Published: February 15, 2010

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Acclaimed children’s writer Dr. Seuss, born Theodor Geisel, published How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 1957. This story tells how the grumpy Grinch tries to prevent the sweet-tempered citizens of Who-ville from celebrating Christmas. He steals the trappings of Christmas—the CHRISTMAS TREES, decorations, GIFTS, and special foods — but discovers that he cannot steal the spirit of Christmas. This realization transforms the Grinch, who then returns the stolen loot.

In Dr. Seuss’s Christmas story, the spirit of Christmas converts a Scrooge-like main character into a joyful soul. Viewed in this light, Dr. Seuss’s story might be seen as a children’s cartoon version of Dickens’s classic holiday tale, A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Its immense appeal to children led to its being transformed into an animated television special in 1966. Geisel adapted the script from his book, while director and animator Chuck Jones turned Dr. Seuss’s drawings into moving cartoon characters. Actor Boris Karloff, famous for his roles in horror films, dubbed in the voice of the Grinch. The show proved an immediate hit, and was rerun year after year. In 1971 Geisel received a Peabody Award for his work on the animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In the years to come, further Grinch television specials brought him two Emmy Awards—Halloween Is Grinch Night (1977) and The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (1982).
How the Grinch Stole Christmas — both the book and the cartoon— imprinted itself in the minds of millions of American youth. So much so that in the year 2000 Universal Studios, hoping to cash in on the phenomenon, released a live-action movie version of the story entitled Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Directed by Ron Howard, the film featured Jim Carrey in the title role. Realizing that the story told in the short book would have to be expanded if it were to become a full-length movie, Howard began adding scenes that developed the characters.
The designers labored to take Dr. Seuss’s two-dimensional drawings and recreate a three-dimensional Seussian world for the movie set. Rather than duplicate the exact look of Dr. Seuss’s Grinch book, they decided that the sets would reproduce a blend of environments depicted in the books. Dr. Seuss’s fantastical settings, buildings, and furniture, often drawn without right angles or much regard for the laws of physics, proved a great challenge to the design team. Makeup artist Rick Baker faced an equally difficult challenge, that of turning Jim Carrey into the Grinch and scores of other actors into the Whos of Whoville. Each morning before filming began, Carrey endured a three-and-a-half-hour makeup session, which included applying makeup over three foam rubber facial pieces as well as inserting false teeth and yellow contact lenses.
In the end the effort proved worth the trouble. Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas won an Academy Award for Best Makeup and was nominated for two additional awards — Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Costume Design.

Dr. Seuss was the pen name of Theodor Geisel (1904-1991). His love for doodling and drawing expressed itself at an early age. It continued throughout his formal education at Dartmouth College and Oxford University. Never a particularly dedicated student, he lost patience with the obscurity of advanced academic study while attending Oxford and returned to the United States, where he began to make his living as a cartoonist. As the years went by, Geisel became increasingly fascinated with language and rhyme, and began to work on wedding his rhymes to drawings. Some years later he prepared his first manuscript for a children’s book, eventually titled And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Twenty-seven different publishers rejected it. As Geisel walked the streets of New York, looking for the 28th publisher, he ran into an old college friend, Marshall McClintock, who had just become the children’s book editor for Vanguard Press. McClintock gave him the break he needed. Vanguard Press published Geisel’s book in 1937.
And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, written in verse, was a success. Though Dr. Seuss’s next books were written in prose, he eventually returned to the rhyme schemes for which he became famous.
Over 200 million copies of Dr. Seuss’s books have been published in 20 different languages. The enormous popularity of these stories propelled Dr. Seuss and his books into the role of cultural icons. He liked to think of himself as the man who had single-handedly rid American classrooms of the boring “see Dick run” style of early reader. In 1985 the senior class of Princeton University paid a humorous tribute to his role in forming generations of young readers, when they stood in unison and recited the entire text of Green Eggs and Ham as Seuss mounted the stage to receive an honorary doctorate.
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