– PEOPLE WORTH REMEMBERING –

The names of Margret and H.A. Rey may not be familiar, but undoubtedly you know of their highly-recognizable creation – the stories of Curious George. This week, the extraordinary lives of these authors and illustrators are in Tidbits’ spotlight.

Both of the Reys were born to Jewish families in Hamburg, Germany, she as Margarete Waldstein, and he as Hans August Reyersbach. Although they first met when Margret was a teen at her sister’s 16th birthday party, years passed before they met again, in the unlikely place of Brazil, where they each had fled to escape the rise of Nazism. They married when Hans was 37 and Margret was 29, and moved to Paris.

    In 1940, just hours before the Nazis seized the city of Paris, the couple escaped on bicycles, hand-built by Hans from spare parts. They took only what they could carry on the bikes, which included a bag containing their first Curious George manuscript. They reached the France-Spain border after four days of pedaling, and bought tickets to Lisbon. From there, it was another trip to Brazil, where Brazilian passports enabled them to get into the United States.

    George wasn’t the little monkey’s original name. The Rey’s had first featured him in a picture book called Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys, published in France in 1939. George’s name was Fifi. But in 1941, he became George in the first book published in New York City. Entitled simply Curious George, it began in an African jungle, where the Man in the Yellow Hat captured the monkey and brought him to America. The book deal was $1,000, with an initial run of 7,500 copies.

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    The book was an immediate success, and the publishers commissioned the couple to pen more adventures of this curious little monkey. Curious George Takes a Job was next, opening with George living in a zoo, following his escape and subsequent adventures, he is rescued by the Man with the Yellow Hat, and brought to live at his home.

The Reys created seven George stories in all, from 1941 to 1966, including Curious George Rides a Bike, Curious George Gets a Medal, Curious George Learns the Alphabet, and Curious George Goes to the Hospital. His miscellaneous adventures involved rescuing an ostrich, wrecking a dinosaur exhibit, getting sent into space, kidnapping a cow, joining a circus, and going to prison! Several new stories were composed by ghostwriters “written and illustrated in the Rey style.”

Curious George animated TV films were produced from 1979 to 1982. For six decades, the name of the Man in the Yellow Hat with his bright yellow suit and wide-brimmed hat was never mentioned. A 2006 film named his as “Ted,” and a deleted scene revealed his surname as “Shackleford.”

    Following Hans’ death, at age 73, Margret became a Professor of Creative Writing at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

That original 1941 book has never gone out of print. More than 30 million copies of George books have been sold, with no end in sight. They’ve been translated into 16 languages. In Norway, the little monkey is known as “Nysgjerrige Nils,” while the Japanese call him “Hitomane Kozaru.”