Quick! Pencils up, everyone, for a quick one question Christmas Pop Quiz.
What color is The Grinch in Dr. Seuss’s 1957 classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas!?
Did you say green?
Confused? Let me explain.
Let’s start by looking at the secret origin of the Grinch–at least in print–and trace the trajectory of his color.
Seuss first coined the word “Grinch” in his 1953 book Scrambled Eggs Super! as one of the birds having its eggs pilfered for use in the title food. That’s him over there at the right.
Here it was called a “Beagle-Beaked Bald Headed Grinch,” and it looked like a paunchy bird with a perpetual scowl. It wasn’t really what we think of as the Grinch, but this is the first time Seuss ever used the word in print.
And as you can see, he’s also yellow.
A character closer to the Grinch as we know him made his first appearance in a 1955 issue of Redbook magazine, in which Seuss published a 32-line poem called “The Hoobub and the Grinch.”
Here he’s a catlike snake-oil salesman, selling a short length of string to a sunbathing Hoobub who has absolutely no use for it. It’s a slick personality somewhat closer to the Grinch we know and love, though Seuss still hasn’t quite stuck the landing.
Oh, and one more thing: this Grinch is colorless.
Two years later, the Grinch would show up again in the pages of Redbook, this time in the December 1957 issue, which printed How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in its entirety, more than a month before the book was published. If you’re a collector, *this* is FIRST APP. GRINCH.
The Redbook printing *is* in color, though the Grinch himself is usually blended into the background, making it difficult to get a bead on exactly what color *he* might be. Take a look:
Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
When How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was published in December 1957, it used shades of only one color. This was actually typical of most Seuss books, which relied on variations of a single color to create highlights and points of interest.
What was the color used in Grinch, then?
That’s right: red.
Yup. Throughout the book, Seuss uses shades of red for the Grinch’s Santa suit, Christmas decorations, the sled, and even the Grinch’s eyes.
But the Grinch himself?
Fast forward now to 1966, when Seuss was approached by an old friend, animator and director Chuck Jones, with whom Seuss had worked eyeball-to-eyeball producing the Private Snafu animated training films during WWII. Jones, who went on to direct pretty much every Looney Tunes cartoon you know and love, had just been given his walking papers by Warner Bros., and was looking for new projects. After some discussion, Jones convinced Seuss to let him bring an animated Grinch to television in time for Christmas 1966.
For months, Jones would rent a car and drive from Los Angeles to La Jolla to meet with Seuss at his home. One of the first issues that needed to be resolved was the physicality of the Grinch — how to bring the image off the page and determine how he walked, or smiled, or frowned on the TV screen.
The other pressing issue: What color was the Grinch?
After much discussion and some disagreement, the two finally agreed on the color of the Grinch. It was the color of every rental car Chuck Jones had driven in the summer of 1966, as he made his trips to visit Dr. Seuss in La Jolla.
With that decision made, the Grinch has been green since 1966 — translated that way across every medium, from animation to live action.
Today, if you’re asked what color the Grinch is . . . naturally, you’re gonna answer “green” — and you’d be right.
But he didn’t start out that way — and as you carve your Christmas roast beast, you can thank Chuck Jones’s rental car for our beloved green Grinch.