Dec. 23, 2002
-- To most folks, he's the scheming, green sourpuss who hated Christmas so much he tried to make it vanish completely. But the Grinch inspired a little more sympathy in his creator. To Dr. Seuss, he wasn't a villain -- just a guy whose heart, "two sizes too small," needed a dose of the true spirit of the holiday. In fact, Seuss himself said that he identified with the fuzzy anti-hero.
Just like the Grinch, Theodor Geisel, who wrote and illustrated dozens of books under the pseudonym Dr. Seuss, didn't go in for the fancy celebrations surrounding the holiday. According to his niece Peggy Owens, he wasn't "into the sentimentality" of the season. Still, he spent every Christmas at home with his family in Springfield, Massachusetts.
For Morning Edition
, NPR's Elizabeth Blair
reports on the origins of one of the most famous -- and beloved -- modern Christmas stories, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas
. As part of the ongoing series Present at the Creation
, Blair traces the evolution of the Grinch, from the sketch on the wall of Seuss' studio to the icon who steals down from Mt. Crumpit every year to steal Christmas from the Whos.
Theodor Geisel was a private man, but those who knew him said he was a meticulous worker. He created his thought-provoking comic masterpieces in a house on Mt. Soledad, overlooking La Jolla, Calif., and the Pacific Ocean. Ted Owens, who is Geisel's great nephew, remembers the studio where the unmatched Seuss imagination was set free.
"All the walls would just be plastered with rough tissue sketchings," Owens says. "Sketches of what the story would be, what the layout would be, with the ideas for texts (and) crossed-out words as he refined over and over again, finding the right cadence and words to use in these stories."
In 1957, at the age of 53, Seuss published The Grinch
, and thousands of children first discovered the story of the Whos -- an endlessly cheerful bunch bursting with holiday spirit -- and the outsider so sickened by their joy in the season that he decides to hijack the holiday. The Grinch proves a natural at thieving, even lying to little Cindy Loo Who about his intentions as he stuffs the family tree up the chimney. Yet his efforts to ruin Christmas fail in the end.
Nine years after the publication of the book, television came calling. For help in translating his character to the screen, Seuss turned to Chuck Jones, the animator behind Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyote, the Roadrunner and many others. The two artists first met while collaborating -- imagine this -- on a series of military training films during World War II.
Jones' oddball, sardonic sensibility meshed perfectly with Seuss' nasty-but-nutty creation. Jones respected the source material, but trusted his own artistic instincts. In a 1996 interview with NPR's Bob Edwards, Jones revealed that it was his idea to make the Grinch, drawn in black and white in the book, into a green
meany. Still, the cartoon reflected more than just Jones' style.
"He said that the Grinch (in the television cartoon) looked... more like me than it did like his Grinch," Jones remembered. "And I'm afraid that it did. I tend to sneak my face in without knowing it, into things that I draw, because sometimes I'll glance in the mirror to get a certain expression I want."
Television critic Leonard Maltin believes inserting Jones into the Seuss formula was a stroke of genius. "(Jones) had a subtlety, and a grace, and a fondness for verbal wit that matched his facility for verbal humor, even slapstick," Maltin says.
The other pieces of the puzzle fit neatly, too. As the voice of the Grinch and the story's narrator, Boris Karloff, an actor known for his roles as movie monsters, nailed the story's simultaneously lighthearted and ominous tone. Albert Hague's songs helped lift the cartoon to classic status -- especially "You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch." The rich baritone on that tune is provided by Thurl Ravenscroft, the "grrrrreat" voice of Frosted Flakes' Tony the Tiger. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
played on CBS every Christmas for 22 years.
Despite the widespread appeal of the story, not everyone was pleased. Geisel once received a letter from brothers David and Bob Grinch of Ridgefield, N.J., asking if he would change the Grinch's name. Friends were teasing them. Seuss responded, "I disagree with your friends who 'harass' you. Can't they understand that the Grinch in my story is the Hero of Christmas? Sure... he starts out as a villain, but it's not how you start out that counts. It's what you are at the finish."
Listen to a Dec. 18, 1996, Morning Edition interview with Chuck Jones
, who produced and directed the animated version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas
, on the 30th anniversary of its debut.
Hear a Dec. 13, 1998, All Things Considered
report on the challenges of translating How The Grinch Stole Christmas into Latin
Listen to Washington Post
columnist Tom Shales' review
on Morning Edition
of Ron Howard's 2000 film, The Grinch
Hear the Sep. 25, 1991, All Things Considered obituary of Theodor Seuss Geisel
Hear a Dec. 16, 2002, All Things Considered
report on "the real story" behind Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat
Listen to an Oct. 23, 1999, Weekend Edition Saturday
report on Theodor Seuss Geisel's political cartoons
Hear NPR's Linda Wertheimer and Robert Siegel read Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham
on Read Across America Day, March 2, 1998.
Read about another children's classic in the Present at the Creation
offers online games based on
How The Grinch Stole Christmas
and other Dr. Seuss books.
Read a biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel
at the Dr. Seuss National Memorial
The Absolute Grinch
Web site offers video and sound clips, photos, and lyrics to the animated special.
Learn more about Thurl Ravenscroft
, who sang "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," the signature tune of the 1966 animated version of Grinch
See video clips and outtakes from The Grinch
, Ron Howard's live action film starring Jim Carrey.
Review a list of "Who's Who & What's What in the Books of Dr. Seuss
." (Adobe Acrobat required)
See a collection of Dr. Seuss political cartoons