Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lost, Unpublished Dr. Seuss Manuscript Surfaces

by Stephen J. Gertz

Over forty years ago, Theodore S. Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, began work on a book. Per usual, he had assistants working with him, one of whom managed the project. For reasons noted below, he put the manuscript aside. Then, in 1983, he reconsidered it when his former employee sent it to him for a long-lost look.

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. 

The text, written in Seussian prose, reads, in part:

"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 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." 

On Geisel's letterhead.
The last page, marked page "6-7" by Dr. Seuss seems to be where the assistant took over, though Seuss adds corrections and doodles, as previously mentioned, some taped on.

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 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."

Readers of this letter may experience a bit of confusion over who actually wrote this manuscript. I called Nate D. Sanders Auctions - who is offering the manuscript - for clarification. Mr. Sanders replied:

"I obtained this from one of Seuss' past employees who was a writers assistant.  She was given the task of managing this  book  project.  The first few pages of  the manuscript  are entirely in Seuss's hand.  Later, the assistant took over.   When Seuss refers to the manuscript as the assistant's, he is referring to the fact that it was her project and that it was indeed hers not his and she took possession of it, not him."

This is 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. 

Images courtesy of Nate D. Sanders Auctions.


  1. Looks like an earlier, sports-themed version of Hunches in Bunches (1982). Also, though you write, "The remaining pages are mostly written by an assistant with corrections and doodles by Dr. Seuss," the page directly below that is in Seuss's hand. Actually, nearly everything on this page is clearly in Seuss's hand. (I'm not sure about "ALL SORTS OF SPORTS.")

  2. I could have sworn Seuss's wife was named Audrey - what am I thinking of?

    1. His second wife's name was Audrey.

  3. Helen was Geisel's first wife; she was very ill and committed suicide in 1967. Audrey was his second wife.

  4. What a cool thing to share. This has really brightened my day!

  5. the sketches are down right crude compared to the finished art...were the final illustrations done by another's hand?

  6. Yeah, it sucks. The guy was smart not to put it out.

  7. These are storyboard/thumbnail sketches. Most, if not all artists, doodle these to brainstorm and organize their stories before starting their final illustrations.

  8. This reminds me of the lost Shakespeare poem that surfaced a couple of decades ago. Not his best work by far, and most likely not finished, but still a wonderful glimpse of the writer and his creative process. It's always a treat to find something new from a significant writer ... especially after its thought we'd read it all.

  9. Dr Seuss lost manuscript Made my day Sent it on to the book and manuscript curator, a board I'm on, at Dartmouth. Geisel was an undergrad there for a while and they have a nice but a nice collection of Seuss. Thanks! Brings back fond childhood and then fatherhood memories John Freund


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