Illustrator Roy McKie Recalls His Collaboration With The Late Dr. Seuss | Entertainment
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on February 23, 2013. Roy McKie died in 2015.
Children across the country are celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday this week. Unfortunately, they do so in the absence of the guest of honor.
Groundbreaking children’s author-illustrator Theodor Seuss Geisel died in 1991 at the age of 87, though he lives on in his many whimsical creations. The most famous of all, the Cat in the Hat, is the amusing host of many of these parties.
Roy McKie, however, recalls a birthday party the good doctor himself attended.
It was Geisel’s 80th, in 1984. The festivities began at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and continued at the 21 Club in Manhattan for dinner, recalls McKie, an illustrator who collaborated with him. on a number of books.
McKie and his 49-year-old wife, June Reynard McKie, a fashion illustrator, moved from the West Village in New York to Garden Spot Village in New Holland in late 2010 after 40 years of visiting Lancaster County.
They knew Geisel, socially and professionally, in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, when McKie shared credit for those classics with Dr. Seuss or Theo. LeSieg (another pen name) as “My Book About Me”, “Ten Apples Up on Top!” “Would you rather be a bull frog?” “Mr. Brice’s pop-up mice”, “The Eye Book” and “The Tooth Book”.
“He was a wonderful man,” McKie says of Dr. Seuss. “You would have liked it,” he assures a journalist.
He adds: “I hated to see him go.” But he’s happy that Dr. Seuss’ books live on.
• McKie’s friends Phyllis and Bennett Cerf, whose books McKie illustrated, introduced him to Geisel one weekend at the Cerfs’ country home in upstate New York. “Ted”, as Geisel was known to his friends, was looking for an illustrator, and “we got along well”, says McKie.
That weekend, they “draw a few books that he wanted me to help him with,” McKie recalls. “He had so many projects, so many ideas!
Geisel preferred the simpler illustrations in his books, says McKie, whose gallery-like apartment is testament to his and his wife’s talents as fine artists as well as commercial illustrators.
When it came to the drawings in his books, Dr. Seuss “liked to look at them from a child’s perspective,” says McKie. “It didn’t matter how many lines there were” because he didn’t care about shading, depth, realism. Dr. Seuss went with the basic image, the simplest depiction of a dog, a tree, a house that a child would recognize, McKie says.
“It made perfect sense,” he adds.
A 1995 biography, titled “Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel”, by Judith and Neil Morgan, acknowledges McKie’s contributions to the work of Dr. Seuss, particularly his Beginner Books line for younger readers.
The biography notes: “Roy McKie was often LeSieg’s illustrator; he was quick and reliable and understood Ted. To the faithful McKie, Ted was ‘the center of my life for a long time. I believed in him completely. I had to say about his work, he was the only author who could make children laugh.”
June McKie remembers those years very well. Her husband “was never late for a deadline, always working all night, all weekend. But it’s freelance for you,” she says.
She also recalls a “working visit” to the Geisel home in LaJolla, California. The wives followed their husbands into the studio, where the men engaged in a long argument over whether a dog character should have “two tears or three tears” falling from its eye, she said.
After what seemed like hours of watching this tedious debate, Ms Geisel asked if she ‘wanted to get out’. June McKie replied, “Wow! Wow!” if so, she recalls with a laugh.
• At 91, McKie looks back with wonder on a career that gave him a very good life, despite the initial reluctance of his family.
The Boston native attended the former Vesper George School of Art, on what is now the campus of Boston University. He remembers his grandfather telling his mother, “Marian, the boy will never find a job in this kind of business.
But McKie did. Right out of art school, he worked in a commercial art studio in Boston. After a few years, he went to work at the NW Ayer & Son advertising agency in Philadelphia, living in New Hope. Then he started freelancing in the New York art market while living in Connecticut. For a time he also lived and worked in London.
His colleagues at various times included Charles T. Coiner and children’s author Leo Lionni. Books bearing his name and art have been translated into many foreign languages.
Here on the home front, he’s just thrilled that the local library has 16 of his books on their shelves.
“I often go to local bookstores,” he says, to check if they also have his books in stock. “One author told me, ‘Go in and take them out. Make sure they’re at eye level.’ It’s fun to get away with it,” he joked as he surreptitiously rearranged the shelves so his books had a chance of catching the attention of potential buyers.
Overall, “nice to have a book,” said McKie, who recommends it to everyone. “It doesn’t change. People will find [books] 100 years from now. The books won’t go away, I think.”
And neither does the memory of their authors and illustrators. Including the one whose birthday readers are still celebrating – 109 years after his birth, to be precise.