George and the Man in the Yellow Hat are reunited after an adventure. Artist: Hans Augusto Rey.


Original Medium: Children's picture story
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Co.
First appeared: 1941
Creator: H.A. and Margret Rey
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Curious George, star of a series of children's books first published in 1941, is exactly the sort of animal character to garner maximum reader identification — a monkey, analogous …

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… to human kids just by his species, who gets into trouble not through malicious intent but simply because his nature is incompatible with the smooth functioning of the adult world. And yet, like his readers, he's loved by the grown-ups who surrounded him no matter how much disruption he causes in their lives.

The story of events in the lives of George's creators right around the time of his first publication would be every bit as interesting as George himself. H.A. and Margret Rey were Jews who fled Paris just hours before the Nazi take-over, not entirely unlike Antonio Prohías, an outspoken political cartoonist, fleeing Cuba after Castro began seriously cracking down on press freedom, then creating "Spy Vs. Spy" after arriving in New York.

Hans Augusto Rey was already a published author/illustrator of juvenile fiction before the event that disrupted his life more profoundly than any monkey ever could. It was after his October, 1940 arrival in New York that he entered the relationship with The Houghton Mifflin Co., a leading publisher of educational materials, that quickly led to Curious George. His wife Margret had been instrumental in shaping the terms of the contract. She continued to run the business end of the operation, as well as to assist her husband in both prose and drawings, and even pose for some of the pictures.

George was introduced in the first book as a carefree young monkey living in Africa, without the supposed benefit of human contact. But on the second page, his captor and lifelong companion, The Man in the Yellow Hat, entered the story. Using his hat as bait for George's curiosity, he quickly had George trapped in a sack, then on a ship to America, and finally in the zoo — with innocent misadventures all along the way.

It was a big hit, and Houghton Mifflin published no less than six sequels between 1947 and '66. (The Man in the Yellow Hat re-entered George's life in the second book, and didn't leave again.) Then came the merchandising. Curious George was marketed as a stuffed toy in 1971, and on T-shirts, lunch boxes, Viewmaster reels, etc., over a span of generations. As an icon of children's entertainment. George is on a par with The Cat in the Hat, Winnie-the-Pooh and The Berenstain Bears. — and probably well ahead of The Three Chipmunks and Peter Rabbit.

George was first animated in 1980, in a series of cartoon shorts aired on PBS (Clifford). Two years later, he was in The Adventures of Curious George, which contained stop-motion animated sequences. The latter were narrated by Corey Burton, who also voiced Brainiac in TV versions of The Justice League, The Legion of Super Heroes and Static Shock.

In 2006, George starred in his own feature, produced by Universal Pictures (which had long ago distributed the Walter Lantz cartoons and produced movie serials about Jungle Jim and Don Winslow of the Navy) and released February 10 of that year. Will Ferrell (also heard in Family Guy and King of the Hill) starred as The Man in the Yellow Hat, with Frank Welker (Jabberjaw, Dynomutt) playing George. Later that year, it was converted to another TV series, with Welker again playing George, but with Jeff Bennett (Dr. Moist in Jimmy Neutron, Count Muerte in Duck Dodgers) replacing Ferrell.

George's future, being unknown, is a fit subject for curiosity. One thing is certain — he's shown he has staying power.


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Text ©2007-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Houghton Mifflin Co.