The Bedroom Companion and Dr. Seuss

This is NOT the new Dr. Seuss book you’ve been hearing about…

There was considerable hubbub last year about the discovery of a “lost” Dr. Seuss bookWhat Pet Should I Get? – and, while I’m all for more of Theodor Geisel’s linguistic mayhem being unleased onto the world, lately, I’ve been dealing with a very different sort of Dr. Seuss discovery. Because, while a new Seuss kid’ book is undeniably exciting, not too long ago, I discovered that Dr. Seuss occasionally worked “blue” – that’s right. Dr. Seuss used to pen risqué cartoons for our grandparents’ generation. And if that either a). grosses you out or b). blows your mind… join the club.

My unexpected discovery came after a friend of mine showed me some books he found in his grandparents’ basement (they’d recently passed away). He wasn’t sure if they were valuable or not and wanted to get my opinion. Our focus immediately turned to one of the titles — The Bedroom Companion or A Cold Night’s Entertainment (1935, Farrar & Rinehart), a book with the over-the-top subtitle “Being a Cure for Man’s Neuroses, A Sop to His Frustrations, A Nightcap of Forbidden Ballads, Discerning Pictures, Scurrilous Essays in Fine, A Steaming Bracer for The Forgotten Male.”

I will admit – our first reaction to the book was “Oh my god, did we just find your grandfather’s ‘secret’ stash?” However, upon flipping through the pages, The Bedroom Companion turned out to be a much more interesting (and less salacious) book than we’d originally thought. It was a “War Edition” of the book (produced “in accordance with paper conversation orders of the War Production Board”), and it’s a collection of bawdy essays, cartoons, and songs for men. (There are even instructions at the beginning, loudly declaring “Women Must Not Read This Book!”) It’s basically Maxim for the Greatest Generation.

The material inside is a weird mix. Some of it is surprisingly literate (almost academic to a fault), and some of it is surprisingly gross and sexist. (There are songs inside that no man, particularly not anyone’s grandparent, should ever, ever sing.) But the thing that REALLY caught our attention in the table of contents was the name DR. SEUSS. Apparently, Geisel contributed two cartoons to the collection and, while his cartoons are probably the least racy cartoons in the whole book, they’re also WAY more adult than anything I’d ever seen from the author of The Cat in the Hat.

Here’s the first (and probably most suggestive) cartoon:

The Bedroom Companion and Dr. Seuss

This is MUCH more racy than what I saw on Mulberry Street… (click to enlarge)

It’s… well… jeez… how do you talk about this cartoon without making a million bad Hop on Pop puns? For my part, beyond the vicarious thrill of watching one of my childhood idols tell a slightly dirty joke, I have to say that what really delights me is that, while this scene plays out, two unmistakably Seussian birds – that could’ve come right out of Horton Hears a Who — are sitting on that palm tree, watching the incident play out. [read the rest of the post…]


The Three Investigators

In the old days, kidlit mysteries were solved by plucky tweens charging 25 cents plus expenses…

I love shopping for kids’ books at used bookstores for two reasons – #1). you never know what you’re going to find and #2). it’s a fantastic reminder that the world of children’s literature has always, ALWAYS been gloriously and deliriously WEIRD.

Because sometimes, when it comes to children’s books, we romanticize the past. We look at the current world of children’s publishing – with kids’ books written by celebrities, kids’ books based on toy lines, and kids’ books all about what it would be like if your pets could text you jokes (not making that up) – and there’s a tendency to think, “Sigh, it wasn’t like this in the good old days. Back then, kids read LITERATURE.” Well, I’m here to tell you that kids have been reading weird stuff for AGES, since long before dogs even knew what text-messaging was, and part of the fun of used bookstore shopping is seeing what kinds of literary oddities earlier generations inflicted on their youth.

In my most recent trip to the children’s section at our local used bookstore, I found several books from the 1960s that had odd celebrity tie-ins. There was a dog-eared copy of A Red Skelton in Your Closet: Ghost Stories Gay and Grim Selected by the Master of Comedy, because, if I’m looking for something truly scary to read in 1965, I’m going to hit up a master of comedy… apparently. (Aside from selecting the stories, Skelton also wrote an introduction titled “Of Course I Believe in Ghosts.”) Then there was the pristine copy of Shirley Temple’s Storytime Favorites, with the picture on the cover that made Temple look more like Betty Crocker than the child star she’d been in the 1930s. But, hands-down, the best, the most wonderfully weird ’60s celebrity kids’ book I encountered – and that I just HAD to buy – was all about Alfred Hitchcock, possibly the most acclaimed movie director of all time, teaming up with three kid detectives to solve mysteries.

The Three Investigators: The Secret of Terror Castle

Hitchcock even does cameos on the covers of children’s mysteries…

That’s right. Alfred Hitchcock, director of Psycho and Vertigo, hanging out with three Encyclopedia Brown knock-offs. And did I mention that the kid detectives drive around in a chauffeured, gold-plated Rolls Royce? How could I NOT buy the book immediately? There’s actually a whole series of books in the “Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators” imprint. I picked up the first and seventh volumes of the series, The Secret of Terror Castle and The Mystery of the Fiery Eye, and they’re the best things I’ve bought in a long time.

Here’s a quick excerpt from Hitchcock’s “Introduction” to The Secret of Terror Castle:The Three Investigators: The Secret of Terror Castle

I seem to be constantly introducing something. For years I’ve been introducing my television programs. I’ve introduced motion pictures. And I’ve introduced books of mystery, ghost and suspense stories for my fans to shiver with. [read the rest of the post…]