Audrey Geisel, widow and promoter of Dr. Seuss, dies at 97

LOS ANGELES (AP) — As Dr. Seuss neared the end of his life, the children’s author told his wife that she would have to look after the Cat in the Hat, the Lorax, the Grinch and all the beloved characters he created.

It was a mission Audrey Geisel embraced for more than a quarter-century. As overseer of Dr. Seuss’ prolific and lucrative literary estate, she carefully guarded the whimsical works of the writer and illustrator less known as Theodor Geisel and expanded the Seuss legacy. She promoted a highly profitable multimedia brand, from books and films to theme park rides and the Broadway show “Seussical.”

Audrey Geisel, 97, died Wednesday at her home in the La Jolla section of San Diego, Random House Children’s Books announced.

Geisel, who founded Dr. Seuss Enterprises, said she took to heart the responsibility her husband left her when he died in 1991.

“You keep a firm control as if they really were your children,” Geisel told The Associated Press in 1998. “I don’t want the Cat in a bad part of town, so to speak.”

But she went far beyond keeping a tight grip on the empire. She broadly expanded it beyond what her husband cared to do while creating his 47 children’s stories.

And, oh, the places she went with it.

More than 10 million Dr. Seuss books sell each year and new works are coming out, such as last spring’s “Dr. Seuss’s First 100 words,” according to Random House.

The 2000 live-action film version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” starring Jim Carrey, was a box-office smash. But Audrey Geisel and critics despised the 2003 live-action adaptation of “The Cat in the Hat” that starred Mike Myers of “Austin Powers” fame.

“I never saw ‘Austin Powers,’ but I knew ‘Yeah, baby!’ and I didn’t want ‘Yeah, baby!’ at all,” she told the AP in 2004.

Geisel is credited as executive producer of the animated film “The Grinch,” which was released last month and tapped Benedict Cumberbatch to voice the title character.

A poll of favorite holiday songs and films or television conducted by AP-NORC earlier this month put “The Grinch” just behind “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It didn’t specify if it was the Carrey version or the animated 1966 classic produced by Chuck Jones and narrated by Boris Karloff.

Geisel was a Chicago native and former nursing student at Indiana University.

She and Theodor Geisel, who was 17 years older, were both married to other people when they began an affair in the 1960s. His first wife, Helen, killed herself.

Audrey Geisel sent the two daughters she had with her first husband to boarding school after the Geisels married in 1968. The couple had no children together — Seuss was not particularly fond of kids, she said.

“He was afraid of children to a degree,” Audrey Geisel told AP in 2004.

In addition to promoting and protecting the Seuss brand, Geisel also influenced her husband’s work, said Philip Nel, an English professor at Kansas State University, who wrote “Dr. Seuss: American Icon.”

“When Seuss got stuck while writing ‘The Lorax,’ Audrey suggested they take a trip,” Nel said. “She thought that might help get him unstuck. It did. While seeing workers cutting down acacia trees in Kenya, he thought, ‘They can’t cut down my Dr. Seuss trees — which he renamed truffula trees — and invented the Lorax to protect them.”

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Associated Press National Writer Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this report.

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