By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Hard to image that that monkey named George who always seemed to be getting into trouble is marking 75, but he is.
Created by Margaret and Hans Augusto Rey, the two released their first book, Curious George, in 1941, shortly after having fled Nazi-occupied France via bicycles. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was the publisher that signed the couple up for a four-book series. They would end up producing seven books between 1941 -1966.
This month, Schuler Books, 2660 28th St. SE, celebrates the 75th anniversary of Curious George with a costume character story time Sat., Aug. 27, at 11 a.m. which will include several of the popular stories along with a visit from George himself. The event is free.
The story of the Reys
Originally from Hamburg, Germany, the Reys married while living in Brazil. They went to Paris for a vacation and ended up staying almost four years. Hans’s animal drawings came to the attention of a French publisher, who commissioned him to write a children’s book. The result, Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys, which included a little monkey named Curious George. George was so popular that the couple wrote a book just about him and then World War II happened. Since the Reys were Jewish, the couple decided to leave Paris before the Nazis seized the city. Hans assembled two bicycles, and they fled just a few hours before the city fell. Among their possessions was the illustrated manuscript of Curious George.
The Reys’ odyssey brought them to Bayonne, France where they were issued life-saving visas and were able to cross the Spanish border. They sold their bikes and bought train tickets to Lisbon and then headed back to Brazil. From Brazil, they headed to New York. They brought their manuscript with them and once published, it was an instant success. In fact, in 1960, Curious George Takes a Job was named to the Lewis Carroll Award. The books have never been out of print since first released in 1941.
The couple moved to Cambridge, Mass. and lived there until Hans’s death in 1977. A store, the World’s Only Curious George Store, is located on Harvard Square.
The American publishing company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has continued to produce books written by various authors and illustrators. There have been several TV series (currently PBS airs Curious George as part of its PBS Preschool Kids block), films — the first one featuring the voice of Will Farrell as the Man with the Yellow Hat — video games, board games, as well as stuff animals and other items. In fact, in 2003, former First Lady Barbara Bush chose the White House’s Christmas theme to be “Curious George.”
Filmmaker wants to tell the story of the Reys
Filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki is currently working to bring the story of the Reys to life through the mixed-media documentary called Monkey Business. Yamazaki was granted access to the Reys’ achieves by the estate and is currently raising funds through a Kickstarter campaign to help cover the cost for the animation and music for the film.
Through her Kickstarter campaign, Yamazaki has stated that through her immense research, she knows how the team wants to tell the story and now just need to funding to bring the film to life.
According to Animation Magazine, “Monkey Business blends uniquely crafted animation inspired by the Reys’ style as well as archival photographs to tell the story of the couple’s lives, the birth of George and how the little monkey almost didn’t come to fruition.”