WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is Copyright 1963 by Maurice Sendak, photographs and text are Copyright Mel Birnkrant.
One of the many things that Maurice and I had in common was a childhood affinity for the phenomenon, known as Walt Disney. Disney’s imagery grabbed us both at an early age, and remained with us, throughout our lives. Yet, even though, at the time we met, Maurice and I were both great fans of Mickey Mouse, the early experiences that brought us to that place were vastly different for each of us.
At the age of three, I was taken to my first movie, Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. And I instantly fell in love with the beautiful Technicolor word that I could see, through what I was convinced was actually a giant doorway that others referred to as a screen. I longed to travel through that magic portal, and live the remainder of my young life on the other side, in that far better reality, the world of Fantasia and Pinocchio. My love of Disney was all visual. It had little to do with Mickey. In fact, throughout my 1940s childhood, Mickey Mouse, the classic image, was nowhere to be seen.
Maurice, on the other hand, was born the same year as Mickey Mouse. And it was Mickey that he identified with as a kid. Mickey was like a second brother to him. Growing up in Brooklyn, Maurice was slightly sickly, and haunted by the shadow of the holocaust that devoured many members of his family. The few aunts and uncles who survived were as overbearing and obnoxious as the Wild Things, which thanks to Maurice, they eventually became. While other kids were outside playing, Maurice sat, sad and lonely, watching them from his window. The neighborhood kids that he observed, later became the characters in Really Rosie. And in his darkened bedroom, the impact of the Lindbergh kidnapping kept him awake at night. And so it was, that in some respects, Maurice’s creative life might well be seen as mastering the art of making lemonade, squeezed from the lemons that fate sent his way in childhood. And, always at this dismal time, shining like a beacon of light, was Mickey Mouse, bright, high spirited, and carefree. No wonder, Maurice found him appealing. Mickey spoke to him, and continued to whisper in his ear, throughout his lifetime.
The revealing piece of art, below, might mystify many, but not me. In it, we see Maurice, gazing into a looking glass, and what he sees there is Mickey. Few could imagine the degree to which the spirit of Mickey Mouse remained alive and well, inside Maurice.
Maurice was always at his best, and most hilarious, when ranting and bellyaching about something, or someone, that rubbed him the wrong way. Oy Vey! At times like this, he displayed his vast collection of Yiddish expressions and anatomically incorrect obscenities. He possessed a saber Kosher tongue that was both skillful and lethal. I’ve heard him colorfully complaining about everyone, from his competitor, Ted Geisel (Dr. Suess) to his sometimes friend, Jim Henson.
Henson once said to Maurice, half-jokingly, “Maurice, I’ve stolen from you outrageously, over the years!” Maurice did not react. But inside, he was furious, because he knew that it was true. For the sake of not spoiling the friendship, he bit his sabre tongue, and left it sheathed, saying nothing. The fact was that Henson’s Muppet monsters, Cookie, Grover, and the rest owed much of their origins in the Wild Things. If “Where the Wild Things Are" had not paved the way for the acceptance of scary stuff in children’s literature, there might have never been a Cookie Monster.
But, years later, when Maurice saw Henson’s movie the “Labyrinth,” there was no containing his anger. It should have been obvious to anyone that the plot was lifted from Maurice’s book, inspired by the Lindbergh kidnapping, “Outside Over There.” Maurice was so enraged that he threatened to sue Henson. The issue was solved, somewhat amicably, to Maurice’s lukewarm satisfaction, by Henson adding a screen credit, at the beginning of the film, thanking Maurice for inspiration. To hear Maurice relate this story would have an audience rolling in the aisles. Oy gevalt! Maurice, or Moishe, the Wild Thing, makes several cameo appearances, throughout his telling of the tale. Sometimes, small things festered. Maurice never forgot, nor forgave the rough response that he’d received from Disney. Ironically, there came a time, years later, when the Disney studio was considering a Wild Things Movie. And that tiny tempest over a Mickey teapot, years before, came back to bite them. Somewhere in Maurice’s memory, that storm still raged. The studio even made a demonstration film, hoping to seduce Maurice. The clip consisted of thirty seconds of frantic fast paced animation, in which the backgrounds were computerized, with traditional hand drawn animation overlaid. Apparently, it was directed by John Lassiter, and, at first, was just a pencil test. Maurice was not impressed. Then, colored imagery was applied, and it got even worse. Here, Max looks like something between a radioactive marshmallow and Casper the friendly ghost, as cute and cloying as the art on any Hallmark greeting card might be. Devoid of any character development, it looks more like a wild chase scene from a Road Runner cartoon than something that Maurice would do. He absolutely hated it!
