“Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot
But the Grinch who lived just North of Whoville did not!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
But, whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes,
He stood there on Christmas Eve hating the Whos,”
These are the opening lines of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, which made it’s debut on this evening’s date, December 18, in 1966. This truly delightful animated cartoon version of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel’s 1957 story about the nasty old Grinch trying to put the Kibosh on the Christmas holiday has since become a classic; a true part of every Christmas season.
Dr. Seuss Didn’t want to….
Geisel at first didn’t want to put “the Grinch’ on the screen. But Chuck Jones (below), the brilliant animator for “Bugs Bunny” with whom he had worked during WWII on “Private Snafu” and on the animated
version of “Horton Hears a Who” said “Oh yes you do!!” But as the project moved along, Geisel began to warm up to the idea. Reading the original story takes about 12 minutes, so the animators had to pad it up a bit in order to get it to the right length for a 30 minute TV film. For example, the sequence with the Grinch’s dog “Max” going down the mountain, and getting all tangled up in the reins wad not in the story, but it proved to be good comic source material. In fact, as the project progressed, at one point, Geisel said to his animator: “They don’t look like the Grinch, they look like you!” To which Jones replied “Well it happens you know…”
Of course the voices are a key to making such a cartoon work. Happily the perfect voice was available to add not only the right touch of menace to the character of “the Grinch”, but which could also add the sweetness of spirit to the quirky rhymes of Dr. Seuss. This was of course the voice of the actor Boris Karloff (below). Karloff was 79 years
old at the time, and nearing the end of a long life in which he had become the “King of Horror” movies, with his menacing work as the “Frankenstein” monster and “the Mummy” just to name two of his credits. “He had the power of the voice.” said Dr. Seuss’s widow, Audrey. “He could be malignant in what he said, and the way he could say it.” There are only two other voices heard in “the Grinch”. One of those is “Little Cindy Lou Who” who was voiced by the actress June Foray whom you all heard as “Rocky the Squirrel” in the cartoon, “Bullwinkle”. And to complete this trio of voice-over royalty, the voice who sung the famous song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” was the actor, Thurl Ravenscroft. better known as “Tony the Tiger” with his famous “They’re Grrrrrrrreat” voice for “Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes.”
And the Music in “the Grinch” makes the cartoon compete. And this was written by Albert Hague (below), a Tony Award winning composer who is most likely best known for portraying the character of
“Professor Shirofsky” in the film and TV series “Fame”. Hague recalled that Geisel wanted to explain to him what this story was about, so he drew him pictures of the characters. And then when he told Hague about the song “You’re A Mean One” he said that the Dr. Seuss analogies such as “You have termites in your hair..” really jumped out of the page at him in a way that was “irresistible.” The similarity between the voice of Karloff and Ravenscroft made some people think that Karloff had sung “You’re A Mean One”. And unfortunately Ravenscroft did not receive screen credit for his work, but this was purely an oversight for which Geisel was deeply embarrassed. In fact once the film came out, Geisel wrote a letter to TV critics pointing out the work of Ravenscroft, and asking them to print his letter giving proper credit to the actor.
“The Grinch” Earns Classic Status
The cartoon was premiered on the evening of this date in 1966 on the CBS TV network, and received mixed reviews at the time, with critic Rick DuBrow saying that it was “probably as good as most of the other
holiday cartoons.” But this story of the mean and lonely old Grinch finding the true meaning of Christmas, and finding his heart in the process has since gone on to be rightly recognized as a Christmas holiday classic. It was broadcast annually by CBS until 1987. Since then it has come out in home video release, and has inspired a very popular live action film starring Jim Carrey. And thus, this wonderful story has continued in its cartoon form to lighten the Christmas season every year with its wonderful characters, it’s odd rhymes, its memorable tunes, and it’s superb voices…
“Welcome Christmas. Bring your cheer,
Cheer to all Whos, far and near.
“Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to grasp.
“Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we.
“Welcome Christmas while we stand
Heart to heart and hand in hand.”
“Behind the Scenes of ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas'”, Produced by Kay Zusman, 1997