The Minds Behind Curious George: The Reys’ Adventure

Should you happen to stumble into a preschool classroom, you will undoubtedly hear the sound of children’s laughter filling the air as they’re immersed in the tale of a playful little monkey. Driven by curiosity and prone to getting into all sorts of trouble, he has gained a reputation for taking on the most courageous of adventures. Unveiling a lesser-known tale lies in the captivating story of Hans and Margret Rey, the minds behind the beloved character Curious George, and their daring escape. 

Early Life of Hans and Margret 

Watercolor Painting By Hans Rey

Although their paths would not cross for quite some time, Hans and Margret’s journey began in the distant land of Hamburg, Germany. Hans found his muse in the magic of his surroundings, which sparked a passion for creative expression early on. Without any formal training, he began capturing the essence of reality on paper at the age of eight. From the distant roars of lions that reached his school desk to the diverse faces he encountered on the streets, his ability soared. Hans, a young man full of dreams, was abruptly thrust into the harsh realities of life when he found himself drafted into the German Army at the age of 18, as World War I erupted in 1914. Once the war had ended, Hans found himself facing the challenges of an unstable economy. He made the daring decision to leave behind the comfort of the known and set out on a new adventure at his brother-in-law’s firm in the bustling city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Margret's early years were characterized by a spirit of exploration and fearlessness. She grew up in a lively household where music and tales filled the air. She longed for a simple life, filled with the joys of swimming, painting, and other down-to-earth pursuits. In her early adulthood, she explored many creative careers and eventually secured a position at an advertising firm. She lost her job due to her Jewish background after Aryan laws were passed. She was uneasy about the unexpected turn of events and had no choice but to leave Berlin. After hearing through the grapevine that a long-time family friend, Hans Rey, had moved abroad, she decided to pay him a visit. 

Hans wrote, Great change in 1935. Former girl friend from Hamburg arrived. Don’t underestimate the power of a woman (Monkey Business, 2017).

When Margret arrived, she expressed her desire to Hans for them to start a joint creative venture. After getting married in the late 1930s, the pair launched an advertising agency. Not long after that, they set off on their honeymoon in the City of Love, Paris, France.

Cecily G.

Bicycle (2)
Map of Brazil illustrated by Hans

What was supposed to be a four-week vacation turned into a four-year stay. Hans found work as a lithographer, where his natural talent for drawing allowed him to create compelling cartoons for a French newspaper. As if by chance, his work drew the attention of the prestigious French publishing house, Gallimard. They approached Hans and Margret with a proposal: write a children's book based on the characters from the newspaper. Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys emerged from this unique union. In the next book, the couple's focus shifted to the baby monkey, originally known as "Fifi," who later became known as Curious George. As George’s story unfolded, Margret and Hans found themselves facing a grave threat as German Jews with the onset of World War II.

The Escape 

In the midst of these uncertain times, they found themselves grappling with the unknown. The couple made the choice to seek solace on the serene shores of Normandy. When Hitler invaded on May 10, 1940, Hans and Margret found themselves in an unsafe situation, as the locals suspected them of being spies. Fearing for their safety, they returned to Paris. As they made their way towards the train station, two police officers intercepted them and searched through Hans and Margret's luggage, displaying a strong sense of hostility towards the couple. Hans and Margret were filled with fear. Hidden among the contents of the final suitcase, the discovery of the Curious George manuscript had a profound impact. In an instant, the atmosphere shifted, and the police officers smiled and granted Hans and Margret passage. 


Upon returning to Paris, the two discovered that their options were rapidly decreasing. Hans and Margret were acutely aware that time was running out. Without any means of transportation and no functioning trains available, the only option for leaving Paris was to rely on bicycles. Hans built two bicycles from one tandem bicycle and used parts. As they hastily prepared for their escape, they managed to grab only a handful of items, including the completed manuscript of Curious George. On June 12, 1940, Hans and Margret pedaled away, the rumble of tanks in the distance serving as a chilling reminder of the imminent danger they faced.

They secured seats on a train, despite the fact that it was overcrowded with people desperate to escape. They set off for Spain, and then Portugal, and took a boat to Brazil, just as the Holocaust was beginning to unfold. In October of 1940, after receiving their approved papers, they sailed for America, the land of the free.

After Life of Curious George


Again, fortune smiled upon the Reys. An editor from their London publisher had also come to America to escape the war. She offered the Reys a four-book contract with Houghton Mifflin. In 1941, Curious George was published, a year after the Reys settled in America. The couple produced a total of seven Curious George books, with the last one being published in 1966.

Hans Rey with KidsHans and Margret settled down in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, after falling in love with their summer getaways there. The children in the neighborhood gravitated towards Hans. With every word, he painted vivid pictures. Through the lens of his telescope, he unlocked a world of wonder. As time went on, Hans's health began to deteriorate, despite his youthful spirit. In August of 1977, he left this world. With the heart of a true storyteller and her background in advertising, Margret set off on a mission to transform Curious George into a beloved cultural icon, transcending the pages of books. She dedicated over 19 years to her work, creating a wide range of products, including t-shirts, stuffed monkeys, blankets, and toys. Sadly, she passed away in December of 1996. However, her efforts were not in vain. Curious George has become a cultural icon. Every day, PBS Kids airs his animated series. In educational video games, he helps build a foundation of early literacy, science, math, and creativity. His true impact lies in the way he has touched the hearts of young children with his endearing affection and charisma, creating memories for generations to come and fulfilling the Reys’ wish.

And now you know the rest of the story.