A mischievous monkey named Curious George achieved what millions of people could not: he escaped the Holocaust.
In the pre-dawn hours of June 14, 1940, German Jews Hans Augusto (H.A.) and Margret Rey fled Paris on a makeshift bicycle, only hours ahead of invading Nazis, carrying the manuscript of the first "Curious George" children's book. The Reys skipped the French-Spanish border, hopped a train to Portugal and sailed to Brazil before moving to New York, where "Curious George" was published in 1941 and became an instant classic.
Original art from "Curious George" and its six sequels, which have sold 25 million copies in 14 languages, are on display at the Central Library, courtesy of University of Southern Mississippi Library.
It's fantastic to realize that the beloved character so many Americans grew up with had -- like artwork from concentration camp victims -- somehow emerged unscathed from the Shoah. It's also fantastic to witness firsthand the creative process that went into the "Curious George" series and other works by the Reys, including "Pretzel Hangs A Picture" and "Raffy and the Nine Monkeys," the rare 1939 French edition in which Curious George first appeared.
The stylized watercolor and charcoal illustrations of "Curious George" are not the only things on display. So is the Reys' thought process, as we see text minimized on the page and alternate "takes" of H.A.'s art that went into the final mix. More personal artifacts include a needlepoint portrait of H.A. and a pair of "Curious George" socks that Margret had knitted for her husband.
The small exhibit is a chance to enjoy the simple charms of "Curious George" before the feckless simian is pumped through the Hollywood hype machine for a CGI-rendered Universal feature scheduled for release in 2003. You don't have to be a child to admire the craft that went into the Reys' books. Just bring your curiosity ... as George would.
"Celebrating 60 Years of Curious George: The Art of H.A. and Margret Rey" runs through July 14 at Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., Downtown Los Angeles. Free. For exhibit hours, call (213) 228-7555. -- Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer