Sunday, February 21, 2010

Curious George's Jewish Roots on Display at The Jewish Museum in March

Anyone who was a child, a parent, or a grandparent between 1941 and today has fond memories of that mischievous litttle monkey, Curious George, and his friend, the Man with the Yellow Hat.  But how many of us knew that George's "parents" were Jewish?

Now, The Jewish Museum is launching an exhibition, Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey, from March 14 through August 1, 2010.  The exhibit highlights the Jewish roots of the authors and the back story of the little monkey who became the star of books and a movie worldwide.

Illustrator H. A. Rey (Hans Augusto Reyersbach) (1898 - 1977) and his wife, author and artist Margret Rey (1906 - 1996) were both born in Hamburg, Germany, to Jewish families and lived together in Paris from 1936 to 1940. Hours before the Nazis marched into the city in June 1940, the Reys fled on bicycles carrying drawings for their children's stories including one about a mischievous monkey, then named Fifi.  During a tense inspection of their belongings by a border official, children’s illustrations were found and they were allowed to continue on their way, eventually reaching the United States.  This may explain why saving the day after a narrow escape became the premise of most of their Curious George stories. 

Featuring about sixty original drawings and preparatory dummies for Margret and H. A. Rey children’s books and documentation related to their escape from Nazi-occupied Europe, the exhibition will examine the parallels between the obstacles the Reys faced and the drawings that may have saved their lives.
After their fateful escape from Paris and a four-month journey across France, Spain, Portugal, and Brazil, the couple settled in New York in the fall of 1940. In all, the Reys authored and illustrated over thirty books, most of them for children, with seven of them starring Curious George. Seventy years after the arrival of Curious George in America, the monkey's antics have been translated into over a dozen languages including Hebrew and Yiddish, to the delight of readers, young and old, around the world.  George was also the star of a full-length film, titled (what else?) Curious George, released in 2006, featuring the voices of Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore, and Dick Van Dyke.

The exhibition at The Jewish Museum will offer visitors a rare opportunity to view the original drawings and vibrant watercolors of Curious George and other characters. Many of these works have never been on display before. Preparatory dummy books, vintage photographs, and documentation related to the Reys' escape from Nazi Europe, such as H. A. Rey's journals detailing the couple's perilous journey to freedom, are also included. One of the exhibition galleries will be transformed into a reading room for visitors of all ages inspired by the beloved monkey's escapades in Curious George Flies a Kite.

In addition, the exhibition features an interactive timeline, accessed via a touch-screen computer, about the Reys' life in France from the late 1930s through their fateful escape in the summer of 1940. Visitors will be able to view additional pages of H. A. Rey's journal detailing the couple's journey to safety, images of illustrations by H. A. Rey and photographs taken by Margret Rey in France, documentary photography related to early World War II in France, and historic video, as well as listen to an interview with the couple. This program will be also available at

Here's the trailer for Curious George, the feature film released in 2006 with the voices of Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore, and Dick VanDyke.  Enjoy!

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