My own passion for Mickey Mouse began with the discovery of a cast iron Mickey bank, at the Paris Flea Market in 1958. By the mid-1960s that passion had blossomed into a full blown obsession. And I turned into the first, and only, Mickey Mouse collector that I knew. Over the next few years, other like-minded visionaries started to appear. They were few in number, and soon discovered that they had a lot of catching up to do. And then, I met Maurice. He was, and still remains, the only Mickey collector of the group who actually knew and loved Mickey as a kid.
Most early Mickey Muse collectors were artists, in one form or another, and it was the graphic imagery of early Mickey, newly rediscovered that gave birth to our exciting hobby. That held true for everyone, except Maurice. Maurice’s love of Mickey went far beyond his look of spherical simplicity and strong geometry, far beyond his aesthetic qualities; it extended back into Maurice’s early childhood. Mickey was a nostalgic ray of happiness for Maurice, as a child, and he remained a graphic masterpiece to him, as an adult, much as he was to me. But, in my case, Mickey Mouse was just three circles that excited me aesthetically, while to Maurice, he was so much more than that! Mickey was the tiny light that made his childhood bearable, and guided him along the path to making art.
When we first met, Maurice was working on "In The Night Kitchen." This book was, essentially, a delightful thank you note to Mickey Mouse and Disney. Maurice had named his young protagonist, "Mickey," in honor of the much loved mouse. In the miniature volume he created, as part of the planning stages, he included a miniscule image of Mickey Mouse, on a toy teapot in young Mickey’s bedroom. This would be a gentle tip-off to the reader that the book was inspired by the author’s love of early Disney. When Maurice’s lawyer saw the drawing, he suggested that he should consult Walt Disney Productions to make sure that it would be all right to include a tiny image of Mickey Mouse, about an eighth of an inch tall. So, Maurice sent the Disney Studio a letter and a copy of the drawing. Then, the teapot tempest began! The Disney legal team fired back a frightening legal warning, regarding Maurice’s wish to include a teeny tiny Mickey “If you do, well SUE the CRAP out of you!” to quote Maurice, telling the story.
Maurice telling a story; what a rare delightful treat that was! On the always memorable occasions, when we got together in person, Maurice would hold us spellbound in rapt attention, or have us in stitches, cracking up with laughter, as he shared one anecdote after another.
Meanwhile, I loved to steer Mickey mice Maurice's way, simply because they made him so deliriously happy. When I came across a duplicate that I believed Maurice would like, I put him in contact with the seller, so, money was never exchanged with me. Throughout my life as a collector, I often stumbled onto treasures, costing pennies that could be sold for many dollars more. Nonetheless, I relentlessly resisted the temptation to slip into the role of dealer, with Maurice, more so than anybody. But I was not adverse to making trades. And, early on, Maurice and I negotiated a monumental one.
Right from the beginning, the Holy Grail of Mickey for Maurice was one amazing item, the Mickey Mouse Waddle Book. Of all the vintage Disney publications, the Waddle Book is the rarest of the rare. In this amazing volume, Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Tanglefoot are cardboard characters that punch out of the book and actually walk down an inclined ramp. To a find a Waddle Book that has been punched out, with all its many pieces still intact constitutes a miracle. To find a Waddle Book in pristine mint condition, that has never been punched out would redefine “Impossible!”
When the newly hired, now retired, Disney archivist, David Smith visited my collection in NYC, in 1968. He was as unimpressed with me as I was with him. I asked him if there was any chance that I might ever get a Waddle Book. He replied: “The Disney studio has two Waddle Books, but they would never part with them. A year later, David contacted my friend, John Fawcett and offered him a pristine mint unpunched Waddle Book for $50. John immediately scoffed it up. And I immediately wrote David Smith to ask if he could get me a one. Being a man of few words, and, apparently, a bad memory, David sent me a letter, one sentence long: “The Disney Studio has got only one Waddle Book, and they would never part with it!"
Then John did the unthinkable: He punched it out! Two years later, I traded it away from him for a carload of Lars dolls. Thus, the very Waddle Book that John got from David Smith, the Disney Studio's own Waddle Book, appeared in the 1973 Bamberger’s Show, and still resides at my house, now.
One year later, I got a second Waddle Book that was also complete, but, like mine, it was already punched out. I immediately traded it to Maurice in exchange for for the spiral staircase that I still travel upstairs and down on, twenty times a day. Yes, he wrote a check for it, made out to the staircase company, not to me, so, I could convince myself it was a trade. This made Maurice happy for a while, but he still dreamed of, someday, owning a Waddle Book that was not punched out.
And then, one day at Brimfield, fate sent me a perfect mint unpunched Waddle Book. It was truly amazing, and had a strange and unknown version of the ramp, a rare variation that nobody had ever seen.
Then, ten years flew by. During that time, Maurice and I often talked about a trade. Could he ever hope to find something I wanted more than the world’s best Waddle book? That was highly unlikely, as any collectible that good was bound to be something Maurice would want to keep.
Meanwhile, I continued to be intimately involved with Maurice’s Mickey Mouse collection. Most of the items he obtained were coming to him, either through, or because of me. His only other Mickey Mouse supplier was our mutual friend, Ted Hake. Although, Ted conducted Auctions several times a year, when he got something really special in the way of Mickey Mouse, he would sell it directly to Maurice. These sales would usually involve Ted, driving up from York PA, and stopping on the way to visit me. Sometimes, he would stay overnight at a motel in nearby Fishkill, spend the evening at Mouse Heaven, then, travel to Maurice the following day. Ted usually showed me what he was offering to Maurice. One time, he even permitted me to intercept something for myself, a fabulous ceramic of Mickey playing a banjo, at “Yikes,” a Maurice Sendak price. Ted had enough stuff left to show Maurice, the next day, anyway.
And so, it came to be that, throughout the years, Maurice would almost never buy a Mickey, without first consulting me. So it helped that I had already seen what Ted was offering. Not that it would make a difference, because... whenever something was outrageously expensive, he would anguish over the price. I‘ve been told this is an ethnic trait, Oy Vey! That's one characteristic that miraculously never infected me. But Maurice came to depend on my seal of approval, before he would purchase anything. And, every time, I would inevitably say: "Maurice, of course, its outrageously expensive, even overpriced, but you are not hurting for money, and if it makes you happy, you must buy it!" And he always did.
Sometime later, Maurice called me to ask my advice, as he always did before he made a Mickey purchase. There was the potential that he could get an unpunched waddle Book for 13 thousand dollars. It was in only fair condition, and the ramp, which is a separate piece, was missing. What should he do? I replied as I always did, "Maurice, if you want it, you can afford it; why don’t you just get it?" But, on the other hand, that was a lot of money for a Waddle Book, missing the ramp.
And then, I got a bright idea! We I had often spoken about trades, but it was clear that there was no way I was ever going to part with what was, most likely, the world’s most perfect Waddle Book for love or money. Therefore, what would I trade it for? The answer was: an impressive piece of artwork by Maurice! There was lots of art that he had done already; I didn’t mean Wild Things. I knew they were off limits, but something from the Nutcracker etc. was something I would have gladly traded it for. And a trade like that could happen immediately. But Maurice explained that any art, remotely impressive was either in the Rosenbach, already, or promised to them. So, we were really talking something that he would draw and paint to order for me. OK! We agreed. Maurice invited me to suggest what I would like that art to be.
That was easy! I was able to decide, right there and then. It would be called “The Art of Maurice Sendak,” if one were to give it a descriptive name. And it would show whatever characters he chose to include, representing those from a variety of his books, together in a single scene, again, of his choosing. I added that I realized that such a request represented a major statement by him, so, to ease the selfishness factor on my part, I suggested that he allow his publisher to publish it, so he could reap the financial benefits, and the world could see it. Then, give the piece of art to me. Maurice agreed, and set about creating it, enthusiastically.
Maurice spoke to me on the phone several times, while he was working on the art, to tell me, excitedly, how much he was enjoying it. He was drawing each character in the style of the original illustration, so, it would represent, not only, his various characters, but his various styles, as well. And when the art was finished, Maurice called me up, upset.
