Curious George Celebrates 75 Years Of Monkey Enterprise

Curious George — who was initially named Fifi — turns 75 this year. Despite some dated themes (we’re looking at you, Man with the Yellow Hat) George is now a multimillion-dollar franchise. Margaret Rey says she and her husband had no concept what Curious George would grow to be. “We loved monkeys and just wrote a book about a monkey,” she said. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hide caption

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Curious George famously managed all sorts of escapes — from policemen, firemen, zookeepers and plenty other humans who did not like his mischief. But several readers never know that the husband-wife team who developed the inquisitive tiny monkey — who is celebrating his 75th birthday this year — had the most harrowing escape of all.

In 1939, artists Hans Augusto and Margret Rey have been living in Paris, where they had written a book with a side character named Fifi. The Reys believed this young, inquisitive monkey deserved his personal story and wrote a manuscript for The Adventures of Fifi.

Aspects of Curious George’s story are no doubt problematic — George was taken from his property “in Africa” by the Man with the Yellow Hat, who thought to himself, “What a nice little monkey … I would like to take him residence with me.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hide caption

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

But their plans have been interrupted when the Nazis invaded France. As German-born Jews, the Reys had to get out of Paris, but the trains had stopped running and they did not personal a vehicle. So Hans went to a bike shop — and located the only bike left was a tandem.

“Margret would have none of it,” says Louise Borden, author of The Journey that Saved Curious George. “So Hans purchased spare components and assembled two bicycles.”

The couple packed what could fit on their backs and fled for their lives on their hastily assembled bicycles. They rode for three days, often sleeping outside. At some point they had been able to get on a train.

In her book, Borden recounts how, midescape, the Reys had been stopped for questioning by a French official. Hans opened his satchel and showed him the manuscript about the curious monkey: “Ah! … un livre pour les enfants!” he exclaimed with a smile.

The Reys created their way out of France, and then to Spain, Portugal, Brazil and eventually, New York City. By way of an editor they had met in Europe, they signed a deal with publisher Houghton Mifflin. A year later, Curious George (who by now had swapped his French name for an American a single) made his debut.

H.A. and Margret Rey have been the husband-wife duo behind Curious George. Margret wrote the stories, and Hans illustrated them. Grummond Children’s Literature Collection/McCain Library and Archives/The University of Southern Mississippi hide caption

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Grummond Children’s Literature Collection/McCain Library and Archives/The University of Southern Mississippi

You can inform George’s story was written a lengthy time ago. At the outset, we are told George lives “in Africa,” where he meets the Man with the Yellow Hat who thinks to himself, “What a good small monkey … I would like to take him property with me.” So the man — who has a gun slung over his shoulder — pops George into a bag, onto a ship, and sails across the ocean where he keeps George in his apartment in the city.

That the books are a solution of the time hasn’t stopped George from becoming a global icon, promoting some 75 million books in a lot more than 16 languages. The Reys wrote seven Curious George books — he requires a job, flies a kite, rides a bike, goes to the hospital, learns the alphabet and more.

Margret wrote the text of George’s escapades and Hans illustrated them. Hans, who had been a soldier in the German army throughout Globe War I, was significantly older than Margret. “I did far better with my pencil than with my rifle,” he mentioned. They each loved animals and trips to the zoo but had diverse temperaments — she was a rebel, he was a dreamer he had a Pied Piper top quality to him, although she did not really feel a strong connection to youngsters.

“Hans was the quieter one particular,” says Borden. “He loved philosophy. He was a linguist. Margret was a lady with sparkle and power and she often spoke her own thoughts.”

Curious George

In 1991, Margret Rey told NPR that she and her husband had no notion what Curious George would grow to be. “We loved monkeys and just wrote a book about a monkey,” she mentioned.

Following Hans died in 1977, Margret left the Curious George brand in the hands of their publisher. That is where Curious George’s large second act — as a multimillion-dollar franchise — started.

Today, George’s keepers incorporate PBS, Universal Studios and Houghton Mifflin, where a employees of about 15 folks work on new George books.

Element of George’s enduring appeal is that he remains a monkey, says Houghton Mifflin’s Mary Wilcox — which was critical to the Reys.

“Sometimes there can be a temptation to treat him as even though he is like a human character,” Wilcox explains. “Due to the fact a lot of illustrated characters actually are. Mickey Mouse is not a rodent — he’s in fact a person in a mouse suit so he can drive a car, he can have a conversation. So I think I am being most respectful of their legacy when I am saying: Nope, George does not speak.”

A lot of George’s existing accomplishment also rests on Frank Welker, who, for ten years, has been voicing George on-screen. (Welker is also the voice of the evil Megatron in Transformers, so George, he says, is a “pure delight.”)

Welker says Curious George is an instance of “a sweet, gentle story” coming out of a “very troubled time.”

Ema Ryan Yamazaki, who is creating a documentary about the Reys, grew up in Japan, reading Curious George in Japanese. “I really like that little monkey,” she says.

But George has an army of people taking care of him, and Yamazaki felt his creators’ story needed to be told. The filmmaker feels a certain duty to get it correct — right after all, Margret Rey would insist on it.

“She really took it upon herself to continue Curious George as their child and joint creation, to make certain he outlived each of them,” Yamazaki says.

The Curious George balloon tends to make its way by way of Philadelphia in the course of the 2011 Thanksgiving Day parade. Curious George is now a multimillion-dollar franchise. Joseph Kaczmarek/AP hide caption

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Joseph Kaczmarek/AP

There’s no query that George lives on — today he’s the star of a film, an Emmy Award-winning Tv series, a web site, video games and, of course, a lot of books.

Margret Rey after stated, “We did only what we liked and by nice coincidence, the children liked the identical factor.”

Good coincidence certainly.

Beth Novey contributed to this story.

Arts &amp Life : NPR