Guest article by Hugh Turley
The real name of Dr. Seuss, the children’s author, was Theodor Seuss Geisel. At Dartmouth, he was editor of the humor magazine Jack-O-Lantern. When Geisel was banned from extra-curricular activities for violating school rules he adopted the pseudonym “Seuss” to continue at the magazine, defying the administration.
Upon graduating, Geisel told his father he had been awarded a fellowship to Oxford. His proud father had the news published in the hometown newspaper, only to discover later there was no scholarship. The embarrassed father paid his son’s way to Oxford, believing he would earn a doctorate in literature. Geisel soon returned without earning a degree and simply added the title “Dr.” to his pen name.
Geisel enjoyed some success as an advertising artist. He tried a comic strip in 1935, but it soon folded.
Well before Pearl Harbor, Geisel drew propaganda cartoons advocating U.S. entry into World War II. He targeted, especially, prominent anti-war Americans like Charles Lindbergh.
His cartoons deplored Nazi racism against Jews. They also touted equality for black Americans; that helped the war effort. Japanese Americans, on the other hand, he depicted savagely as traitors and saboteurs. Many of his comics point to this.
A strong supporter of President Roosevelt, Geisel routinely attacked FDR’s critics as well as critics of our war allies Joseph Stalin and the Communists.
Geisel’s career skyrocketed in the 1950s. His most famous book, The Cat in the Hat, was published in 1957. His credits include two Academy awards, two Emmy awards, a Peabody award, and a Pulitzer Prize.
Percy Crosby was born 13 years before Geisel. He had quit high school to help support his family. Crosby was the talented creator of the comic strip Skippy that ran from 1923 to 1945. The popular Skippy character was syndicated through King Features, appeared in advertising, and was adapted as a movie by Paramount.
The licensing of the Skippy name, with Skippy toys, games, candy, ice cream, and clothing, was worth a fortune. During the Great Depression Percy Crosby was a rare millionaire.
More than a successful cartoonist, Crosby was a fearless champion for justice. He used his pen and his own money to take on the Ku Klux Klan, Al Capone, and corrupt politicians. Crosby was also a fierce critic of President Franklin Roosevelt.
Crosby’s daughter, Joan Tibbetts (Skippy.com), says her father “was treading on big toes.” A California peanut butter company took the Skippy name without Crosby’s permission. This led to costly litigation. More trouble came with IRS claims of tax evasion. His comic strip ended in 1945.
Eventually Crosby was committed to a psychiatric ward where he remained for sixteen years until his death. “Skippy” is now better known as peanut butter sold by Best Foods.
Who knows why men’s fortunes rise and fall? Upton Sinclair once wrote, “You will float upon a wave of prosperity, and in this prosperity all your family will share…All this, of course, provided that you stand in with the powers that be, and play the game according to their rules. If by any chance you interfere with them, if you break the rules, then instantly in a thousand forms you feel the pressure of their displeasure.“
Reprinted with permission of Joan Crosby Tibbetts.
(Note the fence with Skippy’s paint can in this label from the 1940s)
This article appeared in the April 2009 Hyattsville Life and Times of Hyattsville, Maryland.
See also “Roosevelt’s Revenge.”