He explained, with many apologies, that he had fallen in love with this piece of art, and couldn’t part with it. But he would draw me an exact copy! I wasn’t happy, but I tried not to show it, and said, "OK,." But I was disappointed. First of all, Maurice's time was far too valuable for him to be playing the role of a copying machine. Therefore, I requested that he do something to differentiate it from the original, like adding an image of Mickey Mouse etc. He agreed. I knew it would never be quite the same as an original creation, and doing it would be a tedious chore for him. No need to worry, for he never did it! To add to my pain, his publisher, as I suggested, did publish the drawing, the work that had been created for me. It became part of a handsome gift set, packaged, along with a copy of the Wild Things. I bought myself one. Actually, it was on close out, already. But, I never had the heart to open it. Nor could I find it when I searched for it last week. I copied the image, below,from the internet.
Several years passed. It was clear that Maurice had lost his appetite for copying the drawing, and to tell the truth, my enthusiasm had also waned. All this was very discouraging. The whole trade thing had taken so long, and came such a long way... to come to nothing, in the end.
Then, one day, Maurice called, again. This time, he was so apologetic and emotionally upset that he was almost in tears. I believe, at that point in time, he had forgotten that I wasn’t ever getting the original art, anyway. He acted like he was regretfully reneging on the deal, all over again. Now, he explained that someone had offered him a great deal of money for the art he had created for me, and the offer was so big, he couldn’t refuse it. He intended to use the proceeds to buy a house for Lynn, which he referred to as a "barn,” a place for her and her young son to live. I think he had forgotten he was supposed to make me a copy. Thus, several years into the trade, we were back to ground zero again.
Meanwhile, I continued to send Mickeys Maurice’s way. When my good friends, Doug and Pat Wengel sold their wonderful tin toy collection at auction, I made sure that Maurice knew about it, and counseled him as to what he ought to get, and how much he should to bid. Maurice went a little crazy and paid fabulous prices for some truly fabulous things. The Wengles were overjoyed with the results of the auction, and so was Maurice.
Maurice kept his Mickeys strewn all over his studio, and things often got broken. There was no way he dared repair them, himself, which always seemed absurd to me. The world’s greatest illustrator, afraid to glue and touch up a broken bisque? Lynn had been doing repairs, which were not exactly great. So I volunteered to restore a whole hospital ward full of injured Mickeys for Maurice. Here they are, newly completed on my desk. To get these into pristine shape took me several days. Looking back on those times, I could kick myself that I didn’t seize the opportunity to suggest something like this: "Maurice, I spent many hours on these, and I would be very pleased if you would spend only an hour of your time to do a little pen or pencil sketch of anything you like for me." I know he would have done that gladly, grateful that he could reciprocate. But at the time, the thought never remotely crossed my mind. Hindsight, they say, is 20 20. And regrets are many. Now, it is twenty years too late.
The printed images in the background are evidence of the fact that Maurice had hired an enthusiastic young man to catalogue and photograph everything in his collection, recording what each object was, and what Maurice had paid.
A few more years passed, during which Maurice and I often spoke about what was to become of our collections. We came to the conclusion that if someone was willing to preserve them in some sort of a museum, we would combine them. Maurice pointed out that they would want to take advantage of his fame, and name the collection after him. I said that would be all right with me. I just wanted to see the stuff we had survive, intact, his and mine, combined. Of course, that never happened.
I believe I mentioned, earlier, how uncompromising Maurice was when it came to maintaining the standards and purity of his creations. If a manufacturer wished to license something, Maurice could be more difficult to please than the princess and the pea. That was why I found it so incredible that he trusted me to create the Wild Things Dolls. And I was so grateful that he genuinely liked how they came out. Few others had been so lucky, including Disney. Now, Maurice’s demanding standards became an serious issue when he got involved with Sony.
In 1999 Sony created a spectacular indoor shopping center and entertainment complex in San Francisco. It was called the “Metreon.” This 85 million dollar project included an IMAX Theater and a play area for young children, based on Where the Wild Things Are that shared a floor with an In the Night Kitchen themed restaurant. These photos indicate how fabulous it was!
