Since his 1939 debut, Curious George has had his fair share of adventures (the little guy’s been to space and survived run-ins with hot pizza ovens). But his most influential journey happened before he began causing his particular brand of kid-friendly mischief. In 1939, the inquisitive simian successfully escaped the Nazis. That’s right, the little guy’s first, and most amazing, adventure was fleeing Paris in a bike basket after Hitler and 3 million soldiers marched into the city. So yeah, he’s a pretty big deal.
As Smithsonian Magazine explains, George’s creators, Hans Reyerbach and Margarete Waldstein, were married, bohemian artists from Hamburg who met in Rio de Janeiro and ended up settling down in Paris in 1935. They lived an enriching, artistic life in the city, presumably eating a lot of croissants, until 4 years later, when Hitler and his troops began marching upon the city. Thousands fled, including Reyerbach and Margarete, who managed to pedal away on hand-built bicycles (no cars or whole bikes were left in the city). They carried with them only a few possessions — one of which was the manuscript for an illustrated story about a curious little monkey.
After successfully avoiding detection, the couple rode 1,000 miles over 11 days, finally arriving in Lisbon, Portugal. There, they would wait months to go back to Brazil and, eventually, make it to New York. They kept their manuscript safe and, while in the city, found a publisher who knew monkey business well enough to sign them to a 4-book contract.
Now, get this: Margarete and Hans’ character was originally named Fifi. Editors, however, decided to change it to the more relatable George (probably a great call). Hans and Margarete were also given new names — Hans Augsto Rey (shortened to H.A.) and Margret Rey — and, soon, a place in literary history: Their Curious George series would go on to sell 75 million copies and spawn one of the most beloved children’s series of all time.
It’s easy to spot the influence of Hans and Margarete’s journey throughout George’s adventures. For one? He’s constantly coming this close to danger. For another? He often rides bicycles and dreams of escape. (Where the hell The Man with The Yellow Hat and his banana-colored wardrobe came from, is a mystery, though.)
In addition to holding onto their manuscript, Hans and Margarete kept detailed diaries of their days during their Paris escape. Those can be found in a collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. And their story inspired the book The Journey That Saved Curious George’s Life, which hit shelves earlier this year. A documentary on the subject is set to hit theaters in early 2017, meaning you’re about to be as submerged in monkey hijinks as your kids.
Wanna hear something even crazier than all of this? Curious George turned 75 this year. Even with all those decades under his belt, he still hasn’t wizened up — not to mention been plagued with a grey hairs or high cholesterol. Oh well; must be all those bananas. Keep living your #bestlife, George. You’ve certainly earned it.
H/T: Smithsonian Magazine