What is the life story of William Steig?

One of the highest grossing animated film franchises of all time, the “Shrek” films are popular with one and all. The adventures of the green ogre, Shrek and his faithful companion, Donkey, voiced by comedians Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy, will leave you chuckling with delight.

With the film franchise completing 20 years in April, the first film ‘Shrek”, which released in 2001, is set to return to the big screen on April 24, 25 and 26. But did you know that the films are based on a children’s picture book? William Steig’s “Shrek!” released in 1996, is the source material for the films.

Who was William Steig?

Growing up in New York, William Steig was interested in swimming and playing touch football more than books. He didn’t complete his college education even though he attended three colleges. He studied at the City College of New York for two years, then the National Academy of Design and spent just five days at the Yale School of Art.

A gifted illustrator, Steig started working with the prestigious magazine The New Yorker in 1930. He produced 117 covers for the magazine. One of his cartoon characters, Poor Pitiful Pearl, inspired a popular line of dolls, starting in 1956.

From Pitiful Pearl to Doctor De Soto

Steig forayed into writing for children at the age of 61. it was his cartoonist friend Robert Kraus who persuaded him to wield the pen. Steig’s first children’s book was released in 1968. He excelled in writing as well, and his third book, “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble” (1969), won the Caldecott Medal. He went on to pen more than 30 children’s books, including the “Doctor De Soto” series, and he continued to write well into his nineties. On the basis of his entire body of work, Steig was selected as the 1982 U.S. candidate for the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for illustration and subsequently in 1988 for writing.

Steig’s unique characters

What sets Steig’s books apart is that it can appeal to children and adults alike. Moving beyond rainbows and unicorns, his books explore complex topics and give a realistic view of life. They are unafraid of touching upon topics that adults usually hesitate to talk to kids about. In “Brave Irene”, a dressmaker falls ill as she completes a gown for a duchess; her daughter, Irene, volunteers to deliver it, but is caught in a snowstorm. A lesson on survival, the story follows Irene’s ordeal as she braves the snowstorm. In “Doctor De Soto”, a mouse dentist finds ways to outwit a fox in the guise of a patient who wants to eat him.

Beauty of the beast

Steig’s picture book “Shrek!” (1990) formed the basis for the DreamWorks Animation’s film “Shrek” (2001).

Shrek! is one of the unique characters in children’s literature. A monster, Shrek is depicted as not only ugly but also cruel. He’s so hideous that people faint at the sight of him. However, Shrek doesn’t scare the readers. And, the story doesn’t end with Shrek finding his inner beauty, but by accepting himself for who he is. A valuable lesson in today’s world!

After the release of “Shrek 2” in 2004, Steig became the first sole creator of an animated movie franchise that went on to generate over $1 billion after only one sequel. The character also received a star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Steig passed away in Boston, Massachusetts on October 3, 2003 at the age of 95, but left behind a legacy of thought provoking cartoons that teaches all about life.


  • Steig had a gift for puns and sarcasm, which is obvious in his works. “Spinky Sulks” is a hilarious tale of a family whose youngest son holds a grudge for an impressively long time.
  • In 1930, Steig sold his first comic to The New Yorker. It depicted one prison inmate telling a fellow inmate about his incorrigible son. Initially, editor Harold Ross wanted another artist to redraw it, but Steig refused permission. The cartoon went on to become extremely popular.
  • In 1984, Steig’s film adaptation of “Doctor De Soto”, directed by Michael Sporn, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
  • For a time, Steig lived at 75 1/2 Bedford Street, which is considered to be one of the narrowest houses in Manhattan.


Picture Credit : Google

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