In the early months of 1957, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) had just had one of his biggest successes as an author. The Cat in the Hat, his previous work, was a huge seller, and now it was time for a follow-up Dr. Seuss book.
Geisel began work on How the Grinch Stole Christmas sometime early in the year. He wrote the book quickly, it was finished in a few weeks. "It was the easiest book of my career to write," he recalled, "except for its conclusion."
"I got hung up on how to get the Grinch out of the mess. I got into a situation where I sounded like a second-rate preacher or some bible thumper... Finally in desperation... without making any statement whatever, I showed the Grinch and the Whos together at the table, and made a pun on the Grinch carving "roast beast"… I had gone through thousands of religious choices, and then after three months, it came out like that."
The book now complete, Geisel sent the draft to Random House in mid-May of 1957. Seuss's wife, Helen Geisel, had been having ongoing medical problems and had suffered a small stroke in April of 1957. Nonetheless, she acted as the book's unofficial editor, as she was with previous Dr. Seuss books. How the Grinch Stole Christmas was dedicated to Theodor "Teddy" Owens, the one-year-old son of Geisel's niece, Peggy Owens.
So who was the Grinch in reality? In the story, the Grinch grouses that he has had to put up with the Whos "for 53 years." Theodor Geisel was 53 years old when the book was written and published.
Seuss's step-daughter, Lark Dimond Cates, stated in a 2003 speech, "I always thought the Cat (in the Hat) was Ted on his good days, and the Grinch was Ted on his bad days."
The original inspiration for the book had hit Geisel a few months earlier. According to Geisel: "I was brushing my teeth on the 26th of last December, when I noticed a very Grinchish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss!"
"I wrote about my sour friend the Grinch to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I'd lost."
Theodor Geisel's license plate on his car was "Grinch." Pretty obvious to see who the Grinch was in reality. As a sidebar, but interestingly, the Grinch was the first adult and the first villain to be the main character in a Dr. Seuss book.
Published at Christmas time in 1957, How the Grinch Stole Christmas received unanimous rave reviews. Kirkus reviews called the Grinch "easily the best Christmas cad since Scrooge." Book sales were brisk, and after 60 years, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is now regarded as a holiday classic.
In 1966, How the Grinch Stole Christmas gained a second life (and real immortality in pop culture) when CBS aired a TV special of the story. Legendary Warner Brothers cartoon director Chuck Jones took the helm for the special.
It was Chuck Jones who made the decision to give the Grinch his classic green color. According to Jones, the Grinch's shade of green derived from when he would rent cars in the Washington-Baltimore area. He said every car he rented always happened to be this particular shade.
Also in the special, the Grinch's eyes are originally red, to symbolize slyness, misanthropy and bitterness. By the end of the film his eyes turn blue, indicating a change of heart and an appreciation of the true meaning of Christmas.
Geisel was against animating the show (or any of his books), but for the special, Jones convinced him to take on the role of animator. Boris Karloff was cast in the film's title role. Karloff also took on the role of the announcer. Originally, Geisel protested against Karloff playing the Grinch, he thought he would be "too scary."
Geisel also composed the lyrics to all the shows songs. The theme song "You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch" was sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes spokesman, Tony the Tiger.
Ravenscroft was not billed in the special's final credits. Because of this oversight, many, to this day, falsely believe Karloff sings the song. Reputedly, when Geisel became aware of the oversight, he called Thurl and personally and profusely apologized.
Originally aired on December 18, 1966, How the Grinch Stole Christmas was a hit in the ratings. It remains a holiday classic and is broadcast on television each year at Yuletide. Sales of Grinch books, DVDs and videos continue to reap huge financial grosses annually. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is now not only a familiar part of Christmas, but has become a part of American pop culture.