Whenever Maurice visited Mouse Heaven, Lynn drove him. How can I describe Lynn Caponera? For over thirty years, she was Maurice’s housekeeper, care giver, and, in many respects, his best friend. Now, she is one of the executors of his estate and president of the Maurice Sendak Foundation. Lynn began working for Maurice when she was 19, and has been with him ever since. She and her son, are now living in, and still caring for his house. Here is Maurice in a silly mood, with Eunice and Lynn, together, on the couch at Mouse Heaven.
We would each choose a dozen pieces in each others collection, and whoever survived would get the things he chose. Meanwhile, Maurice would get the Waddle Book immediately, to enjoy in his remaining years. Because the odds were in my favor, seemingly, Maurice being eight years older than me, I was willing to take nothing, but he had to make the outcome official in his will. Maurice insisted that I have something, in advance, as a token of good will, at the time of the exchange, and we agreed the Old king Cole Papier mâché Mickey Star would do. At auction, the star was worth a fraction of what the Waddle Book would bring, but I have always been a gambler. That's why I became a toy inventor, betting on the marketability of my ingenuity, instead of being an employee. Nonetheless, we had sure come a long way from a drawing that was valuable enough to buy a house, but as the star would be only symbolic of the posthumous trade, I agreed.
Part of the deal that Sony struck with Maurice gave them the rights to manufacture a series of Maurice Sendak themed products, to be sold in an exclusive Sendak gift shop. And then, the Wild Rumpus Began! Maurice hated every proposed product they showed him. He absolutely refused to let them slap pictures of the Wild Things on tee shirts, backpacks, and and other badly designed commercial crap. They didn’t have a clue how to please Maurice, or what he would let them do. That's when he asked me be to become his art director, to create and oversee the Maurice Sendak Metrion product line. This was not the first time he had proposed this sort of thing to me. Unfortunately, I had to turn the invitation down. I was doing all right on my own, with obligations to my partners that I was committed to uphold.
I don’t know the gory details, but the venture with Sony did not end well. Maurice held his ground and would not approve of Anything he was shown. It is my understanding that Sony sued Maurice. And I later heard that Sony won. I tried to verify this on the Internet, just now, but could find no mention of it there.
Speaking of gory details, around this time, Maurice related to me a tale of the Disney Studio’s continuing attempts to convince him to let them license the Wild Things. This involved a dinner with Diane Disney. Maurice was under the impression that she owned a Mickey Mouse automobile hood ornament, which was an item he had obsessed over for years, and never managed to obtain. According to him, he agreed to let Disney make a Wild Things movie if Diane would give him her Mickey Mouse mascot, as part of the exchange. And she refused to part with it. This rare and handsome object was worth about five thousand dollars at the time. It must have had great sentimental value to Diane to compel her pass up a multi-million dollar property. In retrospect, I’m not sure Maurice got the details right, as a year before Diane Disney died, her museum contacted me to enquire if I would sell her one of mine.
A short time after that, Maurice licensed the rights to make a Wild Things Movie to Universal Studios. Tom Hanks, who Maurice liked, was involved as co producer. Meanwhile, although, we seldom got together, we spoke often on the phone, sometimes for hours, discussing the movie. Things were not going well. Universal made several attempts to come up with a writer and a script that Maurice liked. One attempt after another, he hated them all. One, young writer who started out by making a good impression on Maurice, threw him into a rage, when, upon reading the finished script, Maurice became convinced by that the scriptwriter was anti-Semitic. No one, including Maurice and I, could figure out how to turn a 300 word story into a 90 minute movie. I felt it might be the biography of young Maurice, sort of like those 1950s Technicolor epics, Hans Christian Anderson, The Brothers Grimm, and even, Song of the South, in which there would be several fantasy dream sequences, Wild Things, Night Kitchen etc., presented at their appropriate length, interwoven with Maurice's life.
In one of these conversations, the subject of the Waddle book came up. Maurice expressed his unhappiness at the fact that he would, most likely, never get one. I said, "I feel bad about it too, Maurice. This thing is your heart’s desire, and here it sits in a bookcase, and I forget I have it, for years at a time. It might just as well be at your house." Then, I came up with a really wild idea for a trade, a little somber and macabre, in some respects, and I would guess, totally unprecedented in History. But, if seen in the right spirit, it could be positive. And Maurice was not all that happy with his collection being stashed in a drawer at the Rosenbach, anyway. As they wouldn't know what was there, and what was not. This was the deal: The trade would be, essentially, posthumous!
