“You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch. … Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch.” Those words describe the familiar green monster who steals the gifts and decorations from the Whos down in Whoville in the animated holiday classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! But surely not the beloved creator, Dr. Seuss?
Today Dr. Seuss is best remembered as the author of 60 children’s books, including such enduring rhyming classics as The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! But the man born Theodor Seuss Geisel had a richly varied career. While at Dartmouth College, he became editor in chief of the humor magazine Jack-o-Lantern. When he got caught drinking (this was during the Prohibition years), the college administration forbade him to contribute to the magazine, so to evade detection, he began writing under the name Seuss.
Geisel went on to do illustrations for magazines like Vanity Fair and Life and advertising campaigns for Standard Oil, General Electric, and NBC. He joined the animation department of the U.S. Army during WWII, where he fortuitously met the animator Chuck Jones, with whom he worked closely on an instructional cartoon called Private Snafu. After the war, he wrote short films including one with his wife, Helen, called Design for Death, an anti-war film that won the 1948 Academy Award for Best Documentary.
The Grinch first made his first appearance in a women’s magazine. Redbook published Geisel’s 32-line illustrated poem, “The Hoobub and the Grinch,” in its May 1955 edition, and soon was published as a book. Geisel good-humoredly admitted that he himself was the inspiration for the Grinch, in a December interview with Redbook: “I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noticed a very Grinch-ish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! So I wrote about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.”
His family also noted the resemblance. When the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a Dr. Seuss stamp in 2003, his step-daughter Lark Dimond-Cates gave a speech, saying, “I always thought the Cat … was Ted on his good days, and the Grinch was Ted on his bad days,” cited in the introduction to a collection called Horton and the Kwuggerbug and more Lost Stories (Classic Seuss). He even drove a car with a vanity license plate: GRINCH.
The animated special How the Grinch Stole Christmas! originally aired in December 1966, and was repeated annually during the Christmas season for 22 years. It includes nearly verbatim the entire text of the original black-and-white book, but adds color, animated sequences (the little dog Max riding down hill on the sled and slogging back up), as well as musical numbers, with original lyrics written by Geisel. And original they were: “Fahoo fores dahoo dores” that the Whos down in Whoville charmingly sing on Christmas morning despite the fact that all the presents and decorations are gone were nonsensical words that Dr. Seuss totally made up.
Boris Karloff, who’d made his name as Frankenstein’s Monster, voiced the narration and the Grinch. He did not, however, perform his eponymous song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” That was actually the voice of Thurl Ravenscroft, who went uncredited and whose voice many remember as Frosted Flake’s Tony the Tiger, “They’re grrreeeeat!” Ironically, Karloff received a 1968 Grammy for Best Recording for Children, the only award the actor ever won.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas was remade as a live-action film starring Jim Carey as the Grinch in 2000 and another animated remake is in the works for Christmas 2018 with Benedict Cumberbatch as the Grinch. No word yet as to whether he’s singing, “Your brain is full of spiders, you have garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch. I wouldn’t touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole!”