Transcript

Below is an edited transcript from Reading Rockets' interview with Audrey Geisel. The transcript is divided into the following sections:

How Audrey met Dr. Seuss

I wasn't aware that there was such a thing as a Dr. Seuss. I taught nursing at IU [Indiana University], and doctors were a very understood name and title. So, when I was being ushered down this line of about a dozen M.D. doctors and I came to Ted and they said, "And this is our very own dear Dr. Seuss," I immediately thought interns and medicine – just automatically. It was such a setup. And I was being facetious, and I said, "Well, what is your specialty? The right or the left nostril?" And he just looked at me, didn't say anything, and I was ushered along to the next person.

"The first book that was almost the last "

That first, first, early, early book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, was something that you realized that his imagination was starting to just gallop along. And when there wasn't anything on Mulberry Street, except little houses all looking very similar; nothing going on, he then began to make the most wonderful, imaginative fibs as To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street turned out to be.

Mulberry Street did not fare well in the marketplace. Ted took it to 27 different, possible places. No one was interested. No one really understood. It was so different. And the idea that, "Here is a kid who fibs all the time. We can't put this out!" you see?

But then a friend of his from Dartmouth happened to see him rather dejectedly walking along the street and said, "What are you doin', Ted?". And he said, "Oh, I've tried. This [book] is my first attempt. No one's interested. I guess that's it. Over and out."

And that [friend] said, "Let me take it upstairs." They were near his publishing house. "Lemme look it over." And he put it out, and here was this response. And that's the response that grew and grew.

"I've got it!"

He was his own person. There was no one that would tell him anything about his work... And so it would be, when he had an idea, when it was a new idea, he'd come scuttling in, kinda like that, and tell me, "I've got it." "I've got it." What I learned [is] that he didn't want an answer. He wanted nothing. He just wanted to let me know he had "it" – whatever "it" was going to be.

...As I was saying, when he had the idea, he'd share that he indeed had the idea, and then he'd hit the desk, and he'd stay with it night and day; made no difference that it was one o'clock, two o'clock, three, four, five – no difference at all. Till he had it really fleshed out. Till he personally was satisfied with it. He was not aware of the time at all.

Then, when he reached a place where he couldn't take it further for one reason or another, then he'd get out the easel and he'd begin an original painting.

A challenge for Ted Geisel

In Ted's writings, he tended to be very specific. He tended to put as much time in as he felt necessary and that he felt he wanted to. And he had friends who would say "I'm going to do a children's book on the weekend. This weekend is open. I'll bring it up, see what you think." That used to privately gall him. He worked so hard on every book. And the fact that some wouldn't have more than 250 words – that in and of itself was such a challenge.

He was given that challenge by Bennett Cerf [Seuss' publisher at Random House]. They were very good friends, and [Bennett] would say, "I betcha can't do it in 225," something like that. And that would get to Ted, and he'd get it down there somehow. It might take months and months to really make it readable after he had his 225 words. But, he was open to that kind of challenge.

...People recall Bennett Serf as a TV person on talk shows and that sort of thing, but he had declared more than once that he had one genius at Random House, and that was Ted Geisel. They were very good friends, and he did put forth challenges to Ted. And Ted couldn't stand a challenge that he didn't respond to. And Bennett knew just where to hit him. Tell him he couldn't tell a complete story in a certain amount of words, very few words, because that is quite a challenge. And that would take Ted quite a time.

...As time went along, no one at Random House ever touched his books. He would do the book. He would then illustrate the book, or illustrate first and then write it. And he'd ship it East to Random House. No one ever edited it. No one ever touched it. It went right to press. And that had never been done before, and Random House has not done that since. They edit everything, but they never edited Ted's work.

Dr. Seuss's favorite book

I've been asked many times what was his favorite. First of all, he liked each one; he was like a father. He liked all his children, each particularly in the time of their conception.

When it comes to Ted's books, I love them, and I find such clever things. I like "this" for that book, and I like "that" for this book. But one of my very own personal, private favorites is the one about Ted. It had a very remarkable time when it came out, and that was You're Only Old Once.

Every book had a message

Every book had something that was morally important, but rather masked, but always there. Otherwise, Ted would not have said from time to time, "Am I getting preachy?" He did not wish to seem to be preaching.

He was putting forth a variety of messages. Case in point: Horton. "A person's a person, no matter how small." "An elephant's a hundred percent" – that kind of thing.

And what his characters did was – imagine an elephant sitting in a tree all that time, never leaving. I was so happy that out of that egg came an elephant bird – little, tiny elephant bird out of there. That was fun.

A career that spanned 50 years

I think he had a span of 50 years, more or less, of turning out, more or less, a book a year. And as time went along, they began to have a definite message. [Sometimes he asked me,] "Am I preachy?" He really thought he held the preacher portion in very good control. But he wanted to hear it, and so I would tell him, "You have a message. Anyone that puts pen to paper has a message, or what are they doing? But," I said, "You're not preaching at all."

And he wasn't. It was hidden so beautifully by, oh, "The Sneeches On the Beaches." That was a hidden message there. All you got were stars on the bellies, or not. That [story] started down at the beach and tennis club. There were the haves and the have-nots, so why not show that by a star on "thar's," and none on "thar's"? That's how that worked out.

A tad subversive

He wanted to free the children from parental presence. He wanted to be a tad subversive about that. And besides that, it was more innocent times, and now you wouldn't dream of leaving them alone. But you could at that time. Not recommended, but you could. But from Ted's point of view, that wasn't the story. It was what happened in the absence.

Some early regrets

Cat in the Hat was years before there was a Dr. Seuss or a Ted Geisel in my life. And he wasn't in my life at all. I had two children, two daughters; but I wasn't functioning very well in that area. What I should've been doing, I didn't. I didn't read to them. By that time, there was nothing left. I was in bed at the same time they were.

A working relationship

Well, I was a sounding board, and I think a very intuitive, important sounding board. And I also became the colorist as we went further and further into color charts – that sort of thing. And I was a confidant, of course. And I was the very loving caregiver. Keep the systems going. Maintenance.

From primary colors to shades of lavender

Ted had worked with primary colors: yellow, red, black. With the Lorax and the story of The Lorax, it was absolutely imperative [to include the] various shades of lavender, mauve, grey – all those shades that are really quite complicated. I think there were times that Random House felt, "What is happening here? We have to have a complete scale of colors." And I was putting out the colors.

But you had to [use vibrant colors], because the Barbaloots were leaving through this "smogulous fog." You're not gonna pick red, white on that, you know.

So, I came in at that time, and every book from there on in became far more color-conscious – subtle color-conscious.

If he had been an architect…

There was one thing that I knew I was going to do for Ted... I had taken him out to UCSD [University of California, San Diego] when their library was finished. And it was such an unreal building. And I thought it was fabulously original, special. And I took him up, and I showed it to him. And he looked at it, stood around it, looked at it, snorted once or twice and said, "Well, if I'd ever strayed into architecture, that would probably look quite similar." And at that moment, that building was the Geisel Library.

Dr. Seuss's legacy

I just know that what he left as a legacy is the fun of learning when you don't know you're learning. I think the legacy is that he pleased children. He pleased the parents of children. And he's here for all time.

A hug from one generation to the next

Reading to a child something that you have read that meant a great deal to you – you are touching that child in more than one way. You're touching him. He's getting it first time, but he's realizing it's part of you, and that you knew about it before he did. There's something very warming about that. It's like a hug.

"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." — Walt Disney