Stephen J. Gertz of the blog Book Tryst reports this week about an, “eye-popping find, a Seuss book in its earliest stage, rough Seuss draft, an abandoned project not only never before seen on the market but never before seen or heard of, period.”
Forty years ago that “project” was to be a sports-themed book by Theodore S. Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. But sadly, the 19 pages never made it past notes, scribbles and doodles by Seuss and an unnamed assistant. Gertz:
It consists of nineteen handwritten and drawn pages, the first seven of which are completely in the hand of Dr. Seuss. The remaining pages are mostly written by an assistant with corrections and doodles by Dr. Seuss, some taped on.
“All Sorts of Sports. Shall I play checkers? golf? croquet? There are so many games there are to play. I could. / maybe.. / shall I.. There are so many many sorts. So many sorts of games + sports. What am I going to do today? There are so many games to play! I guess I won’t. I’m all tired out. 100 GAMES & sports you can play. You can play checkers. You can play chess. Baseball. Football. Volleyball. Basketball. You can ski on snow. You can ski on water. And tiddle-de-winks.
What am I going to do today. Well, that’s a simple matter. Oh, that’s easy. We could play. There are so many sports games to play. We could swim. I could play baseball…golf..or catch. Or I could play a tennis match. There are so many sports, let’s see… I could bowl, jump hurdles, or water ski. I could blumf. Or blumf blumf blumf blumf blumf. Or blumf. Or blumf blumf blumf blumf blumf.”
So why were sports fans deprived of what Seuss tentatively had titled, “All Sorts Of Sports”?
(Had Geisel been provided such inspiration, things may have been different)
When he was reminded of the sports-themed project by a former employee, he gave his reasons for not proceeding in a handwritten note in 1983. Gertz:
The manuscript is accompanied by a Dr. Seuss TLs (typed letter, signed), autographed “Ted,” regarding this unfinished book on Cat in the Hat Beginner Books letterhead dated July 11, 1983.
“Re your enclosed manuscript, I do indeed remember it. And my critique now is as same as then. What, in my opinion, is wrong with this story is that…despite the greatness of Pete as a stellar athlete hero…the negative image of him flubbing and unable to catch any ball at all will make him a schnook.
“This is not entirely apparent in the text, but when you picture these negative scenes in illustrations, you will find that negatives are always more memorable than positives. And I think the reader’s reaction will be, ‘What’s the matter with this dope?’
I may be wrong of course…so why not send it to Harper and Row who do very good brat books and several times have made best sellers out of properties that I’ve rejected.”
In short, a schnook in a book is not a great hook.
The advice to submit the book to Harper and Row is somewhat sarcastic; after the success of The Cat in the Hat Random House set up Seuss with his own imprint, Beginner Books. in partnership with Random House publisher Bennett Cerf’s wife, Phyllis Fraser Cerf, and Geisel’s wife, Helen.
Harper and Row slavishly tried to goose the Seuss juice for their specially created imprint devoted to “brat books.”
Nate D. Sanders is overseeing what will soon be an auction of the precious pages. He told Gertz that Seuss handwrote the first seven pages of the notes before an assistant took over.
What essentially happened was Seuss kicked around the sports thing for a few pages and then decided to give an assistant a crack at punching up the project. When he wasn’t altogether satisfied, he decided to drop the whole thing. In fact, in his note, Seuss makes it somewhat clear that he didn’t even regard the project as his own - instead implying that he considered his assistant to have taken ownership.
Loved this part:
What, in my opinion, is wrong with this story is that…despite the greatness of Pete as a stellar athlete hero…the negative image of him flubbing and unable to catch any ball at all will make him a schnook.
That sound you just heard was a sign of relief from a generation of gentlemen named Pete.
The most unfortunate part of all of this, of course, is the idea never germinated to any distinct illustrations of any characters. The mind runs wild with what Seuss could’ve come up.
Though I’m not complaining. I’ll be adding “blumf” to my sports reportage arsenal at the earliest opportunity. (Most likely in my upcoming review of Mike & Mike.)
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