Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Excerpt adapted from The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories, by Vickey Kall

What is Christmas without the Grinch?
Well, since 1957 anyway--the year the book How the Grinch Stole Christmas was first published. Did you know that the book itself was an immediate bestseller?
The author, Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel), was already a proven success, so the publisher printed 50,000 copies--a new high for a children's book. Macy's had its first $2 million dollar day on December 10, 1957, thanks to sales of that book--and the $2 million record was for any department store, not just Macy's.
Dr. Seuss was friends with Chuck Jones, who headed up the animation department of MGM. Jones had been the genius behind hundreds of Looney Toons and Merrie Melody cartoons. Their friendship  went back to World War II, when Jones and Seuss--who of course went by the name Geisel then--collaborated to produce a series of educational cartoons for the army about Private Snafu.  Snafu--as his name suggests--did everything wrong and suffered the consequences.
Jones suggested  working together to produce a Christmas special from the Grinch book. Dr. Seuss said no--but fortunately Mrs. Seuss (Helen Geisel) convinced her husband to reconsider.
In the book, the Grinch himself is as white as copy paper, and he does not look much more ferocious than, say, the Cat in the Hat. As the show came together, though, the Grinch got more and more evil looking. His frown turned farther down, and his and body became green.
Only three actors lent their voices to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, one of them being Boris Karloff--who, already in his late 70s, narrated the piece and played the Grinch as well.
He also voiced several of the Whos. Altogether, that was quite a linguistic feat since Karloff suffered from emphysema and painful arthritis.
That's Karloff with Chuck Jones, to the left.
One day Dr. Seuss brought a friend, who happened to be a cardiologist, to listen to one of the recording sessions.  The doctor told Seuss that Karloff was so ill he doubted he'd survive much longer. Karloff, however, went on to make four more movies before his death in 1969.
Although he didn't get a screen credit on the original show, Thurl Ravenscroft sang the song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."
Know where else you've heard that marvelous bass voice? He played the cartoon Paul Bunyon, sang in The AristocatsCinderella, and Lady and the Tramp, and his voice is played daily at Disneyland on several rides, including Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion.
But Thurl Ravenscroft biggest claim to fame (aside from having one of the coolest names in the world) is his fifty years as Tony the Tiger. Yup, his was the voice that roared "They're grrrrrreat!" for five decades, until his death in 2005.
Lastly, Cindy Lou Who was played by June Foray, a prolific and well-known voice actor who started on the radio in the 1930s and is still working. She was Lucifer the Cat in Cinderella (co-star Thurl Ravenscroft played a mouse) and played Rocky the Flying Squirrel (as well as Natasha, the evil secret agent) on television. She is one of the most famous cartoon voices ever, but a lot of her work was done without credit--including, initially, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The cast recording won a Grammy award in 1968, and CBS showed the cartoon every year from 1966 until 1987 when Turner Broadcasting bought MGM's catalogue (MGM was officially the producer). SInce then, How the Grinch Stole Christmas shows up annually on Turner-owned stations.
Did you like this story? The best part is, it's all true!
You can find many more entertaining anecdotes and secret histories in The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories on Amazon, in print or eBook form. Both are in full color and make perfect holiday gifts for the Baby Boomers in your life!