Celebrity photos courtesy of Movie Star News
Well, I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that Christmas brings out the best and the worst in people. For every soul who is inspired to give an extra-large charity donation, or who can’t pass a Salvation Army kettle without tossing in a dollar or two, there are folks who figure out the angles on how to exploit Toys for Tots or take advantage of the post office’s Santa Claus mail drive. (I know there has to be a special circle of hell reserved for people who filch from fund-raisers designed to help the children of the poor and disenfranchised!)
For most of us adults, we can recognize an Ebenezer Scrooge from 100 paces away. We can tell that there are thoughts of “bah humbug” circulating in their brains, and their perpetual scowl deepens during the 12 days of Christmas. We grown-ups know to avoid these Debbie and Danny Downers. But children have a different relationship to the holiday haters who prowl among us. Deep in their hearts, children have faith that people can change, and hope that the change will always be for the better.
Facebook has been abuzz the past week about a little boy in Mississippi who phoned his local police department because he feared the Grinch might break into his house and his neighbors’ and steal the Christmas packages and decorations. TyLon Pittman, age 5, called 911 with his sincere fear that the Grinch could shimmy his way down their chimney and run away with his family’s holiday goodies. Blame it on the 24-hour news cycle, which trumpets crimes and misdemeanors, and also on HBO, which has been frequently airing the Jim Carrey version of the Grinch for about four months now! Since summertime, the Ron Howard–directed film has been a part of the HBO Family Channel rotation. No wonder tiny TyLon thought that the upcoming holiday could be under siege. (Interesting side note: Besides embodying the Grinch to such splendid, awful, incredible effect, Carrey also voices Scrooge in the 2009 computer-animated version. Carrey has such a knack for playing over-the-top villains who morph into down-to-earth everymen!)
The Grinch, though, has a special place in the pantheon of holiday anti-heroes. He first popped onto the scene in 1957, courtesy of Theodor Geisel, writing under the pen name of Dr. Seuss. The book was published by Random House, and simultaneously appeared in Redbook magazine. HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! — Seuss demanded the exclamation point be added to the title — struck a chord with readers of all ages. Educators embraced the clever rhyme scheme; critics adored the fun illustrations and how they moved the plot along; parents respected how it taught the lesson that the “reason for the season” was found within the souls of the citizens of Whoville. It didn’t matter what the Grinch and his trusty sidekick Max might have stolen. The gifts beneath the tree were just material possessions; the goodness inside the Whos’ hearts was what mattered.
That epiphany impacts the Grinch himself who undergoes a Scrooge-like conversion. He and his heart grow from being miserable, shriveled-up entities to being big, jolly, welcoming lovers of the holiday. It is a miraculous transformation, and it brings hope and happiness to anyone who reads the jubilant rhymes.
Before Jim Carrey assumed the role in 2000, under piles of hair and pounds of makeup, it had been made into a cartoon starring the voice of Boris Karloff as the narrator and the Grinch. How fitting that Karloff, the original Frankenstein’s monster that was so sorely misunderstood by mankind, got to tell this uplifting tale of redemption. If only his bolt-necked horror character could have found love and acceptance from the torch-wielding villagers, what a different outcome his monstrous life would have seen! The 1966 Karloff version is the inspiration for so many toys, stuffed animals, collectibles, and clothing. It is a holiday special that never seems dated or anachronistic. Because Seuss set it in the fictional world of Whoville, the denizens didn’t look quite human. Rather, they appeared like insects that had mated with people, or actually like Sea Monkeys, if you remember those ads in the back of comic books.
The Grinch and his avaricious ways — sneaky, vengeful, slippery, and cold-hearted — is a beast that would be terrible any day of the year. The fact that he is robbing Christmas gifts — and, hopefully, the Christmas spirit — is doubly disgusting. Seuss is right when he calls him an “eel” and a “heel” — two rhymes that are absolutely right-on. Because the Grinch starts at such a low level — even though he resides in a lonely cave atop a snowy mountain — I imagine he has nowhere to go but up. When a person is so cold, calculating, and chilly, one has to hope that he can become warmed up by interaction with cheerful, cuddly, charming, and cherubic Who folk.
The meeting of the Grinch and little Cindy Lou Who is enshrined in all of our consciousness. We all know on some level that if such a sweet beacon as Cindy Lou shines her light on the Grinch that his sourness has to eventually evaporate. What’s particularly fascinating is that Dr. Seuss admitted to friends and colleagues in publishing that the Grinch was a reflection of his own worst instincts. According to popular lore, Geisel was brushing his teeth one day in late December when he saw his face in the mirror. He was shocked by how somber and cold and indifferent it seemed. He remembered when the Christmas holidays used to mean something to him, and wondered where and why he had lost that special cheer. This was the spark that ignited the creation of the Grinch.
He dedicated the book to his one-year-old great-nephew, Teddy, and hoped that watching a new young child developing in the world would renew his own hopes for mankind and his own wishes for civilization becoming less materialistic and self-centered. Theodor Geisel, known as Dr. Seuss, identified the most with his frantic Cat in the Hat persona and with the evil but redemptive Grinch. He saw himself as both sides of this double-headed cartoon coin. He could be full of fun and boundless energy, meeting deadlines and cranking out picture book after picture book. He also could become reclusive and bitter, sometimes doubting the path he had taken. It’s interesting to consider that Geisel’s vanity license plate was GRINCH.
More collectibles will be on the way as the years go by, especially in 2018. A new version of the old favorite will be debuting. It will feature the talents of Robert Redford (as the narrator), Kelly Clarkson, Joshua Gad, Christopher Plummer, and Benedict Cumberbatch as the Grinch. And that sound like a Dr. Seuss made-up name, doesn’t it?