Who Was Dr. Seuss’ Inspiration for the Grinch? Himself!
The rhyming children’s book writer only had to look in the mirror to find his anti-Christmas muse.
You’re a mean one… Dr. Seuss? When the beloved writer and illustrator of more than 60 books (real name: Theodor Seuss Geisel) brought to life the titular grumpy Mount Crumpit resident with a heart “two sizes too small” in his 1957 holiday classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, he didn’t have to look far for inspiration.
“I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noted a very Grinchish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss!” said Geisel in a 1957 interview with Redbook. “Something had gone wrong with Christmas, I realized, or more likely with me. So I wrote the story about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.”
‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ was Dr. Seuss’ easiest book to write
The Massachusetts native spent mere weeks pouring himself into the holiday-hating (but, later, reformed) Grinch, who attempted to “stop Christmas from coming” for “every Who down in Whoville.”
Perhaps because the rhyme master was channeling his own frustrations with the commercialization of Christmas, Geisel’s children’s book — preceded earlier that year by another of his best-known works, The Cat in the Hat — was, he has said, “the easiest book of my career to write.” That is, however, with one notable exception: He greatly struggled in coming up with How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ conclusion.
“I got hung up on how to get the Grinch out of the mess,” Geisel once explained of his writing process. “I got into a situation where I sounded like a second-rate preacher or some bible thumper… Finally in desperation… without making any statement whatever, I showed the Grinch and the Whos together at the table, and made a pun on the Grinch carving ‘roast beast’… I had gone through thousands of religious choices, and then after three months, it came out like that.”
When all was said and done, if there had been any debate over whether or not his own identity was the driving force behind the Grinch’s curmudgeonly ways, Geisel later removed doubt, cruising around his La Jolla, California neighborhood with vanity license plates that spelled out the word “GRINCH.”
He did include a much more subtle Easter egg within the story itself, however. “Why, for 53 years I’ve put up with it now,” the Grinch laments in the book of the Whos’ jubilant celebrations filled, of course, with “noise, noise, noise.” When the book was written and published— both by Random House as a book and as a feature in Redbook magazine — the writer not-so-coincidentally happened to also be 53 years old himself.
Geisel wasn’t the only one to make the correlation either. As his stepdaughter, Lark Dimond-Cates, recalled during a 2003 speech in honor of the U.S. Postal Service unveiling a Dr. Seuss stamp: “I always thought the Cat [in the Hat] was Ted on his good days, and the Grinch was Ted on his bad days.”
Dr. Seuss was hesitant to turn the book into an animated special
Nine years after How the Grinch Stole Christmas first hit bookshelves, Warner Bros. cartoon director Chuck Jones adapted the children’s book for the also-famous animated December 1966 CBS television special.
His path to bringing the Seuss tale to the small screen was not without obstacles, however, as Geisel was notoriously “anti-Hollywood” and reluctant to sell the rights to his book. Jones, having worked closely with Geisel when he served as commander of the Animation Department for the United States Army’s First Motion Picture Unit during World War II, was eventually able to convince his former colleague to entrust him, with a personal appeal.
Upon seeing Jones’ drawings, Geisel thought the animator had taken a page from his book, modeling the main character after himself. “That doesn’t look like the Grinch, that looks like you!” Geisel reportedly told him. In an interview for a 1994 TNT television special, Jones succinctly remarked, “Well, it happens.”
One aspect of the small-screen incarnation that was certainly all of Jones’ doing was giving the Grinch his iconic green hue, as the illustrations in the original publication of Geisel’s book were almost completely black and white. His idea didn’t have much to do with the way he looked or classic Christmas colors, however. Instead, Jones drew his inspiration from a series of funny coincidences: He somehow always ended up with rental cars in that particular shade of green.
In the end, Jones’ wasn’t the only adaptation of Geisel’s work to have children and nostalgic adults alike gathering around their television sets or flocking to movie theaters when December rolls around each year. In addition to a 2000 Ron Howard-directed live-action film starring Jim Carrey, a new 3D computer-animated version, narrated by Pharrell Williams and featuring the voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones and Angela Lansbury, among others, was released in November 2018.
Now, whether enjoyed via reading or watching on screen, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
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