Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How The Lorax ended up in the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum

Posted By on 06.17.14 at 03:45 PM

Green Cat With Lights by Stroogo Von M: Is this, or is this not, obviously the work of Dr. Seuss?
  • courtesy The Art of Dr. Seuss Gallery
  • Green Cat With Lights by Stroogo Von M: Is this, or is this not, obviously the work of Dr. Seuss?
One of the sad things about writing for print is that there's a limited amount of space and you have to cut bits that are fun and surprising, but extraneous to the main story. This happened last week when I was reporting and writing about the Art of Dr. Seuss Gallery in Water Tower Place.

Actually, there were a lot of great things about Ted Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, that didn't make it into the story. One was that Geisel was part of Frank Capra's film unit during World War II and created a series of animated shorts called The Adventures of Private Snafu that were intended to teach GIs good behavior.

Another was that Geisel was insecure about the the fine-art paintings he worked on late at night after he finished writing his great picture books and was afraid his friends weren't giving their honest opinion of his work because he was famous. So he signed one of the paintings, a Jackson Pollock-inspired work called Green Cat With Lights, with the name "Stroogo Von M," and hung it in the foyer of his house. Although a long-necked feline reminiscent of one of Dr. Seuss's most famous characters could be spotted amid the drippings, some of Geisel's friends claimed prior knowledge of Stroogo Von M and his work.

My favorite, though, was the story of how the original sketches and illustrations for The Lorax ended up in the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum in Austin.

According to Gene DeFillippo, curator of the Water Tower Place show, Geisel was normally very shy in social situations and inept at small talk. So when he learned that an upcoming dinner party he would be seated next to Liz Carpenter, who had been Lady Bird Johnson's press secretary, he planned to talk to her about The Lorax, since he knew her boss was a big environmentalist and would appreciate its message of saving trees.

loraxspeakforthetrees.jpg
  • courtesy The Art of Dr. Seuss Gallery

Carpenter was fascinated. Then she left the table to make a phone call. A few minutes later, Geisel was summoned to the phone. LBJ was on the other end.

"And he said"—and here DeFillippo lapses into an imitation of LBJ's loud Texas drawl—"'I want to thank you for donating your drawings to my library.' Ted never actually offered, but you don't say no to the President." (Or by now former President.)

And so there they are. I'm sorry I missed them when I visited the library a few years ago. But maybe I was just distracted by the display of Lady Bird's bowling ball.

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