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How Dr. Seuss Got His Start 'On Mulberry Street'

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How Dr. Seuss Got His Start 'On Mulberry Street'

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How Dr. Seuss Got His Start 'On Mulberry Street'

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today, we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of a book that launched the career of Theodor Geisel. You may know him better as Dr. Seuss. Before he rocked the culinary world with "Green Eggs and Ham" and put a red-and-white striped top hat on a talking cat, Dr. Seuss was stuck on a boat, returning from a trip to Europe.

For eight days, he listened to the ship's engine chug away. It probably sounded something like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SHIP ENGINE)

GREENE: The sound got stuck in his head, and he started writing to the rhythm. Eventually, he had his first children's book. It was called "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street."

(SOUNDBITE OF A SHIP ENGINE)

GREENE: The book is about a boy named Marco who wants to tell his dad an interesting story about what he saw that day. But the only thing Marco's seen is a boring old horse and wagon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "IN SEARCH OF DR. SEUSS")

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: There's nothing to tell. You know, that won't do, of course, just a broken-down wagon that's drawn by a horse.

That can't be my story. It's only a start. I'll say that a zebra was pulling that cart.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: That's a story that no one can beat, when you say that you saw it on Mulberry Street.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENE: That reading is from the movie "In Search of Dr. Seuss." In the end, Marco knows his father won't tolerate a made-up story. And so the dejected little boy just tells his dad the boring truth.

Dr. Seuss didn't have an easy time selling this bittersweet story to publishers.

GUY MCLAIN: It was rejected 27 times.

GREENE: That's Guy McLain. He works in Massachusetts at the Springfield Museum. That's in Dr. Seuss's hometown. McLain's become a local expert on Dr. Seuss, and he says Mulberry Street may have never been published were it not for a chance encounter Dr. Seuss had one day.

MCLAIN: He bumped into a friend, as he was walking home in New York City, who had just become an editor at a publishing house in the children's section. He said that he had given up. He was going to destroy the book. And this editor said, well, let me take a look at it, and that led to the publication of the book.

GREENE: It was a moment that changed Dr. Seuss's life.

MCLAIN: He said if he had been walking down the other side of the street, he probably would never have become a children's author.

GREENE: The book was published. It got great reviews, and the rest is history.

But why Mulberry Street, you might ask? Turns out, it's a real-life street in Dr. Seuss's hometown. Guy McLain's been there.

MCLAIN: It was a street very close to his grandparents' bakery. And I think also, too, it was the rhythm, the sound of the word that was very important with Dr. Seuss, because there's nothing special about the street, really.

GREENE: But really, that ordinary street launched one extraordinary career.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE TOY TRUMPET")

GREENE: And this is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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