Taking this all very seriously, Maurice invited us to visit his house to make out my list. He suggested I bring a camera to photograph the things in his cases to aid in choosing. I said I didn’t need to do that. I would photograph them in my memory. We had a delightful afternoon. Here are some photos that Lynn took in Maurice’s studio to commemorate the occasion.
The following day, I wrote Maurice a letter, in which I listed the twelve items I picked out, and sent it to him. A trade that was to be consummated after, either Maurice, or I have died was difficult to address when we were still alive. We both realized that it made little difference what Mickey trifles sat in a drawer at the Rosenbach Museum. The mix of good to modest items that I chose would not be missed. On the other hand, depending on what Items Maurice selected from my collection, he could be putting a serious dent in my family’s inheritance. So, in a way, the stakes were higher on my side of the trade than they were for on his. Here is an excerpt from the letter that I sent: “I love the idea of our "trade". It gave me the opportunity to gaze upon the wonder of your Mickeys with the innocent desire of a kid, staring into the window of a toyshop as Christmas approaches. I know that the "trade" is not a necessary factor to you. You have invited me to "come and look and make a list", many times before. But, had we not thought of this trade, I never would have done it. Without the trade, lusting over your Mickeys would have been out of the question. How could I allow myself to choose, without being overcome with shame, if I were to feel, even, the tiniest twinge of excitement in anticipation of, one day, embracing and possessing those beautiful mice, at such a sad and terrible price?
But, Now, you will have the Waddle Book, at last, and hopefully many, many years to enjoy it, along with all your other mice. And I will have many years to enjoy the warm glow of anticipation, free of the gnawing specter of those Mickeys, condemned to be entombed forever, in a drawer in Pennsylvania, where you have told me they would be unwelcome strangers, unwanted and unloved.
I didn't anticipate taking the Star. I would rather you had continued to enjoy it, although, I must admit, I am crazy for it. But, even so, it wasn't your generous insistence that convinced me, to change my mind, but rather, the fact that it is fading, and called out to me for help, from behind the small square windows of your basement door. On the other hand, the small square windows of the illuminated cabinet in the hall, are an entirely different matter. They are the windows of the Olde Curiosity Shoppe, and all the mice within are happy to be there, basking in the warm glow of your adoration.
I stood before them yesterday, drinking in my fill of free viewing time. Objects, the likes of which, I have paid a fortune, just to be able to see, I was able to enjoy, for free, and better still, pretend that Christmas was coming and I was making out my list. All the creatures in that case were, at that moment, eager puppies, with their paws and small wet noses pressed against the glass, furiously wagging their tails, as if to say "Choose Me".
Naturally, I invited Maurice to come to Mouse Heaven to do the same. The plan was for him to do that, when got together to make the symbolic advance “trade.” That glorious joyful event took place, just a few days later. Maurice was absolutely overjoyed when he saw the Waddle Book that he was getting. It was in breathtaking condition! And as he lifted it to his nose to sniff it, he inhaled deeply, and it literally took his breath away. Needless to say, it passed the smell test. Maurice was delirious with Happiness. He owned the world’s best Waddle Book, at last!
MOUSE OVER TO OPEN THE BOOK
Lynn recorded this historic event by taking lots of photographs. Alas, I lost them all when my computer crashed. Only a few photos that Eunice took of the events of that day remain. Here are Maurice, myself, and Lynn in the hallway of Mouse Heaven. Maurice looking very serious, when, in fact, he was delirious with happiness.
I will always remember that amazing day. I expected Maurice to make his twelve choices, there and then, as planned. But he said he was overwhelmed with my collection, and that there was lot more here than he remembered. Therefore, he would have to choose another time. “Another time” never arrived! I kept urging him to come and make his list. He never did. He was always too busy, and, I guess, emotionally, he already had what he really wanted, The Waddle book! I took the fact that he did the exchange, after he got the letter, listing my choice of twelve things, to signify his agreement and approval of its contents.
MOUSE OVER TO OPEN THE BOOK
MOUSE OVER TO OPEN THE BOOK
Several days later, this gift arrived, an anatomically correct Max! Apparently, this doll was actually manufactured. The embroidered tag reads: Copyright 1998 SDI Dav Inc. He is made of a velvet like material, and his wolf suit has been redesigned, with a zipper on the back. It also, now, has toes and fingers; nice! Of course, without me to guide them, Max’s thumbs point upward, while those on the wolf suit's hands point down. Nevertheless, here’s Max! You’ve come a long way, Baby, with eleven new appendages. He’s standing next to my original hand drawn prototype. Many Maxes later, they look amazingly alike.
