Undead celebrity

— Over the past couple of weekends, the new Dr. Seuss movie, The Cat in the Hat with Mike Myers, has raked in $80 million or so, despite being labeled "an uninspired poisoned lump of eye candy," by New York Times critic A.O. Scott, and even worse by others. In an unfriendly aside that called How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a previous Dr. Seuss movie, "monstrous," Scott pointed out that both pictures had been made with the "permission" of Audrey Geisel, "the author's widow and custodian of his posthumous reputation." But how sentient these days is Audrey Geisel? The La Jolla socialite divorced her first husband, packed her two young teenaged children off to boarding school, and married Ted "Dr. Seuss" Geisel in 1968. That was a year after the suicide of his first wife, Helen Palmer, who killed herself after becoming despondent over his affair with Audrey. The author's widow is now 82 and no longer putting in regular appearances at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan as she did in years past. But thanks to her alliance with Karl ZoBell, a canny La Jolla attorney who manages the Seuss empire of books, movies, TV shows, designer clothing, fast-food chain ads, and any other lucrative knockoffs he can arrange, Audrey has become a wealthy woman indeed. Two years ago, ZoBell's efforts boosted Dr. Seuss into fifth place on Forbes magazine's humorously morbid list of "top-earning dead celebrities," with an estimated yearly take of $19 million. These days, the noticeably aging Geisel is still being escorted around town on the arm of Alexander Butterfield, who had his own 15 minutes of fame back in 1973 when he revealed to the Senate Watergate Committee that Richard Nixon had been bugging his own office, a revelation that ultimately spelled the president's doom. But if Geisel isn't up to taking care of Seuss's reputation all on her own, a phalanx of advisors, including Union-Tribune columnist Neil Morgan, who, with his wife Judith, wrote the late author's official biography with Geisel's authorization, is more than willing to help out by continuing to puff her reputation in his columns. In October, Morgan announced that Geisel was "pulling out all the stops for the centennial of her husband Ted's birth."

Unsportsmanlike conduct San Diego is infamous for its two losing, taxpayer-subsidized major-league teams, each headed by a heavy-hitting political player. Democrat and Padres owner John Moores and wife kicked in $100,000 to the failed campaign to keep former governor Gray Davis from being recalled. This week, his Republican counterpart, Chargers owner and Stockton developer Alex Spanos, has scheduled a lavish fundraiser for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at Sacramento's Sheraton Grand Hotel: $21,000 gets you dinner for two and a high-rollers' reception "photo opportunity" with the gubernator himself; $10,000 buys one ticket to the photo op and 20 tickets to a separate reception for the less well-heeled; $500 buys a single admission to same ... There were more than a few sour grapes last week from the pen of Union-Tribune's Tim Sullivan after the Chargers filed suit in L.A. to break their Qualcomm Stadium lease. The sports columnist lashed out at the L.A. Times, insisting that the Chargers had "spoon-fed" news of the lawsuit to the Times. And both he and a companion U-T editorial, using virtually identical words, maintained that the team's legal move had been "clumsily executed." Longtime observers of the U-T's Chargers coverage, which for years claimed that the stadium-lease deal was a good one and failed to report any news that contradicted the paper's etched-in-stone editorial views, might be tempted to wonder who really holds the title for most clumsy.

Changing of the guard Retired Marine colonel Terry Smith, chief of staff to San Diego Unified School District honcho Alan Bersin, reportedly has a likely replacement in Leslie Fawcett, a former local school administrator whose last job of note was top deputy to ex-state superintendent of public instruction Delaine Eastin. Smith, whose departure was announced months ago, made a low-six-figure salary; Fawcett is expected to slightly better it. ... For months, passersby have been puzzling over a small closed-circuit television camera mounted high on a light pole at the corner of Harbor Drive and Market and pointed directly at the outdoor terrace of a bar across the street at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel. City officials have now revealed in response to questions that the device is not intended to spy on the illicit affairs of bar patrons but is part of a traffic-control system monitoring traffic from the hotel's driveway onto Harbor Drive ... All that talk in the Union-Tribune about getting a new stadium for the Chargers has downtown library backers silently fuming. Although Mayor Dick Murphy and Councilman Jim Madaffer have repeatedly promised to move the project along, insiders say don't be surprised if nothing ever happens and budget cutting by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is blamed.

-- Matt Potter

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