Seasons’ Greetings from the Grinch

Every year when December arrives, I find the urge to re-watch the classic animated film, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Its themes centered in kindness and giving have always resonated with me most each holiday season. Originally written by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel and published in 1957, the 1966 special features a narration by Boris Karloff (from the 1930s classic Frankenstein films by Universal Studios).

Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel) at work on a drawing of a grinch, the hero of his forthcoming book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, World Telegram & Sun, Photo by Al Ravenna. Prints & Photographs Division.

For the animated adaptation, Dr. Seuss provided new lyrics for arguably the most well-known song from the special, “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch.” Thurl Ravenscroft—who some of you may know more readily as the voice of Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes—voiced the song. Funnily enough, Ravenscroft was left uncredited in the original special, causing many to assume that Karloff himself performed the song.

This year, however, I was delighted to come across the unpublished copyright deposits for the music to the animated special. Although Albert Hague provided the music to Dr. Seuss’s lyrics to “You’re a Mean One,” composer Eugene Poddany wrote the majority of the production’s underscore. Until his death in 1984, Poddany scored music for dozens of animated shorts, including several cartoons featuring Tom & Jerry, Sylvester the Cat and Tweety Bird, Little Henery the Chicken Hawk, and several other Looney Tunes characters.

The copyright deposits for Poddany’s music, condensed scores with notes for instrumentation, are relatively straightforward. The titles leave little ambiguity for where they are to appear in the finished production: including “Grinch to Mt. Crumpet,” “Grinch Transformed,” and “Noisemakers.” Although the Music Division does not have any earlier sketches of the music, these short scores help us see the mickey-mousing, musical onomatopoeia if you will, that aurally guides the short 25-minute runtime.

“Down-Hill Sleigh Ride,” How the Grinch Stole Christmas, mm. 1-3, Eugene Poddany, Unpublished copyright deposit, Music Division.

For example, consider the ascending chromatic line in “Grinch to Mt. Crumpet,” as the Grinch attempts his way back up the mountain with his purloined loot. Or, in another example, the flurries of descending sixteenth notes that characterize the Grinch’s “Down-Hill Sleigh Ride.” I most enjoy, however, the circular harp figure that informs the Grinch’s evil machinations to steal Christmas. The figure draws on a subset of the octatonic scale—a symmetrical alternation of whole and half steps—that in this context, gives voice to the Grinch’s unsettling and unseemly plan to rob the Whos of their holiday cheer.

“Grinch’s Idea,” How the Grinch Stole Christmas, mm. 5-7, Eugene Poddany, Unpublished copyright deposit, Music Division.

Despite more recent adaptations of the popular tale, the 1966 How the Grinch Stole Christmas remains a classic. Even in the Music Division’s general collections and copyright deposits, you never quite know what you’re going to find. And for me, seeing the notated music for scoring that I’ve known practically by heart after years of re-watching further illuminates the playfulness that so seamlessly matches Dr. Seuss’s witty prose.

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