June 18, 2010

George Mendoza, Children's Book Industry 'Phenomenon'

mendoza_carle_scarecrow.jpgAlright, the mime's not talking, so we'll have to dig into this George Mendoza Children's Book Industrial Complex on our own.

George Mendoza is listed as the author of both of Marcel Marceau's children's books. At the same time, he also "created" The Inspector, a wordless book with gory illustrations by Peter Parnall of a clueless detective's dog violently devouring a succession of animals. And in 1971, he wrote the [equally?] childhood-scarring book, The Thumbtown Toad, a loose poem about a gnarly hag who eats child stew, illustrated by Monika Beisner.

But he also wrote The Scarecrow Clock, an apparently "harmless and amusing" tale of a parade of animals asking a scarecrow what time it is. Asked by the New York Times why he put out such a non-weird book, Mendoza said he wondered about it, too, "Maybe it's because my daughter is only 2." The Scarecrow Clock is illustrated, obviously, by Eric Carle, whose Very Hungry Caterpillar was already a decade old, and it came out alongside Carle's own string-a-bunch-of-animals-together title, Will You Be My Friend?

In 1971, Mendoza was 36, and the Times called him and his 35 children's books, including 12 that year, "a phenomenon." He comes off sounding kind of scattershot, though, and the Times criticized the heavyhanded allegories of many of Mendoza's more "written" [as opposed to produced] titles, and their unsuitability for children.

No matter, he said, he was through with kid's books and moving into film, wrote "a screenplay called, 'You Show Me Yours, And I'll Show You Mine,' about a mother and son moving to New Mexico."

mendoza_carol_burnett.jpg

And yet in 1974, he was still producing goofy, high-profile, low-concept titles like What I Want to Be When I Grow Up, by Carol Burnett [above]. And Sesame Street Book of Opposites With Zero Mostel [below]. If used book list prices are any indication, the Zero Mostel book is a highly collectible classic.

mendoza_zero_mostel_sesame.jpg

In 1978, he got as close to the movies as he ever would, a writing credit for Michel's Mixed-Up Musical Bird an book he did to accompany the ABC Afterschool Special adaptation of a true-life story by--holy moley, he wrote Jacques Demy's incomparable musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg! AND the score for the original Thomas Crown Affair!--French film composer Michel Legrand. SIDEBAR, YOUR HONOR!

But let's go back to the Sesame Street connection. According to George Mendoza Jr, his "father also helped to create many of the characters on the long-running PBS television show, 'Sesame Street,' such as Big Bird, though his contribution is not credited on the program." Not credited and not mentioned anywhere online at all. The Muppet Wiki's only mention of Mendoza is as the author of the Opposites book, which it says was actually adapted from a series of pantomimed segments Mostel did for the 'Street in the early 70s. So maybe he was close to the CTW crowd at the time?

Which is odd, Mendoza Jr. said, "because he hates kids." Hmm. Mendoza Jr. was born in 1955 on Governor's Island, which probably means while his 20-yo dad was in the Coast Guard. His parents split and divorced soon afterward. When he was 15, he suddenly began losing his sight during a high school basketball game. His mother learned that strong light might help him keep his remaining peripheral vision, so she moved with him to New Mexico.

the 139 George Mendoza titles on Amazon includes some reprints, some duplicates, and a suspicious amount of colabos with Norman Rockwell [amazon]

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