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Licensing Diary: Dr. Seuss

From his first book, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1937 to the premiere of Nickelodeon's The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss in October, the strange characters and creations of Ted Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) have...
December 1, 1996

From his first book, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1937 to the premiere of Nickelodeon’s The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss in October, the strange characters and creations of Ted Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) have entertained children and parents for six decades.

Geisel, under the pen name Dr. Seuss, wrote and illustrated 44 books, wrote the text for another 14 and is the author of four of the top 10 best-selling children’s books under copyright.

While Geisel was prolific as Dr. Seuss, the licensing of Seuss-related product was never a priority during his lifetime. In fact, he regarded licensing as a distraction to writing new books. ‘He felt that he would have to spend his time correcting the work of other people,’ says Herb Cheyette, agent for the Geisel estate.

It wasn’t until after his death in 1991 that a licensing program began. According to Cheyette, there was so much counterfeit Seuss-related product on the market that it had to be trademarked. But characters cannot be trademarked unless they are put into commercial use, so licensing Dr. Seuss became essential. The Seuss estate signed its first major licensing deal with Esprit in 1993. But licensing has still been limited. ‘Far more important to us than merchandising is the adaptation of the books into new, nonbook areas such as motion pictures, TV and CD-ROM,’ says Cheyette.

Artistically, Seuss licensees must confine themselves to the figures as they appear in books, and designs must be consistent with Geisel’s spirit and drawings. In essence, his books serve as the style guides, and Geisel’s widow, Audrey, personally gives final approval on all designs.

The Seuss estate allows producers to develop their own licensing programs for new entities created from Seuss source material, as in the case of the Nickelodeon series, created by Jim Henson Productions.

Henson holds the licensing rights to newly created and classic Seuss characters as they appear in The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss. The company is currently signing on licensees and hopes to have product in all major categories available by the third quarter of 1997, according to Betts FitzGerald, vice president, licensing for Jim Henson Productions. FitzGerald works closely with Cheyette to ensure that the licensed product meets the criteria set forth by the Geisel estate.

Next year marks the 40th anniversary of The Cat in the Hat, and Random House will be conducting extensive publicity to mark the occasion. In development are film versions of The Cat in the Hat at DreamWorks SKG, and Oh! The Places You’ll Go! at TriStar Pictures, as well as two stage musicals. A greeting-card license is currently in negotiation. The Cat continues to appear as a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

What accounts for Seuss’s success? ‘These books have been around long enough that even grandparents are people who grew up with Dr. Seuss,’ says Cheyette. ‘Parents want their children to have the same delights that they have experienced.’

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