Tuesday 23 July 2019

Obituary: Audrey Geisel

Guardian of the legacy of her husband Theodor, 'Dr Seuss'

GUARDIAN: Audrey Geisel
GUARDIAN: Audrey Geisel

Audrey Geisel, who has died aged 97, was the widow of Dr Seuss (Theodor Geisel) - author of such children's books as The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch who Stole Christmas - and the assiduous stoker of the flame of his legacy.

Their first meeting was unpropitious. Both were then married to other people, Audrey Dimond (as she then was) being a teacher of nursing and the wife of a cardiologist. When, in the early 1960s, she was introduced in a line-up to "our Dr Seuss", she assumed he was a colleague of her husband's, possibly an ENT doctor, and asked which his speciality was - the right or left nostril?

Nonplussed as Ted Geisel was by this, the two families soon became fast friends, being near-neighbours in La Jolla, an upmarket suburb of San Diego. Geisel had been married since 1927 to fellow writer Helen Palmer, but he and Audrey Dimond embarked on an affair and in 1967 Helen Palmer committed suicide, leaving a poignant note that began: "Dear Ted, What has happened to us?"

Geisel married Audrey Dimond nine months later. After she broke the news to her husband that she wanted a divorce, he reportedly asked which of the pair would be doing the driving, "because I don't want any wife of mine marrying someone who drives as Ted does".

The Geisels were unable to have children and Audrey now sent her two daughters, aged nine and 14, of her first marriage away to school. She revealed in later years that Ted Geisel was somewhat unnerved by children. "You have 'em, I'll entertain 'em", was one of his quips.

For her part, she had never felt very maternal. She saw her role as being her husband's helpmate and sounding board. Stating that his "juices were getting diluted", she encouraged him in later books, such as The Lorax (1971), to expand his colour palette and to use themes (among them environmentalism) that spoke as much to parents as children.

Geisel died in 1991, leaving Audrey to oversee his estate. This she did with energy, involving herself closely in the management of merchandise and the production of new editions of his books. Those who presumed to breach the Seuss copyright - selling T-shirts depicting the Cat in the Hat smoking cannabis, for instance - were invariably sued. Audrey Geisel herself drove a Cadillac bearing the number plate GR1NCH.

She took a particular interest in theatrical and cinematic productions of the books, among them the recent version of The Grinch who Stole Christmas, featuring the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch. She had reputedly disliked Mike Myers's turn as The Cat in the Hat in 2003 so much that she forbade any other live films being made of her husband's work.

She redistributed much of the wealth generated, giving millions to the medical school at Dartmouth College, Geisel's alma mater, and to the library building of the University of California at San Diego, which was renamed for the couple.

Last year, Forbes magazine placed Geisel in sixth place in the list of high-earning dead celebrities, between Bob Marley and Hugh Hefner.

Audrey Grace Florine Stone was born in Chicago on August 14, 1921. Her parents' marriage was, in her words, "on-off", and her father Norman, a salesman, was often absent.

She and her mother Ruth,moved to New York, but when Audrey was five, she was sent to live with a friend. Ruth, a nurse, could thereby save money by living in a dormitory, and she visited at weekends. Audrey later spent a period in foster care.

When she was 21, Audrey began to study nursing at Indiana State University, and in 1945 she married a trainee doctor, Edmunds Grey Dimond. The family moved to La Jolla in 1960.

Audrey Geisel, who died on December 19, is survived by her two daughters.

© Telegraph

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