Random House’s newly updated Seussville website — featuring my biography and timeline — recently went live. This is the first time I’ve written a piece for a corporation, but Dr. Seuss did it all the time. Though he published his first children’s book in 1937, he made his living through advertising … until the bestselling The Cat in the Hat (1957) allowed him to make writing for children his primary occupation.
Seuss’s best-known ad campaign was for Flit bug spray. The tagline Quick, Henry, the Flit! became a staple of pop culture — the Where’s the Beef? or the Got Milk? of its day.
This 35-page booklet, Secrets of the Deep or The Perfect Yachtsman (1935, credited to the fictitious Old Captain Taylor), contains over a dozen Seuss illustrations – including a few that later emerge as characters in his children’s books. This little chap (on the left) seems an ancestor of the “fish / With a long curly nose” from McElligot’s Pool (1947, on the right):
Incidentally, if you enjoy these sorts of correspondences between Seuss’s characters, check out Charles Cohen’s The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss (2004) — he’s very good at spotting them, and has found far more interesting connections than the one above.
Seuss also indulges his habit of drawing needlessly complicated machinery, a Rube-Goldberg-influenced feature of many of his books. Sure, this is nowhere near as elaborate as the Cat’s pick-up machine in The Cat in the Hat or the Utterly Sputter in The Butter Battle Book (1984), but does offer a glimpse of a tendency he exploits more fully in other early cartoons and in later children’s books.
The ad copy of “Old Captain Taylor” is a bit strange in places. I think it’s safe to say that, though the second sentence above seems to make an off-handed joke about child abuse, the word “abuse” would not for a reader in 1935 have the connotations it has for a reader 75 years later. For that matter, in the wake of BP’s Gulf oil disaster, a 35-page ocean-themed advertisement for oil seems a bit strange….
Mostly, though, the booklet showcases the sense of humor that Seuss had been honing in his magazine cartoons. There are jokes about fat people:
Jokes about conspicuous consumption:
And, of course, plenty of fish.