‘Curious George’ creators remembered

  • Margret Rey and George toys AP file

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    This Aug. 1, 2016 image taken from video shows filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki during an interview in New York. Yamazaki, 27 a graduate of New York University’s film school, has spent the last two years working on a documentary about H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, the husband and wife team behind the multimillion-selling "Curious George" children’s franchise. (AP Photo/Bruce Barton) Bruce Barton—AP

  • A scene from “Monkey Business.” Hans and Margret Rey are drawn in the style of “Curious George” and overlayed on archival footage. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 3/14/2018 4:34:46 PM

Hans (H.A.) and Margret Rey brought the little monkey Curious George to life. And in return, he saved theirs.

The Reys were both German Jews. They fell in love with Brazil in the 1930s, then moved to Paris after they married. But as World War II erupted on the European continent, Nazis marched on France and the Reys’ lives were in danger.

They fled on makeshift bicycles just before Nazis seized the city.

David Foster, 70, of Dunbarton, a friend of the Reys said at a checkpoint, they were accused of being spies. They were carrying papers, including the manuscript of Curious George. As they were being searched, one of the guards saw the illustrations and said, “they aren’t spies, they’re artists,” Foster said.

They were able to escape to Spain. Then, they traveled onward to Brazil and finally settled in New York City in the 1940s. The manuscript that saved them was published in 1941 by Houghton Mifflin.

In the mid-1950s, the couple saw an ad in the New York Times for vacationing in Waterville Valley, and they decided they’d spend their summers there.

Upon arrival, they were viewed with suspicion by the adults.

Back then, Waterville Valley was a small hamlet with some 20 cottages and an inn for vacationers, Foster said. The families, some of whom had been summering there for generations, were concerned that the Reys would attract others to the region and change the community, like the Mount Washington Hotel, which had become a hotspot for Jewish New Yorkers.

In the beginning, Foster said they kept to themselves and ate alone in the inn’s dining room.

Each day Hans Rey would start with a “constitution,” take a swim, then work on his books by the pool.

It was there the curious children would ask him what he was doing.

“The children just flocked to him – I was one of them,” Foster said. He was about 5 years old when he met the couple.

Then, children would introduce Hans to their parents.

After a few summers of this, Hans and Margret Rey had invitations to join the adults for dinner at the inn or for cocktail parties.

“It was through the children,” Foster said.

In addition to being an accomplished author, Hans Rey was an astronomer and would set up his telescope on the golf course to give little lessons to the vacationers. He also gave “chalk chats” in the music room of the inn.

Foster said that the community who viewed them with suspicion grew to adopt the Reys as their own. There is now the Margret and H.A. Rey Center at the Curious George Cottage.

Foster kept up his own relationship with Hans for more than 40 years with summer visits, letters and Christmas cards. 

While the Curious George books have gone on to wide acclaim, with spin-offs and TV shows and movies, much less is known about the writer and illustrator of the series.

Producer and director Ema Yamazaki hopes to change that with her recently released documentary Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators.

When Yamazaki first heard their story, there was very little information on the authors, maybe just one book, Foster thought.

That piqued her curiosity.

Monkey Business puts the story together with photos and illustrations, plus interviews with the Waterville Valley children (including Foster) who knew them.

You can see Monkey Business on March 25 at 5:30 p.m. at Red River Theatres in Concord as the closing of the New Hampshire Jewish Film Festival. Some of the “Waterville Kids” will be in attendance for the screening. It will also be shown 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Putnam Arts Lecture Hall in Keene. 

The 10th annual New Hampshire Jewish Film Festival begins Thursday with 12 films shown in five cities. Eight will be making their New England or New Hampshire premiere. Prices for the events vary. 

For more information, visit nhjewishfilmfestival.org.

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