Rejuvenile by Christopher Noxon  

The ranks of the rejuvenile include some of the most innovative and admirable figures in history. Herewith, nominations for a rejuvenile hall of fame:

Barrie, James Matthew (1860-1937) Brooding, boy-crazy Scot whose most famous work, Peter Pan: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up neatly summed up the myth of the eternal child and set the stage for a century of cross-generational rejuvenile blockbusters.

Dahl, Roald (1916-1990) Fanciful Brit whose classics Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach capture the anarchic imaginative capacities of children with macabre adult wit. Captured ethos of Playalong Parent in his advice to children, included in book Danny the Champion of the World: “When you grow up/ and have children of your own/ do please remember something important/ A stodgy parent is no fun at all!/ What a child wants/ And DESERVES/ Is a parent who is/ SPARKY!”
Disney, Walt Elias (1901-1966) Genius showman and titanic figure in the rejuvenile pantheon, Uncle Walt built a mythmaking empire producing entertainment that appealed to both children and adults. Renowned control freak, rumored anti-Semite and obsessive train buff, Disney is revered today for transforming childlike nostalgia into productive adult enterprise. Creepy factoid: oversaw construction of Disneyland from Main Street apartment that was precise recreation of his childhood living room in Marceline, Missouri.

Einstein, Albert (1879-1955) German patent clerk-turned-theoretical physicist who revolutionized scientific thought while maintaining love of blocks, jigsaw puzzles and childhood play. Credited his theory of relativity to his capacity for asking questions that wouldn’t occur to other adults: “The normal adult never stops to think about space and time. I, on the other hand, was so slow to develop that I only began thinking about space and time when I was already grown up.”

Feynman, Richard (1918-1988) Bongo-playing, Nobel Prize-winning physicist who credited his most significant discoveries to a childlike impulse to question and play. Well known for his work on quantum electrodynamics and quark theory, Feynman was also a great enthusiast of safe cracking and Tuvan throat singing. Described in The Science of Creativity thusly: “When Richard Feynman faced a problem he was unusually good at going back to being like a child, ignoring what everyone else thinks and saying, ‘Now, what have we got here?”
Geisel, Theodor (1904-1991) Demigod in sippy cup set, thanks to works published under name of Dr. Seuss (he also published under the names Theo LeSieg and Rosetta Stone). A doodling, highly expressive illustrator and a perfectionist crafter of nursery room verse (he specialized in anapestic tetrameter), Geisel wrote classics including How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Green Eggs and Ham locked in an old observation tower in La Jolla, California. Revered by rejuveniles for lesser-known works like You’re Only Old Once and one of the weirdest, most wonderful family films ever: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.

Handler, Ruth (1916-2002) Barbie’s mom. Co-founder of toy giant Mattel, Handler’s early success creating dollhouse furniture and toy ukuleles was eclipsed in 1959 by introduction of Barbie, an anatomically idealized foot-high icon of pre-feminist conformity. Barbie became the most popular branded toy in history, first among Baby Boom girls dreaming of a fun-loving, va-va-voom future and more recently as a prized collectors item/fetish object for designers including Bob Mackie, Donna Karan and Paul Frank.

Hawk, Tony (1968- ) Skate rat mogul whose multimillion endorsement deals, video game franchise and extreme sports roadshow are eclipsed only by his record as a competitive skater; he’s credited with 80 tricks, including a two-and-a-half, rarely-duplicated revolution called the 900. A father of three and CEO of company that generates some $250 million a year, Hawk is both popular with his core audience of “12.5-year-old suburban males” and elder skaters who love what he represents: “He skates for a living and gets to fly around in a private jet,” says his sister and business manager Pat. “How cool is that?”

Jobs, Steve (1955- ) Hyper-aggressive, hippie-geek Apple cofounder and Pixar CEO whose playful innovations helped put to rest perception of computer science as domain of hyper-logical, lab-coated grownups who keep their heads high above mists of make-believe. On his return to Apple in the late ‘90s, Jobs helped resuscitate the company with gumdrop-shaped iMacs, Sci-fi styled iBooks and nursery room-hued iPod Minis.

