How the 'Grinch' stole our hearts

CCM alum's musical legacy lives on in popular Dr. Seuss 'Grinch' movie

"You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch," says the opening line to the famous song stuck in many heads around the holidays.

But the rollicking rhyming words Theodor "Ted" Seuss Geisel wrote stayed locked inside his own head until the right musical score could do it justice.

That's when Tony Award-winning composer and 1942 UC alum Albert Hague cleverly auditioned his musical tune for Seuss himself, who hired Hague on the spot to score what became his 1966 animated TV classic, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." 

According to an interview in 2001 with former UC editor Deb Rieselman, Hague played only one piece, the signature song he had composed for the audition. "Afterward, Seuss looked up and said, 'Anyone who slides an octave on the word Grinch like that gets the job.' The whole thing took three minutes," she wrote.

You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

Years before Hague's role in Seuss's animated holiday humor, he began playing piano at the age of four in his native Germany. Faced with fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s, Hague moved to Cincinnati with a relative who had arranged for him to attend CCM's predecessor school, the College of Music, as a German exchange student on a scholarship. 

After graduation and becoming a U.S. citizen, Hague was ready to repay Uncle Sam's generosity by joining the U.S. Air Force, serving for more than two years. 

It wasn't until he moved to New York that Hague began experiencing musical success. In 1955 his musical "Plain and Fancy," a show about the Amish in Pennsylvania, opened on Broadway.

By the 1960s, Hague had gained enormous fame after winning a Tony Award in 1959 for his score for the Broadway musical "Redhead,"directed by Bob Fosse.

Songs in the key of 'Grinch'

Hague's well-known relationship with the famous green grouch took his music career in an unexpected, yet exciting direction while working with the famed Dr. Seuss. His catchy tune turned the "king of sinful sots" into a beloved holiday character.

Seuss’s lyrics describe the Grinch as being foul, bad-mannered and sinister using increasingly creative metaphors and synonyms. So it seemed only fitting to Seuss that the musical score should fit the protagonist’s character with tones that frame that twisted image. Seuss soon struck gold — or, well, green.

UC alum Al Hague stands near his piano.

UC CCM alum Albert Hague.

"I had a young agent," Hague recalled, "who called to ask if I would like to work with Dr. Seuss. I saw an audition coming on, so I said, 'Absolutely. I'd love to.'"

But when Hague insisted that Seuss come to his house for the audition his agent quipped, "You don't understand. This guy is from Hollywood. You have to go to him because he's more important."

Hague pressed, "No, don't make him come to my house because I'm more important; make him come here because I have the better piano. That will be understood." And it was.

The celebrated children's author well-known for his legendary rhythmic verse showed. Since then, Hague's catchy tune, sung in the movie by Thurl Ravenscroft, has become a holiday favorite hummed in countless households during the holidays.

Even when Jim Carrey starred in the full-blown feature in 2000, Hague's song and much of the jazzy score accompanied the movie, with Hague listed in the credits.

Other charming challenges

Vinyl record cover of the original "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Original vinyl record cover to the musical score for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." photo/provided

At the age of 76, Hague and his wife Renee settled in Marina del Rey, California, where they performed their autobiographical musical comedy, “Hague and Hague: His Hits and His Missus,” at a major Los Angeles nightspot.

Before long, his acting prowess landed him the role of Mr. Shorofsky in the TV series “Fame” from 1982 to ’87. In 1996, he played a psychiatrist in the Looney Tunes movie “Space Jam” with Michael Jordan, and in 1999, he played a doctor again in “The Story of Us” with Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer.  

After his death in November 2001 at the age of 81, Hague’s musical "Plain and Fancy," is still performed all year long, and has been for decades, in Nappanee, Indiana.

UC's who's who in Santa's toyville

Songs aren’t the only holiday treasures UC grads create. For decades, UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning alums have produced plenty of the genius and inspiration behind some of the world's most popular toy designs — from your favorites growing up to the latest "Star Wars" figures — UC has left an impact on children, young and old.


Featured image at top: Poster of a current stage play of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." photo/