As time went by, Maurice began to have health issues, and the idea of urging him to make a list became a little ludicrous. With each day, it became more likely that I was going to outlive him, so there was no way I could bring up the trade. I erased it from my mind. In 2003, Spike Jonze entered Maurice’s life, and the movie delemma was resolved! I believe he liked Spike as a person. Therefore, Maurice was willing to go along with almost anything this bright young man suggested, and let him do whatever he pleased, creatively. So, in the end, the film said as much about Spike Jonze, as it did about Maurice.
Now, Maurice was swept up in the Wild Things Movie, and, over time, we, more or less, lost touch. Lynn contacted me once. She and Maurice intended to form a company of their own, with her heading it up. It would be dedicated to creating a line of Sendak merchandise, the kind Maurice would like. She asked if I would join them. I was involved with a line of dolls called, Friendz n’ Family, at the time. This was my last attempt at toy design, therefore, I once again declined, as I had previously done, so many times.
Of all the aspects of these opportunities I passed up, the one that I regret the most is the fact that if I had joined Maurice, there would have been a Wild Things Waddle Book. We spoke about this, frequently. And I could draw it, easily and spontaneously, right now, just as I did the Wild Things dolls, so many years ago. I’ve visualized it in my mind a thousand times.
The last time I saw Maurice, in person, was at the opening of the Maurice Sendak Exhibition at the Jewish Museum, in April of 2005.
When Maurice died, I realized that the trade we didn't complete was never going to happen. Apparently, he didnt pass the message on to Lynn. Although, I now believe that, even if he did, it would not have been honored, anyway. So, I resigned myself to accepting the fact that the items that should have come my way would end up in the drawers of the Rosenbach Museum and Library. Meanwhile, Lynn invited me to attend Maurice’s Memorial, which took place early one morning in New York City. I was too ill to attend it, at the time. And so, for me, there was no ending. The last page of the book was missing.....
Several months later, I got a phone call from Ted Hake. He was going to be passing through, and wondered if, as usual, I was available, and open to a visit? Absolutly! So, once again, Ted stayed at the motel in Fishkill and spent the evening at Mouse Heaven. When I learned where he was heading, the following day, I was severely shaken. He was on his way to Maurice’s House, to take his pick of anything he wanted from Maurice's Mickey Mouse Collection. Then, sell it in a series of auctions. He also told me that Christies had been there already, and took the items they ignorantly thought were the best things. Sure enough, all the true rarities remained. Ted went there, the next day, and scoffed them up, all the great stuff, including the dozen items on my list.
Maurice and I had both believed that his Mickey Mouse and book collections, as well as his huge body of artwork were going to be preserved forever, at the Rosenbach Museum and Library. And I could accept that. I realized, well before Maurice passed away, that I would never feel comfortable, winning the wager, anyway. Perhaps, the fact that I would never have to deal with that was doing me a favor. Surviving, in itself, made me a winner. But, in all honesty, learning that Maurice’s collection was being sold at auction was upsetting. If I were Maurice I would have raged and ranted in both English and Yiddish, and turned into a Wild Thing. Instead, I simply felt sad and betrayed, as miserable and forlorn as any of those melancholy Wild Things that moped their way through Spike Jonze' movie.
And it was not just yours truly; Maurice, as well, had been betrayed. I learned, eventually, that the Rosenbach had been screwed too. How I feel about our trade not being consummated is small potatoes, compared to how the Rosenbach Library must feel, after all these years of harboring and caring for the vast body of Maurice’s work, and believing, just as Maurice, himself, believed, that they had been chosen to keep it for posterity. Now, it’s all been yanked away! Some ten thousand books and works of art have been reclaimed by Maurice’s estate, for reasons that remain a mystery. A mystery,upon which I can only speculate. In December of 2014, the New York Times published this article. It includes a moving video.
Meanwhile, the Mickey star still shines, casting its aura of enchantment over the treasures of Mouse Heaven, and looking more wonderful to me, each day. It radiates a profound message: "Enough already! Stop kvetching, and count your blessings!”