Lear, Edward (1812-1888) Tortured, daffy poet and illustrator best known for nursery rhymes and limericks like “The Owl and the Pussycat” and “There Was an Old Man of Tobago.” Twenty first in a family of twenty-two, Lear was an accomplished zoological illustrator who found acclaim with books for children striking today in their sophistication and complete and utter weirdness (see: “The Quangle-Wangle’s Hat” and “The Dong with the Luminous Nose”). Major influence on modern kid lit luminaries like Roald Dahl and Theodore Geisel.
Miyazaki, Hayao (1941- ) Goateed, beloved Japanese mastermind whose groundbreaking feature-length cartoons My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away withstand repeat viewings by both children and adults. While his work helped define Japanese “kawaii” culture, his lyrical, painterly approach stands in stark contrast to more pop-friendly, frenetic anime like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh.

Montagu, Ashley (1905-1999) Celebrity anthropologist and author of seminal rejuvenile text Growing Young whose study of the biological process of neoteny led him to celebrate “the bountiful promise of the child.” Comparing such anatomical features as ape and human brain boxes, Montagu argued that humans should “remain in many ways childlike; we were never intended to grow ‘up’ into the kind of adults most of us have become.” A recurring guest on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show, Monagu helped popularize academic studies of race and the maternal-infant relationship.

Noble, John Darcy (1923 -2003) Fussy British toy enthusiast and paper dollmaker who, as curator of the Museum of the City of New York, helped advance then-radical notion that toys are not only playthings but artifacts that contain deep truths about our societies and selves. Intrepid scholar of antique dolls, he was also a great lover of play, declaring “what’s wrong with this world is that people have stopped playing… The most highly evolved animals are always playing – monkeys, whales play all the time. Only stupid humanity has stopped playing. The whole stupid world has gone crackers.”
Reubens, Paul (1952 - ) Camp icon whose childish, bow-tied alter-ego Pee-wee Herman was a model for ‘80s rejuvenalia before a porn house wank scandal led to public disgrace and cancellation of his brilliant Saturday morning freakshow, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Character is still beloved by Gen X kitsch hounds, who count his Tim Burton-helmed debut Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure as a classic in the rejuvenile canon.

Roosevelt, Teddy (1858-1919) Big-game hunter, Potomac River skinny-dipper and twenty-fifth U.S. President, widely known for his role in Spanish-American War and the Panama Canal and lesser known for inspiring mass mania for teddy bears and Rough Rider playsuits. Roosevelt relished in his popular image as an adventure-loving boy-man. “You must always remember,” an ambassador once remarked, “The president is about six.”

Sutton Smith, Brian. Preeminent play theorist whose studies on the meaning and function of play legitimize rejuvenile’s penchant for childlike leisure. In his dazzling 1997 work, The Ambiguity of Play, he writes: “The opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression. To play is to act out and be willful, exultant, and committed.”

Thompson, Fred “The Kid” (1873-1919) Hard-partying entrepreneur of turn-of-the-century kid culture and self described “grown up boy at play,” Thompson staged extravagant Broadway adaptation of “Little Nemo in Slumberland” and co-founded Luna Park, the 22-acre Coney Island amusement park billed as the “biggest playground on earth.” Legacy tarnished by impermanence of Luna Park and frustrated efforts to build a San Francisco park called Toyland Grown Up.

Other short-listers for Hall of Fame induction: actors Harpo Marx, Peter Sellars and Adam Sandler, technologists Pekka Himanen and Steve Perlman, filmmakers Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Robert Rodriguez, entrepreneurs Mark Cuban and Steve Perlman, musicians Jonathan Richman and DJ Koala, cartoonists Arthur Spiegelman and Edward Gorey and artists Pablo Picasso and Takahi Murakami.