Jis 0417 curious george riding bikes in the rain qiwo1h

Allan Drummond’s illustration of H.A. and Margret Rey fleeing Paris on bicycle in 1940.

In 1941, two refugees living in New York published a children’s book about a little monkey that wreaks havoc on the life of his bemused captor and the city. It was an instant hit, and today Curious George lives on in a bright yellow empire of stories, films, television programs, and merchandise.

Despite the indefatigable success of America’s favorite simian, little was known about its creators, Margret and H.A. Rey, until a writer named Louise Borden stumbled upon an article that mentioned their escape from Paris in 1940. After years of combing through archives, articles, and interviews, Borden pieced together the story of the Reys and the path of their flight to the United States. The result is The Journey That Saved Curious George (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), a picture book illustrated in the spirit of H.A. Rey by the talented Allan Drummond.

Jis 0417 curious george stamp swiye0

Hans Augusto Reyersbach was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1898; Margarete Waldstein was born in the same city in 1906. Both upper-class Jewish aspiring artists, Hans and Margarete ran into each other in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1935. They married, and for simplicity’s sake, shortened their first and last names. They moved to Paris and adopted two turtles to replace their pet marmosets who had not survived the trans-Atlantic journey. Day in and day out they wrote and drew children’s books, the rumbles of war far from their perch on Montmartre.

But in 1940, life in Paris changed quickly and chaotically, and the Reys were not prepared. With Paris laid bare for German occupation and residents streaming out of the city by any means possible, Hans jerry-rigged some bicycle parts together. The young couple fled on this makeshift tandem with nothing but some clothes, food, and their manuscripts — one of them being The Adventures of Fifi, a story about a naughty little monkey. They rode for three days.

Via bicycle, train, and ship, the Reys and their manuscripts reached Rio de Janeiro in August of 1940. In October, they set sail for the United States. Their first American book deal comprised four manuscripts, all of which made it out of Paris in the basket of the Reys’ bicycle, including The Adventures of Fifi.

Now in New York, Fifi’s name was much too French. The Reys changed it to George.

Allan Drummond’s original illustrations depicting the escape of Margret and H.A. Rey from The Journey That Saved Curious George will be on display at the Holocaust Center for Humanity, 2045 Second Ave., Seattle, through May 24.
Show Comments