My friend Tom the lawyer/firefighter/author has been a new father for about two years now, and something is bothering him. He’s started reading books to his son, those of the Dr. Seuss variety specifically, but he’s come to realize that something is missing. And this bothers him so much that he has e-mailed me about it – twice.
The first time I promised to look into it and put his e-mail on my hot list – but I apparently got a little happy with the delete key when sorting mail one day and my reminder vanished.
So he wrote to me about it again today.
“Where,” he asks, “is the Moss-Covered Three-Handled Family Credenza that I remember so fondly from Cat in the Hat? It isn’t in either book. Wasn’t there a third book that it was in? Could it be out of print?”I had three thoughts on this subject.
First, I couldn’t imagine a Dr. Seuss book of any kind being out of print.
Second, the “moss-covered three-handled family credenza” sounded oddly familiar. But it also was distantly familiar. It has only been 8 – 10 years since I was reading Seuss to my youngest, and I’m sure I would remember that line from such a fairly recent past. Tom’s phrase seemed much murkier in memory, almost like it was from back before I had learned how to properly remember things.
Third, the phrase itself didn’t resonate properly with my Writer’s Voice-O-Matic. In other words, it didn’t sound like Dr. Seuss to me. The rhythm didn’t sound Seussian to me, and the word credenza really bothered me. It didn’t strike me as a word that Dr. Seuss would use. When the good doctor used big words, he used really big words, as in this bit from Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?:
My father can say big words, too
Like Constantinople and Timbuktu
Pretty frightening that I did that from memory, huh?
Anyway, the whole thing just didn’t ring true. To me it sounded more like a string of words assembled by someone fascinated with odd sounding words. Someone like… Chuck Jones, the late, great animator.
So I set out on my search. And after some hard-core Googling, I think I have the solution to Tom’s nagging problem: This phrase is not from the Dr. Seuss canon at all – even though everyone thinks it is. These words were put into Seuss’s mouth by someone else.
I found this phrase attributed to Seuss by a lot of people, including a Professional Wrestler who uses this name for some kind of trademark match-ending stunt. But at the end of the day, I found this review of the recent Cat in the Hat film that had this to say:
The problem is, and always was, that there simply isn’t seventy-eight minutes of material in that book. It was only with the addition of some musical numbers and a three-handled moss-covered family credenza that they even managed to stretch it to a half-hour for the 1971 animated version.
Ah-ha! That made sense. And it explained why that phrase felt like it was from my distant past and not the fairly recent past.
Notice who the writer of the teleplay was: none other than the incredible Chuck Jones.
So it all fits together. Everyone who credits this to Dr. Seuss does this legitimately, because as kids they heard it in the animated TV special. As they grew up with that blurring of reality that happens as you age, they associated it over time with the most logical source: the book.
Only in Tom’s case, he realized it wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and it really really bugged him.
This brings up some things that kind of bug me, though:
1) We all talk about the power of electronic media – this is a great example – it successfully implanted into the minds of bloggers and professional wrestlers alike the notion of a something that wasn’t really there. This is how urban legends and folk tales get started.
2) I think it’s kind of eerie that the name Chuck Jones hovered like a ghost in the back of my head while I was looking into this. I guess my sense of Writer’s Voice is stronger than I thought it was – although in this case, I wasn’t particularly listening to it.
If it turns out that I’m wrong about this, and that there is a third, censored Cat in the Hat book, please feel free to drop me a line here and set me straight.
Meantime, my recommendation to Tom is that he look up a copy of the 1971 Cat in the Hat animated special – it’s available on VHS and DVD according to IMDB – and see if that soothes the ache in his brain. Me, I’m not going to go any further with it because I’m still a few years from having grandchildren.
Besides, I’d rather read the book.
Update: 2/21/12 – Added a credenza!