By Tom Blair
Audrey Stone Geisel has business savvy, unbounded energy and two passions: the works of her late husband, Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, and her own charitable works. Since Ted’s death in 1991, she’s served as president and CEO of Dr. Seuss Enterprises—and the Seuss profile and legend soar higher than ever. A fervent philanthropist, she’s supported dozens of charitable organizations with millions of dollars and commitments of time and energy. She still lives in La Jolla, in the same Mount Soledad aerie where Ted Geisel produced the wealth of Dr. Seuss books.
TOM BLAIR: Your late husband would have been 100 next month. Meanwhile, you’re still going like 30, and you look incredible. What’s your secret?
AUDREY GEISEL: There isn’t any. It’s the difference between distance and up-close.
TB: It’s not just looking good. You have this incredible storehouse of energy.
AG: The person who’s told that usually says, “Well, that’s how it appears.” But I do have energy. I get up at 5. And 5 puts me in the perfect bracket to talk to New York—specifically my agent/lawyer.
TB: Ted has been gone for more than a decade, yet his work has never been more visible. Why is Dr. Seuss still so hot—especially with kids today who are so much hipper, and brighter?
AG: They are! They come down the birth canal understanding computers. Perhaps it’s that the time you can spend with a loved parent is so rare these days—and is increasingly being encroached on. So if that parent will sit with you and read to you ... that’s key. Now Seuss was here long enough ago that we’ve got a couple of generations that have started this. It’s the Seussian legacy.
TB: What do you think Ted would say about your keeping the legacy alive—about things like the commemorative U.S. postage stamp and all the hoopla surrounding his centennial?
AG: He was so private, and wished to be private. And at the same time, he told me that I had to deal with the final resolution of all his work. And that I might find myself very busy. Well, what I want to say is “Ted, you have no idea.” It is just wild./
TB: In addition to the Seuss activities, you spend considerable time supporting local charities.
AG: Of course, I didn’t have to get so involved, philanthropically speaking, with San Diego. But I truly love this town. And I saw all the problems in the underbelly. And I have many friends who do so well with cultural—the opera, symphony, the arts. I, too, know their worth, and I do give. But the underbelly’s still there—all the mental problems, poverty, sociological problems. Illiteracy.
TB: The Cat in the Hat movie with Mike Meyers was a qualified hit last fall—it did gross more than $100 million—despite mixed reviews. There are touring exhibitions of Seussian delights. The postage stamp. What else is in store from the world of Seuss?
AG: That’s more than enough. But we do have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame coming up this spring.
TB: Any other Seuss movies? I take it not starring Mike Myers.
AG: He was [my] last choice [to play the Cat]. He did just what I thought he would do. I know exactly where he came into it and said, “Let’s do this,” and “Let’s do that.” And it’s just recently I feel I’m getting my “Cat” out of the litterbox. Fox and Sony would be interested in the animated Horton Hears a Who. But I don’t think we’re going to do another live-action
TB: There has been some criticism of the so-called “aggressive marketing” of Seuss since Ted’s death. That you, somehow, have gone counter to his wishes. What’s the answer to that?
AG: You use it or you lose it. If we’re not out there—if we don’t keep up the reminders and remembrances—you fall off. And as long as I’m here, that isn’t gonna happen. And that’s with the best of intentions. It means that literacy will be buoyed by it—that papas and kiddies will still have that time together.
TB: There’s been talk for years that Ted Geisel didn’t really like children. Can that be true?
AG: Well, he was a little frightened by children. He always said, “You have ’em, I’ll amuse ’em.” One time in Springfield [Massachusetts, his birthplace], they got an old bus out and took him around to the schools. We got to one school, and it had started to rain, so no children were out. But their heads were all poked out the windows. Then, as Ted stood on the first step of the antique bus, the skies cleared. And from every orifice of that school came droves of children, running as fast as they could, shouting. And when he saw these hordes of children just tearing in his direction, he turned to get back in the bus. And I was there. And his expression was just “Oh my God!” He was scared.
TB: Would you like to tell us the dollar value on the Seuss estate today?
AG: [Long silence.] Do you hear anything?
TB: So I guess you wouldn’t want to float a working journalist a loan, either?
AG: That would be more likely than me telling you the bottom line on Seuss.