While Rome burns

The concept behind “six degrees of separation” is always surprising, especially when it seems to work even with a celebrity like the late Dr. Seuss. I was able to make a connection using two people: my wife and her Great Uncle Philip Rosa.

Before the doctor’s name became common knowledge, there was a gentleman who lived in Manhattan by the name of Theodor Seuss Geisel. Born on March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Mass., Mr. Geisel graduated from Dartmouth College in 1925 and went on to Oxford University to earn a doctorate in literature. There he met Helen Palmer, and they wed in 1927. The couple returned to New York City where Geisel started working at Judge Magazine — at that time the leading source of humor in America — where he both drew cartoons and wrote humorous articles.

There he met my wife’s Great Uncle Philip, who was also a cartoonist at Judge. (For years, among other things, Uncle Philip also inked the newspaper comic strip “Red Ryder,” using the penciled outlines produced by the creator, Fred Harman.) Uncle Philip and Mr. Geisel would often go to the Art Students League for figure drawing.

Years later, Uncle Philip told us stories about Ted and his great imagination — including the references to an insecticide called Flit, a cartoon sketch that led to a contract with Standard Oil to draw cartoons for Flit advertisements. These ads led to the coining of the phrase, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!”

In 1960, Random House editor Bennett Cerf bet Geisel $50 that he couldn’t write an entire children’s book using only 50 words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham. A dynasty (and Dr. Seuss) was born.

Then novelist John Hersey told Geisel about the terrible and boring books available for beginning readers. With his wife, Helen, Geisel used a couple of hundred words listed on approved reading lists of the time and published an entire line of Beginner Books, under the pseudonym Theo LeSieg (Geisel spelled backward). Again, history was made.

On Dec. 18, 1966, 38 million people tuned in to CBS-TV to see what became one of the most-watched holiday specials in the history of American television: Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Reviewers and viewers loved it, especially because the animation was under the direction of Chuck Jones, one of the men responsible for all the great Warner Brothers cartoon characters — from Bugs Bunny to Elmer Fudd to the Roadrunner.

Helen Palmer Geisel died in 1967. In 1968, Geisel married Audrey Stone Diamond.

Dr. Seuss died on Sept. 24, 1991.

And here’s the most important point to make: Up until Geisel’s death, there were no commercial tie-ins for any Dr. Seuss characters! The good doctor maintained to the last that his books and his art were for children only; he refused any opportunity to capitalize on his creations.

But after his death, Geisel’s wife and children stepped in. Now, in addition to the horror of the critically damned Christmas film creation — starring Jim Carrey as the Grinch — we have Salton releasing a line of waffle makers, shower radios, toasters and hair dryers bearing the Grinch insignia. Or how about Cindy-Lou Who butter knives, or Random House now releasing titles such as How the Grinch Stole Hollywood, or Nabisco with a line of green-filled Grinch Oreos? There’s even a line of serigraphs featuring Dr. Seuss characters, licensed by his wife. Any artist will tell you that this is the final insult to an artist’s memory.

If Geisel could see the current exercise in Hollywood excess, I’m sure he would weep bitter tears. According to the press, Carrey is the one actor Mrs. Geisel was waiting for — the man born to bring the Grinch to life (and bring $5 million to the Geisel estate).

But how did the movie become such a hit? Why, market tie-ins, of course. In addition to those mentioned above, add the U.S. Postal Service’s Grinch posters — hanging above every counter in the country — plus green, furry fingers wrapping themselves around boxes of breakfast cereal; and hats, buttons and stuffed toys, available everywhere that capitalists gather. Consider The Grinch on Mt. Crumpit Cookie Jar ($49.99); The Grinch Sleigh Game; The Giant Grinch (on sale at Amazon.com for $112.59); The Grinch Radio Control Car; the Grinch Dinner Set; The Grinch Z-stem Goblet set; Whoville-opoly ($24.99); and The Grinch dinner platter!

You can go on-line to www.grinchwarehouse.com and read the following notice: “Become a Grinch: Join the Grinch warehouse. Let the Grinch help you make $$$. Sell licensed Grinch products from your Web site.”

Add to this the exhibition terms for theater chains — which state that the longer a film runs, the higher percentage of the box office take goes to theater owners and chains. So the flick persists.

As for Christmas, the movie producers pulled off another great coup: They sold the movie as The Grinch — seldom, if ever, using the original title. Hence, this noxious salute can continue to pollute immature brains through New Year’s Day, if not Valentine’s Day — or virtually the burgeoning spring itself.

What’s the eventual take? Those in the know suspect the final box-office take for The Grinch might reach $300 million.

And with merchandise spins, the sky’s the limit!

Imagine what the Grinch producers could do for The Bible.

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