Monday, October 1, 2012

Courageous George

How a cartoon monkey saved his creators from the Nazis

With the coverage of the upcoming Curious George movie in the news, I was attracted to some background articles found on Book Patrol and Mental_Floss magazine about the monkey’s unlikely saga.

German-born Jewish couple Hans and Margaret Rey had moved to Paris to work on children’s books. But in the fall of 1939, with the Nazis moving ever closer, authorities turned up to investigate the German-accented strangers. As proof that they were simply writing children’s stories, Hans showed them sketches of The Adventures of Fifi, a story about an inquisitive little monkey. Thus convinced the Reys weren’t sleeper agents, the officers left.

Seeing how hot the political climate was getting, the Reys began the mountain of paperwork required to leave wartime France. By now refugees were flooding into the city, jeopardizing their chances of receiving the documents before it was too late.
Margaret and Hans Reys circa 1940
Then somehow the little monkey bailed them out again. Despite the turmoil in Paris, the Reys sold the Fifi manuscript, giving them money for their escape. Hans bought a jumble of bicycle parts from which he cobbled together two bikes. They left Paris in the early morning rain of June 12, 1940, two days ahead of the Nazis. The first day they pedaled 35 miles to Étampes, and 17 more the on the next to Acquebouille. After resting in a barn, they made it to Orléans where they finally found a running train that would get them close to the border of Spain. It was an incredible piece of timing. That very night, bombs fell on Étampes and Orléans.
Then, on the train to Spain, officials again suspected the German couple and demanded Hans reveal the contents of his briefcase. And, once again, all they found were Fifi manuscripts. The little monkey had saved them again.

The Reys’ odyssey took them from Spain to Portugal to Brazil and finally to New York City. Only a few weeks later a publisher offered them a four-book contract with one caveat: change the monkey’s name to something more masculine.
Hence, Curious George.

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