Walt Disney Family Museum Presents Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things Are' 50 Years Later

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Walt Disney Family Museum Presents Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things Are' 50 Years Later
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Saluting Maurice Sendak at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco's Presidio

If you clicked on the Google Doodle on June 10, designed to mark the 85th birthday of late author Maurice Sendak, you were treated to a two-minute animation featuring Max and the wild things having a romp. Sendak would have thoroughly enjoyed it; he was a self-proclaimed kid at heart.

Walt Disney Family Museum

While the New York Times' obituary called Sendak "the most important children's book artist of the 20th century," things were not always rosy. "Maurice Sendak: 50 Years, 50 Works, 50 Reasons" is on display at San Francisco's Walt Disney Family Museum through July 7. This exhibit dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the publication of "Where the Wild Things Are" offers a heart-warming glimpse into the late illustrator's life, shedding light on the origins of the horrid-looking creatures that fill many a Sendak storybook. Showcased are 50 vibrant illustrations so fresh that they appear to have been inked only yesterday.

Walt Disney Inspiration

Born in 1928, the same year as Mickey Mouse, Sendak frequently spoke of the influences that Walt Disney had on him. When "Fantasia" was released, Sendak was 12, in poor health, and leading a fairly sedentary life in the modest Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, apartment of his Polish Jew immigrant parents. A young and admiring Sendak, unsettled by stories and photos of relatives lost in the Holocaust, is said to have reached out to Disney with a letter asking whether Disney would care to adopt him. Sendak began to draw.

Originally Banned

Nearly a quarter of a century later in 1963, "Where the Wild Things Are" was published by Harper & Row, only to receive negative reviews and be banned by libraries. Its fanged, grotesque characters with rotten behavior and foul mouths were considered disruptive to the development of well-behaved children. However, the nation snapped out of Camelot with the jolt of that November's presidential assassination. By 1964, the book was in good favor, winning the Caldecott Medal for most distinguished book for children.

Wild Relations

In a 2002 interview with the Jewish Journal, Sendak explained how the stinky, fiendish, garlicky wild things were created out of weekly visits from his elderly Jewish immigrant relatives. "I saw them as fiendish creatures. They ate raw onions, and they stank, and they pinched you. They screamed at each other in a foreign language, Yiddish. They had bad teeth."

Shared Passions

Guest curator Anel Muller draws interesting distinctions and parallels between Disney and Sendak. Underscoring differences in their dispositions, she nonetheless adds, "They both were able to do the things they loved doing and for which they had incredible creativity and massive talents. The obvious key is the joy which comes from following one's passions, which Sendak discusses toward the end of his life."

"Why is my needle stuck in childhood? I don't know. I don't know. I guess that's where my heart is." -- Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012.

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