DR. SEUSS MEETS FRANK CAPRA — WONDERFUL LIVES

Personalized thank-you drawing from Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel (1904–1991) for my story about having dinner with the iconic children’s author and film director Frank Capra (“It’s a Wonderful Life”) when they reunited years after working together on propaganda films for the United States government during World War II.

By Greg Joseph

In 1983 as a writer for a San Diego newspaper, I was invited to dinner at the swank Hotel del Coronado for a reunion of the great film director Frank Capra with children’s author Theodor Seuss Geisel — “Dr. Seuss” — joined by Capra’s longtime cinematographer, Joseph H. Walker, inventor of the zoom lens who had also built the first wireless transmitter for airplanes and automobiles.

Geisel did what many regard as his most unusual work for Capra: “The Army-Navy Service Magazine,” with the animated “Private Snafu,” for a series of propaganda films for American serviceman and women in World War II, and later, a live-action movie, “Your Job in Germany,” concerned with the post-war occupation.

The films came about after Capra had been ordered to make a cinematic response to German director Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will,” a slick, hellish ode to Hitler and a controversial preface to The Holocaust.

Several local dignitaries, including the hotel’s CEO, also were seated around the large round table in the ballroom on that chilly damp night.

“I met Frank 40 years and three months ago,” a delighted Geisel said.

“I was a Captain, Frank a major — he later became a bird colonel. I showed up at Fort Fox, as we called 20th Century Fox studios. Ronald Reagan was at Fort Roach — Hal Roach’s studio.

“Anyway, Frank says, ‘I’ll show you the cutting room,’ and I ask what that is, and he says, ‘Where the Moviola is,’ and I ask what THAT is. Somehow I lasted, though, thanks to him. Worked with him from 1944 to 1946. Later, I went into films myself.”

Indeed he did — winning a 1947 Academy Award for his documentary, “Design for Death,” about the rise of Japanese warlords, and four years later, he earned another Oscar with his cartoon, “Gerald McBoing-Boing, about a little boy who communicates through noises.

“It was a delight working with Ted,” Capra, a three-time Oscar winner himself, said. “He brought humor, warmth and life to the whole unit. He was well-liked, his work was well-liked. There was certainly good cause for both.”

When I asked Capra if his experience with Geisel during World War II helped “Dr. Seuss” along in the latter’s Hollywood career, Capra replied with a chuckle, “Put it this way — didn’t hurt!”

Frank Capra and Ted Geisel both died in September 1991, exactly three weeks apart, at the ages of 94 and 87, respectively.

Their legacies are linked in a most unusual way, even by Hollywood standards.

From Dr. Seuss …

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Greg Joseph

Greg Joseph

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Writer, Hollywood biographer, actor (SAG-AFTRA), former journalist, TV critic (TCA). Turner Classic Movies 25th anniversary #TCM25 winner. U of Missouri alum.