Massachusetts

How the Grinch Became a TV Star

When the much-loved television special How the Grinch Stole Christmas first aired on Dec. 18, 1966, optimists thought it might run for 10 years. Fifty-one years later, television networks still broadcast the Grinch during the holiday season.

47 years ago today, How the Grinch Stole Christmas first aired on television.

In 1966, How the Grinch Stole Christmas first aired on television.

The show developed with difficulty and at great expense. It was conceived in 1966, when animator Chuck Jones of Bugs Bunny fame called up his old Army buddy Theodor Geisel – aka Dr. Seuss.

Jones suggested they adapt one of his books for TV. Geisel said no. Geisel’s wife Helen urged him to at least listen to Jones, so Geisel invited him to come to his house in La Jolla, Calif.

By the end of the visit Geisel gave in. They would work together on How the Grinch Stole Christmaspublished in 1957 as a book and in an issue of Redbook magazine.

Dr. Seuss

Geisel grew up in Springfield, Mass., the son of well-to-do German parents. Born in 1904, he experienced anti-German prejudice during World War I. Though he had moved to New York City at 23, he never really left Springfield.

Dr. Seuss's art originated from his boyhood in the western Massachusetts city. In Grinch, for example, the town of Whoville looks like Easthampton, Mass., just north of Springfield, and the Grinch’s mountain resembles Mount Tom nearby.

No one thought How the Grinch Stole Christmas would become one of the most successful Christmas shows in history. MGM had lukewarm interest in producing it and had a hard time finding sponsors. After 20 rejections, the Foundation for Commercial Banks finally agreed to do it.

Original ad for How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Original ad for How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

The next challenge: Fill a half-hour show with a narrative that took 12 minutes to read as a book. Geisel had to add dialogue and songs to lengthen situations and enhance characters.  He added a comical scene where the Grinch climbs up the mountain to Whoville to stretch out the plot.

The Grinch

Jones and Geisel fought throughout the arduous creative process. Jones, for example, wanted the Grinch to have green eyes, Geisel wanted them to be pink.  Jones prevailed.

Jones also wanted to make the Grinch seem even meaner than he was in the book. He decided to lengthen and deepen his frown.

Boris Karloff, an inspired choice for the voice of the Grinch, went a long way toward making the Grinch nasty. Geisel especially liked the song: ‘You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch’ and the lyrics, “You’re cuddly as a cactus, you’re as charming as an eel.”

Jones used the full animation technique, which meant 25,000 drawings rather than the 2,000 more typical of the era. Two-hundred-fifty backgrounds were used. The musical numbers were produced by a 34-piece orchestra and a 12-voice chorus. Variety reported it may have been the most expensive show ever made for television.

When he first wrote The Grinch Who Stole Christmas in 1957, Geisel found it easy to name his character."I just drew him and looked at him, and it was obvious to me who he was," Geisel later said.

But he had a hard time coming up with the right ending for the book. He faced the same problem nine years later for the television show. Finally he wrote the Whoville song, which ends: “Christmas day will always be Just so long as we have we.”

For millions of viewers, he struck the perfect note.

You can get a Dr. Seuss fix in Springfield at the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden.

With thanks to Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel – A Biography, by Judith Morgan and Neil Morgan. This story was updated in 2017.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Tomsbridge Warhawk

    Tomsbridge Warhawk

    December 18, 2013 at 11:49 am

    My Dad had a few Dr Seus hand painted bar trays he obtained from Senator Phil Quinn prior to the Hotel Massasoit burning down in Spencer Ma. Wish I knew what happened to them. 🙁

  2. Peter Blaher

    Peter Blaher

    December 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Just went to Springfield last weekend for Bright Nights at Forest Park, really cool Xmas lights displays and they a massive Who ville display.

  3. Philip Anthony Hewitt

    Philip Anthony Hewitt

    December 18, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Ran the Walter D. Childs Marathon at Mt. Tom

  4. Kimberly Anne DiStefano

    Kimberly Anne DiStefano

    December 18, 2013 at 1:53 pm

  5. Jennifer Foster Harper

    Jennifer Foster Harper

    December 18, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    I love reading these little bits of history. Thank you!

  6. Molly Landrigan

    Molly Landrigan

    December 18, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    I still like to watch the Grinch each year!

  7. Don Marsters

    Don Marsters

    December 18, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    Thanks for the info Cindi … Love this movie

  8. Bonnie Lucente

    Bonnie Lucente

    December 18, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    I love the Grinch.<3

  9. Barb Regan

    Barb Regan

    December 18, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    My favorite!

  10. New England Genealogy

    New England Genealogy

    December 18, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    shared! thanks

  11. Nancy Joslyn

    Nancy Joslyn

    December 19, 2013 at 8:36 am

    you work with the REAL grinch

  12. Laura Butner Hardon

    Laura Butner Hardon

    December 19, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Always my favorite

  13. Bill Stroud

    Bill Stroud

    December 19, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    I was about to be 10 when it aired. Loved it then and at age 56, about to be 57 I love it still.

  14. Lori Cowell

    Lori Cowell

    December 20, 2013 at 1:20 am

    Proud to have lived some time in “Seussville”

  15. Ray Solomon

    Ray Solomon

    December 20, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    I didn’t know that about Easthampton. I went to school there.

  16. Pingback: Teddy Roosevelt Humiliates Dr. Seuss - New England Historical Society

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