It’s a holiday classic that almost didn’t make it from book to screen but for a friendship forged during World War II. In its Southeastern debut, “A Very Grinchy Christmas,” the newest exhibition opening Saturday, November 4, 2023, at the Upcountry History Museum – Greenville County, outlines the backstory of one of the most watched animated made-for-television specials of all time.
Written in 1957, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Ted Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss, gave readers the story of the small-hearted creature who “lived just north of Whoville” and vowed to stop Christmas from coming, only to realize at the end that “maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” Though many had wanted Geisel to turn the story into an animated special, it wasn’t until 1966 that he consented when acclaimed animator Chuck Jones made a personal appeal to him. Geisel and Jones had served together during WWII in the U.S. Army’s First Motion Picture Unit, so Geisel entrusted the project to his friend.
Turning the short book into a 25-minute animated special required the gifted animator of Looney Tunes fame to utilize all of his skills to transform characters, backgrounds, and scenes into a moving storyline complete with narration, music, and color. On December 18, 1966, 3.8 million people tuned in to CBS-TV to witness the birth of this transformation from page to small screen.
Featuring over 150 original animation cels, backgrounds, and ephemera from private collections, this exhibition illustrates Jones’ approach to adapting the story for the screen as he unleashed a riotous array of vivid colors to depict settings and characters. On display from Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, through Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, “A Very Grinchy Christmas” offers a behind-the-scenes look at the originality of both Geisel’s and Jones’ talents, as well as their combined skills in telling a story about the spirit of giving and the indomitable power of optimism.
The Upcountry History Museum is located at 540 Buncombe St., in Greenville, S.C. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Sunday from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. For more information, call 864-467-3100 or visit www.upcountryhistory.org.