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Photo of Theodor Seuss Geisel.

March 2, 2018 – Theodor Seuss Geisel, Other Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays

Today is Friday, March 2, 2018. It’s the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel or Dr. Seuss. Other literary birthdays today include writers John Irving and Sholem Aleichem. And today in 1965, “The Sound of Music” premiered in New York City. Today’s poem is “London Snow,” by Robert Bridges. The weekend is nigh. Let’s have a fabulous Friday.

Theodor Seuss Geisel

Born today in Springfield, MA in 1902 was Theodor Seuss Geisel (affiliate link). You know him by his pen name, Dr. Seuss.

Geisel’s literary career began at Dartmouth College. There he served as editor of the school’s humor magazine. But one night Geisel and his friends were caught drinking alcohol in his dorm room.Photo of Theodor Seuss Geisel.

It was Prohibition, so consuming alcohol was a Federal crime. The school fired Geisel from the magazine. He continued to write for the periodical, though, under the pseudonym Seuss.

Seuss graduated from Dartmouth, then went to Oxford University in England. He dropped out in 1927, and wrote his first children’s book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.”

Twenty-seven publishers rejected the book. It finally published, in 1937, as the first book by Dr. Seuss.

By 1954, Geisel was a successful children’s author. That year, Life magazine published an article critical of American children’s reading levels. So publisher Houghton Mifflin came to Geisel with a request. Could he write a children’s primer comprised of 220 words that the publisher deemed essential to literacy?

Geisel came up with the book, “The Cat in the Hat.” Featuring a tall cat wearing a red-and-white hat, “The Cat in the Hat” became an immediate hit. Children, parents, and schoolteachers read it still today.

Along with the Cat, Geisel created the enduring character The Grinch. And he wrote memorable phrases, such as, “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.”

Geisel received many awards and honors, including a 1984 Pulitzer Prize.

John Irving

Cover of John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany."

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It’s the birthday of writer John Irving (affiliate link), born in 1942 in Exeter, NH. He was born John Wallace Blunt, Jr. His mom changed his surname to Irving after divorcing his father and remarrying.

Irving’s first book, “Setting Free the Bears,” published in 1968. He was 26 and a student at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The book’s manuscript served as his Master’s thesis.

Two novels followed “Setting Free the Bears” before Irving published “The World According to Garp” in 1978. It’s the story of a single-mother feminist writer named Jenny Fields and her fatherless son, T. S. Garp.

“The World According to Garp” became an international bestseller. It won the 1980 National Book Award for paperback fiction. A 1982 movie based on the book starred Glenn Close and Robin Williams.

To date, Irving’s published 13 novels, including “A Prayer for Owen Meany” and “The Cider House Rules.” He wrote the screenplay for the film version of the latter book, for which he received an Oscar in 2000.

“The Sound of Music” Premiers

Image of "The Sound of Music" DVD.

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Today in 1965, “The Sound of Music” (affiliate link) premiered at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City.

The movie features Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. And it’s based on two sources: Maria Von Trapp’s 1949 book, “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers,” and the musical, “The Sound of Music.”

Richard Rodgers composed the musical with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. The production’s original title was “Love Song.” But lawyers for Rodgers and Hammerstein found copyrighted musicals under that name. So “Love Song” became “The Sound of Music.”

Critics didn’t love the film version of “The Sound of Music,” but moviegoers did. In 1966, “The Sound of Music” passed “Gone with the Wind” to become the highest-grossing film of all time.

Currently, “The Sound of Music” is the third-highest grossing film of all time.

Sholem Aleichem

And today is the birthday of Sholem Aleichem (affiliate link), born as Sholem Rabinovitz in Ukraine in 1859. His pen name is Hebrew for, “peace be upon you.”Photo of Sholem Aleichem.

Aleichem’s stories about Tevye the Dairyman serve as the basis for the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Aleichem published more than 40 novels, plays, and stories between 1883 and 1916. He wrote in Yiddish, but some of his work is available as English translations.

Aleichem’s writing created memorable characters and used vivid dialogue. People called Aleichem “the Jewish Mark Twain.” And today he’s credited with having helped establish a modern Jewish identity.

A documentary about Aleichem, voiced by actress Rachel Dratch, released in 2011. It’s titled “Laughing in the Darkness.”

“London Snow”

When men were all asleep the snow came flying,

In large white flakes falling on the city brown,

Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,

     Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;

Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;

Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:

     Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;

Hiding difference, making unevenness even,

Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.

     All night it fell, and when full inches seven

It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness,

The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven;

     And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness

Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:

The eye marvelled—marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;

     The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air;

No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,

And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.

     Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,

They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze

Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;

     Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees;

Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder,

“O look at the trees!” they cried, “O look at the trees!”

     With lessened load a few carts creak and blunder,

Following along the white deserted way,

A country company long dispersed asunder:

     When now already the sun, in pale display

Standing by Paul’s high dome, spread forth below

His sparkling beams, and awoke the stir of the day.

     For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow;

And trains of sombre men, past tale of number,

Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go:

     But even for them awhile no cares encumber

Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken,

The daily thoughts of labor and sorrow slumber

At the sight of the beauty that greets them, for the charm they have broken.

– Robert Bridges, Public Domain

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Comments (6)

  • Mary Beth Rivetti

    Two thoughts on today’s readings – 1) Julie Andrews had been passed over for the role of Eliza Doolittle in the film version of My Fair Lady. Though Andrews had originated the role on Broadway, the Hollywood types thought that Audrey Hepburn would be more marketable. When she then won the Oscar for Maria in Sound of Music, one critic wagged that Julie Andrews won the Oscar for My Fair Lady.

    2) When you provide us a poem in the public domain, would it be possible to give us the dates for the author. Not all of these names are as well known as others…

    Thank you for your work!

      • Mary Beth Rivetti

        Thanks for your reply, Nicholas. I think either the date of the poem’s first publication, or of the poet would be fine. Either way would give some context… which can then be fleshed out in the world of Wikipedia. Thank you.

      • Mary Beth Rivetti

        Dear Nic
        Thanks again for your gracious responses. I realized that I had the information incorrect for Julie Andrews’ Oscar. While she was nominated for Sound of Music, she actually won best actress for Mary Poppins, which makes the movie critic’s snarky remark even more biting.

          • Mary Beth Rivetti

            Yes, I’ve noticed. And appreciate your rapid response! Thanks!

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