Many of us grew up thinking that we knew every Dr. Seuss fact and every story, whether they were tales of holiday-crashing ghouls, environmentalist imps, or totalitarian turtles. Under their cartoonish and fantastical veneer, Seuss's stories always seem to have a deeper or darker meaning, and that also appears to be true about the personal life of the rhythmic writer himself. The details about Dr. Seuss’s racist cartoons and the tragedy of his first wife's demise are darker tales than even the most demented of Seussian stories.
In the fictional world, Dr. Seuss might have a hat-wearing cat destroy your house, but in the real world, Dr. Seuss had the power and proclivity to destroy lives.
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield, MA, on March 2, 1904, and he’d spend his life crafting some of the most enduring children’s literature ever created under a pseudonym. His first book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, dropped in 1937, and he would continue to punch out classics for several decades thereafter. It wasn't until 1956, though, that Geisel finally received an honorary doctorate from a university; before then he’d just been calling himself a doctor for kicks.
Dr. Seuss Actually Hated ChildrenPhoto: ISTJonathan / Wikimedia Commons
Dr. Seuss is one of the most well-known children’s author in the world, so it may be surprising to learn that he didn't actually care to have any of his own. His motto was “You make them, and I’ll amuse them.” Seuss never had children, and he once confessed to his wife that he was actually quite terrified of them. He noted that the root of his fear was children’s unpredictable nature.
Seuss Picked Up His Pseudonym After Being Fired From A Writing Job For Drinking During ProhibitionPhoto: Al Ravenna / Wikimedia Commons
The man behind The Cat in the Hat was born Theodor Seuss Geisel, but that’s not the name he would make famous. A penname became a necessity when Geisel lost his job as editor-in-chief of Dartmouth humor mag Jack-O-Lantern after he and several friends were busted for drinking during prohibition. From then on, Geisel would write under the name of Seuss, and he’d add the Dr. part of his nom de plume after college as a consolation to his father for never becoming an actual doctor.
Dr. Seuss Was Obsessed With Creating An Erotic Cartoon Book, But It FloppedPhoto: Random House
Dr. Seuss found the majority of his success in writing children’s books but at one point in his career he thought his talents would be better suited to the art of erotic storytelling. When Seuss joined with Random House Publishing in 1939, he did so under the condition that they allow him to publish an adult book that he had been working on for a while. The result was The Seven Lady Godivas. The book was a total disaster, in part because Seuss’s idea of eroticism was to draw women exactly like he drew characters in his children’s books.
He couldn't figure out where he had gone wrong. The good doctor even opined, “I attempted to draw the sexiest babes I could, but they came out looking absurd.”
He Created Racist Advertisements For PesticidePhoto: Collectors Weekly / Pinterest
Some of Dr. Seuss’s earliest paid work was extremely controversial by today’s standards. It’s bad enough that he was shilling for the oil and pesticide industries, which are now understood to be some of the most environmentally damaging industries on Earth. However, several of the ads he drew were also quite racist, including ads for FLIT pesticide that featured awful caricatures of Black people. In most cases, the racism had little to do with the product itself, and seemed to be added solely for a horrid attempt at humor.