Acclaimed Alumni in Pop Culture

by Nelly Mendoza-Mendoza | 4/19/16 5:01pm

Theodore Geisel ’25

How did he end up with the name Dr. Seuss? Long story. Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was of German descent and his father managed the family brewery that was closed during the Prohibition era.

Long story short, after Geisel was caught drinking in his room at Dartmouth, one of the deans at that time insisted that he resign from all extracurricular activities. Instead, he kept writing for the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern but under a different pen name, Dr.Seuss. Eventually, he became the editor-in-chief and was a brother at Sigma Phi Epsilon.

After Dartmouth, Geisel attended Lincoln College at the University of Oxford. His intent was to earn a doctorate in English literature. However, he was later encouraged to pursue drawing as a career. Soon after, he left Oxford without a degree. After this, Geisel began to submit his work to publishers, magazines and advertisement agencies. Through the Great Depression, Geisel made a living by drawing advertisement materials for a variety of companies including General Electric, NBC and Standard Oil.

Over the span of two years during World War I, Geisel drew over 400 political cartoons as an editorial cartoonist for the New York City newspaper PM. Later he worked with several governmental agencies to support the war effort. In 1943, he joined the Army as a captain and was a commander of the Animation Department.

In the 1950s, Life magazine published an article about why so many children were illiterate, pointing to how the available children’s books bored children because they were overly didactic. So he adopted his very simple style of writing after compiling a list of 250 words that he thought were the most important for children to recognize. Nine months later, “The Cat in the Hat” was born and featured only 236 unique words.

Chris Miller ’63

You might own one of those green “COLLEGE” shirts that appear in the movie “Animal House” or a black and white poster of John Belushi wearing a “COLLEGE” sweater. But did you know that one of the three writers of the story was an alumnus? Chris Miller ’63, a famous author and screenwriter, was a member of Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. He has noted in the past that the film’s events did not happen in real life. At Dartmouth, he went by the name “Pinto.”

David Benioff ’92

David Benioff is the co-creator and showrunner of “Game of Thrones,” as well as a novelist and film producer.

At Dartmouth, he studied English, wrote an honor’s thesis and was a member of Phi Delta Alpha fraternity and the Sphinx Senior Society. During his college years, Benioff wasn’t always considered the best student — he had to apply twice to get into an introductory creative writing course. Now, however, the professor of that course, Ernest Herbert, teaches one of Benioff’s books.

At 22, Benioff worked as a club bouncer and later as a high school English teacher before turning his novel “The 25th Hour” into a screenplay. The book was initially turned down by 13 publishers. Currently, he works with D.B. Weiss on “Game of Thrones”. In 2004, Benioff was hired to write the screenplay for “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009).

Shonda Rhimes ’91

Rhimes is the creator, head writer, executive producer and showrunner of the acclaimed show “Grey’s Anatomy.” ABC’s Thursday night lineup consisted if several of Rhimes’s shows, including “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Scandal.”

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Rhimes was interested in storytelling from a young age. While at Dartmouth, Rhimes studied English and film studies, and wrote for The Dartmouth. She also directed the Black Underground Theater Association. After Dartmouth, Rhimes moved to San Francisco and worked in advertising. Later she moved to Los Angeles and studied screenwriting at the University of Southern California, where she ranked at the top of her class. She worked as a film development assistant for some time before selling her first script.

Rhimes received an honorary degree from Dartmouth in 2015 and was the commencement speaker that same year. She has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.

Rhimes has attributed much of her success to the fact that she does not settle for “good enough.”

Chris Miller ’97 and Phil Lord ’97

Chris Miller ’97 and Phil Lord ’97 have written and produced many big name movies including “22 Jump Street,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “The Lego Movie.” They have also worked on television shows “The Last Man on Earth” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Lord is from Miami and Miller is from the Seattle area.

Miller and Lord met their freshman year at Dartmouth. Before meeting, their mutual friends would tell them about their similar interests. They bonded after Miller accidently setting Lord’s girlfriend’s hair on fire. Soon after this, Millers and Lord’s relationship became a bromance. They had their own columns for The Dartmouth. Lord was a member of Amarna and Miller was a brother at Alpha Chi Alpha.

After The Dartmouth published a profile on Miller in 2003, Disney became interested in meeting him and offered to meet up with him. However, Miller would not leave Lord behind and arranged to take Lord with him. Three months later, they both moved to Los Angeles after being offered a two-year development deal with Disney Television Animation.

The duo didn’t see immediate success, however. For example, MTV offered to buy the duo’s 13-episode season “Clone High,” which had been previously dropped by Fox. The show was well received in the United States, however, it caused hunger strikes in India after the show portrayed Gandhi as a motor mouth partier. As a result, MTV cancelled the show.

The duo’s bromance continues to this day. Currently, they are working on the sequel to “The Lego Movie,” titled “The Lego Batman Movie” and an animated Spider-Man film, among other works.

Mindy Kaling ’01

While in high school, Mindy Kaling was disappointed that only the popular and pretty people got the star roles in school plays. When she arrived at Dartmouth, however, she finally got to do what she was passionate about — make people laugh.

At Dartmouth, Kaling was a member of the Dog Day Players, the Rockapellas, wrote a comic strip called Badly Drawn Girl for The Dartmouth and was also a writer for the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern. She was a classics major for some time and studied Latin, but eventually obtained a degree in theater.

She is the creator of the sitcom “The Mindy Project” and is also well known for her role as Kelly in “The Office.” During her sophomore year, Kaling was an intern for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” She described herself as a terrible intern because she would just follow O’Brien around instead of doing work.

After Dartmouth, Kaling worked as a production assistant on the psychic show “The Crossing Over With John Edward.” She described this experience as one of her worst jobs. During the same time, she did stand-up comedy in New York City.