According to The Hollywood Reporter, the latest project to catch Johnny Depp’s eye is a Dr. Seuss biopic being set up by Universal and Illumination Entertainment.
(Illumination gave us Despicable Me, Hop, and next March’s animated Seuss adaptation The Lorax, and includes some of the folks who created 2008′s Horton Hears a Who!)
Depp–who has dabbled with Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan (as J.M. Barrie in Neverland) and Willy Wonka–will produce the live-action feature and may star in the film as Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.
The tone of the biopic is unclear at this early stage–will it be a serious, even somber work like Neverland intended for older viewers, or will it be more of a family film and take a lighter-hearted look at the world-famous author’s life, perhaps even with some animated segments?
Either way, this adds to Depp’s always full (and spinning) plate. He stars this month in Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, appears next month in Scorsese’s Hugo, and next spring stars as Barnabas Collins in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (and has a cameo in the 21 Jump Street movie). After that, who knows? Despite preproduction budget battles this summer, Depp’s passion project–starring as Tonto in a revisionist telling of The Lone Ranger–is not yet dead at Disney (a cost-cutting deal could be in the works), and he’s still planning to play Nick Charles in a Thin Man remake at some point.
Plus Depp has two more projects in the works with Disney: Kolchak: The Night Stalker, a remake of the ’70s cult TV show, and a Paul Revere historical film. And there’s always the strong likelihood (assuming the Lone Ranger stuff gets sorted out) of a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film.
Meanwhile, if you’re wondering whether or not the personal life of a children’s writer, poet, and illustrator (even a beloved one who published 46 children’s books and inspired 11 TV specials and a Broadway play) will be interesting enough to fill a feature film, you don’t know Seuss.
Some fascinating Seuss facts:
– The son of German immigrants, Geisel attended Dartmouth in the ’20s, where he edited the college’s humor magazine until he was kicked off the extra-curricular job after getting caught drinking gin. In order to secretly continue writing and drawing for the magazine, Geisel started using the pen name “Seuss.”
– Geisel originally pronounced his pen name “Soice,” in the German style, rhyming with “voice.” But when everyone else mispronounced it as rhyming with “goose,” he eventually gave in and went with with popular version.
– During the Depression, Geisel worked in print and radio advertising. My own father, Harold, was an anti-aircraft gunner on a battleship in WWII, and he’d tell how whenever a Japanese kamikaze plane would head toward them, his gun loader Will would yell the popular catch phrase from a famous radio ad for bug spray: “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” Which, it turns out, was written by Geisel.
– During World War II, Geisel did filmmaking and design work for the war effort and joined the Army in 1943, where he wrote films for the Animation Dept of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces. One of them, Design for Death, won the Documentary Feature Academy Award in 1947.
– Early on Geisel was a deeply political writer and artist, especially during the war. In his Depression- and WWII-era cartoons he supported Roosevelt, opposed fascism early and vehemently, hated Charles Lindbergh for his isolationist views, and decried racism against African Americans and Antisemitism both at home and in Europe.
– One of Geisel’s moral weaknesses was a (sadly not uncommon at the time) dehumanizing of the Japanese and Japanese-Americans in his work during WWII. However, in 1954 he set out to make amends by deliberately writing Horton Hears a Who! as a Hiroshima allegory.
– His most popular book, The Cat in the Hat, came about when a 1954 story about illiteracy in Life magazine suggested kids found their school reading books boring. At the urging of his publisher, Geisel took a list of 236 words for first graders and set about using them–and only them–in a new “Beginner Book” for young readers.
– Geisel had an affair in the ’60s, and his first wife, Helen (who was suffering from cancer), committed suicide in 1967. The following year, Geisel married his mistress, Audrey Dimond. Geisel never had children of his own with Helen or Audrey and died of throat cancer in 1991 at the age of 87.