Phyllis Cerf Wagner

Writer, actress, socialite

Phyllis Cerf Wagner, a writer, actress and socialite best known as the wife of a top publisher and a New York mayor, but proudest of her association with the Dr. Seuss books, died Friday in New York of complications from a fall. She was 90.

For half a century she operated at the nexus of New York City’s social whirl where literature, the arts, entertainment and politics intersected. She was married first to Bennett Cerf, the founder of publishing company Random House Inc., and later to former Mayor Robert F. Wagner.

She won small parts in films beginning in 1932, and reached her zenith starring opposite John Wayne in the 1936 western, “Winds of the Wasteland.”

Her marriage to Cerf in 1940 lasted until his death in 1971, during which time Cerf became a household name as a regular on the popular 1950s television quiz show “What’s My Line?”

She collaborated with Theodor Seuss Geisel, whom she had met at advertising firm McCann Erickson, on a series of children’s learn-to-read books that followed his first successful Dr. Seuss book, “The Cat in the Hat,” in 1975.

They included “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back,” and “Green Eggs and Ham.”

In 1975, she married Wagner, who had left City Hall in 1965 after serving three terms, and later failed in two comeback attempts. He served as U.S. envoy to the Vatican in the Carter administration, and died in 1991.

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