Dr. Seuss Biography

Dr. Seuss was an important literary figure but did you also know that he was an influential political cartoonist during WWII?

Theodor Geisel was a third generation immigrant living in New York City at the start of WWII. He was an author and an artist, starting in advertising before moving on to become one of the most important political cartoonists of the past 100 years. You may be uncertain of the name, but you would recognize the work if you saw it for Theodor Geisel is more popularly known as Dr. Seuss. Nearly everyone is aware of the immense contribution made by Dr. Seuss through his amazingly imaginative writings and drawings, but few are aware of the political effort that he put in during World War Two.

After graduating high school, he spent some time in England, going to school and travelling. He returned to the US in 1927 and took up an apartment in New York City. He drew cartoons for "˜Judge' and "˜The Saturday Evening Post', created and drew ads for Flit and started his career writing books. His first, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street was published in 1937.

At this time in New York City there was a daily newspaper called PM. PM was a rather liberal paper that published from 1940 through 1948. A purely "˜information' and opinion driven paper, they accepted no ads, ran no puzzles, stock market reports and the like. It was a paper that specialized in "˜visual storytelling'. PM was very outspoken in it's politics and printed works by James Thurber, Crockett Johnson and Lillian Hellman among others. PM was a paper perfect for a person like Dr. Seuss. Seuss had an innate ability to see the goodness in man, he was a devote champion for tolerance and American ideals in practice.

In 1939 war broke out in Europe. Although America wouldn't officially enter the war for two more years, the fighting was a major topic of the day. As the conflict dragged on, continually growing worse, Dr. Seuss grew increasingly tense and angered (particularly over the workings of the Fascist Italian publicist Virgino Gayda). In 1941 he reached his boiling point and lashed out as only an artist can. He drew. He submitted his first political cartoon to PM in January 1941. The topic was an attack on Italian Fascism, but the work was unmistakably Seuss. He followed this cartoon with others depicting mainly the theories and ideas behind the war (particularly railing against American inaction). Finally in May of 1941 he attacked Hitler directly. Another popular target for many of these early cartoons was Charles Lindbergh, the famed flier who had, on more than one occasion made anti-Semitic remarks. Seuss continued to feel strongly that America should intercede in the growing war and drew profusely on the American discourse concerning involvement. No topic was away from him, in 1942 he launched into anti-black racism. Earlier that year, PM started a campaign against Father Coughlin, a Catholic Priest who preached a continuous stream of anti-Semitic rhetoric on his national radio show and in his monthly magazine. With the help of Seuss's cartoons, PM succeeded in seriously quashing Coughlin's' talk.

Dr. Seuss was sharply attuned to the politics of the day (which in that pre-television/pre-internet time was not an easy task). He stayed on top of the day's events to keep his cartoons timely and relevant. Seuss wrote not just "˜anti-axis' cartoons, but he probed deeply the American actions of the time (including labor strife, slow production and isolationist inaction). His work is simple in nature and style, yet complex in their content and design. The design is often daring, moving in and out of conventional comic "˜rules' (such as breaking frame) as the issues needed.

Seuss's work is both whimsical and poignant, driven by his large imagination. Seals, dragons and combination animals (a ½ dog, ½ lion for example) all helped drive home the issues while looking like they would be just as comfortable on a page next to the Sneetches. He often reduced both enemies and friends to non-humans (America was depicted as an eagle while Germany often took the form of a dachshund). It is most likely that the fanciful nature of the work is what allows the drawings to stand the test of time.

In 1942 Seuss became more intimately involved in the war effort as he began drawing posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board.

Seuss drew his last cartoon for PM in 1943. Over a 2 year span, he produced over 400 cartoons. He was stopped by the same thing that he wrote nearly daily about: the war. He joined the army and was assigned to Frank Capra's Signal Corps Unit where he worked in the production of movies for the war effort.

Dr. Seuss went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, 3 Oscars and countless other awards. His achievements to literature were immense, but we can never forget his achievements to America in her time of crisis.

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