Grinchmas: Dr. Seuss’ Grinch has been stealing Christmas for half a century
On Dec. 18, 1966, the “mean one” appeared onscreen for the first time. The Grinch has now been stealing Christmas for 50 years. With just 26 minutes of animation, “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” cemented its place as one of the most beloved holiday specials ever.
The Christmas season isn’t truly complete without seeing the Grinch’s tiny heart grow three sizes and carve that roast beast. We consider ourselves Christmas special connoisseurs and I’d have to say the Grinch is in my top 5 all-time favorites. Like many who grew up watching the Whos ring in the holiday heart-to-heart and hand-in-hand, I can easily recite every word.
Theodore Geisel, Seuss’ alter ego, originally published the book in 1957, following the “Cat in the Hat.” The master of rhyme crafted the perfect holiday tale — having his Christmas-hating Grinch discover that the joy of the season doesn’t come from a store. The Grinch was initially illustrated in black and white with hints of red and pink as he had been in the book, but director and legendary Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones was inspired to make him green after driving ugly rental cars of the same shade.
Horror film icon Boris Karloff gave the Grinch his voice, as well as narrating the tale. However, despite the film’s claim that he provided all sounds of the Grinch (the opening credits state, “The sounds of the Grinch are by Boris Karloff. And read by Boris Karloff, too!), Karloff did not sing the infamous “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Tony the Tiger in many Frosted Flakes commercials, was the baritone behind the film’s most famous song. When the oversight was discovered, Seuss apologized profusely and tried to rectify Ravenscroft’s lack of credit following the premiere.
The Grinch was the third feel-good animated holiday classic to premiere in consecutive years, behind “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1964 and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965. It was Jones who prompted Geisel to bring the Grinch to life. With Geisel on board, Jones gave MGM a nudge to greenlight the adaptation and proceeded to secure backers. After 25 other companies passed, The Foundation for Commercial Banks agreed to foot the $300,000 bill needed for production, which included 17,000 drawings. CBS also agreed to pay $315,000 for the right to air it in 1966 and 1967.
The Grinch’s epiphany to stop the celebration in Whoville comes after his faithful dog Max emerges from a snowbank with a Santa Claus beard. Max is one of my favorite parts of the whole special. Despite having giant antlers tied atop his head and being made to pull the sleigh and help the Grinch cart away the remnants of the festivities, he remains loyal to his master and even tugs on the Grinch’s coat to prevent the sleigh from pitching over the summit of Mt. Crumpit. He loves the Grinch unconditionally, the only one by his side before his transformation.
And even after lying to little Cindy Lou Who (voiced by the incomparable June Foray) and taking her tree, she still wants to sit beside the Grinch at the feast. The Whos truly welcome all Whos far and near, and without question invite the Grinch back into the fold, even as he’s arriving with their stolen presents, decorations and food. With neighbors like these, I would jump at the chance to live in Whoville.
Through timeless animation and a story that hits home, the Grinch has endured for more than half a century. I think a big part of its endurance is believing that change is possible. That even an ostracized miser like the Grinch can change. His name is synonymous with anyone not cheerful during the holidays. He remains a part of popular culture, even making his way to the big screen in a 2000 live action film starting Jim Carrey, which expanded on the Grinch’s backstory. Every year, Universal’s theme parks ring in the season with Grinchmas featuring our favorite green meanie in daily events including a live retelling, a meet-and-greet and character breakfast. Even as technology advances, so does the Grinch, with a computer-animated counterpart voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, hitting theaters in November 2018.
Each new generation of parents, from baby boomers on, share their love of the Grinch with their children. So, as long as we have hands to clasp, the Grinch will be there to welcome Christmas Day for years to come.
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” next airs at 8 p.m. Friday (Dec. 23) on NBC, just in time to get you in the Christmas spirit.