drew cartoons for the humor magazine, Jack-O-Lantern.

During a year studying literature at Oxford University in England, he met another American literature student, Helen Palmer, who encouraged Geisel’s artistic career.

After dropping out of Oxford, Geisel drifted to Paris, where he mingled with Lost Generation writers such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein.

He returned to the United States in 1927 to marry Miss Palmer and to pursue his hope of being a novelist. But the Great Depression forced him to put the great American novel on hold, and he went to work writing two-line gags for Judge and Life, both humor magazines at the time.

It was on a spoof of scientific developments that he first used the name that would become his trademark. He added ″Dr.″ to his middle name to sound more scientific.

″I wrote my first children’s book because my exclusive contract forbade me from doing virtually anything else in the world,″ he said. That book was ″... And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,″ penned on a ship crossing the Atlantic. He said that the words, strung together in the sing- song style that became his trademark, were written to the rhythm of the ship’s engine.

″Mulberry Street″ was published in 1937, the same year as his first adult novel, ″The Seven Lady Godivas.″ The children’s book, rejected by 27 publishers before being accepted by Vanguard Press, became a spectacular success. His novel was a commercial dud.

He wrote three more children’s books and switched to Random House publishers before World War II.

On his 80th birthday, the publishing company held a party at the New York Public Library, Cummins said.

″He seemed very alert and spry for his age,″ she said. ″He had a little twinkle in those eyes and you knew it was the genius where all those whimsical characters came from.″

Children liked his writing because he treated them as equals, Geisel often said. His illustrations were another matter. His creatures often looked like stuffed animals missing much of their sawdust.

″I’ve taken the mistakes and refined them a little bit,″ Geisel said in a 1986 interview with The San Diego Union. ″It’s all mistakes - controlled mistakes.″

″Horton Hatches the Egg,″ published in 1940, reflected Geisel’s impatience with pacifist sentiment in America at a time of international crisis.

When Horton the elephant, sitting on the egg of fly-away mother bird Maysie, is confronted by hunters, Geisel wrote:

″Did he run? He did not 3/8 Horton stayed on that nest 3/8

″He held his head high. And he threw out his chest.

″And he looked at the hunters as much as to say: ’Shoot if you must. But I won’t run away.

‴I mean what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful 100 percent.‴

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Geisel joined the Army and was sent to Hollywood, where he worked on indoctrination films under director Frank Capra.

Two Geisel documentaries made in the ’40s, ″Hitler Lives″ and ″Design for Death,″ co-written with his wife, won Academy Awards for their producers.

A Geisel cartoon, ″Gerald McBoing-Boing″ won its producer an Oscar in 1951 in the animation category.

He ended his Hollywood stint by writing the screenplay for the film ″The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T,″ a fantasy about a berserk music teacher, a giant piano and 500 music students. While it became a cult film, Geisel never included the work in his official biography because he was infuriated over script changes made after he completed the project.

From Hollywood, Geisel moved to the coastal village of La Jolla outside San Diego. Through the 1950s, he wrote a couple of children’s books a year, capped in 1957 by the publication of ″How the Grinch Stole Christmas and ″The Cat in the Hat.″

″Grinch,″ made into a cartoon with Boris Karloff reading the title role, was a stark critique of the commercialism that had befallen Christmas, a 20th century version of Dickens’ ″A Christmas Carol.″

″The Cat in the Hat″ revolutionized children’s reading habits.

″That is what I am proudest of; that I had something to do with getting rid of Dick and Jane,″ Geisel said in 1982.

″His philosophy was to try to give the kids as many good laughs to get them over the hump to learning to read,″ said author Stan Berenstain, who along with his wife, Janice, wrote the popular children’s Berenstain Books.

Sales of ″The Cat in the Hat″ soared, and Geisel did not mind if it was slow to catch on in the classroom.

″If it were a textbook and assigned, kids would hate it like everything else,″ he said. ″This is a prize they get. They can read it in their spare time.″

Geisel’s works also included ″One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish,″ ″The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,″ ″Horton Hears a Who,″ ″Green Eggs and Ham″ and ″Yertle the Turtle.″

Of all his books, though, ″The Lorax″ was his favorite. His last book was ″Oh, the Places You’ll Go,″ published in 1990.

Geisel is survived by his wife, Audrey, two stepdaughters, Lea and Lark, his niece, Peggy Owens, and her son Theodore Owens, of Los Angeles.