‘Curious George’ has a chilling backstory

Who would have thought Curious George could be even more curious — from the outside, looking in?

In a thought-provoking exhibit “Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H.A. Rey” on view at the Jewish Contemporary Museum in The City, curator Claudia Nahson illuminates more than just the artistic prowess of the Reys, a husband-and-wife team who created a character that has withstood the fickle fate of pop culture in the latter part of the 20th century.

Nahson’s goal is to unveil a deeper story-behind-the-story, one that sheds light on the Reys’ lives during one of history’s more dire times.

“Many people weren’t aware and how the stories [of Curious George] came about,” Nahson says. “The Reys’ story captured me because nobody had looked at their art from the point of view of their ‘escape.’”

Take note of the backstory, which begs for a big-screen adaptation: Born in Hamburg, Germany, to Jewish families, the Reys lived together in Paris in the late 1930s. In June of 1940, just hours before the Nazis marched into the city, the Reys boldly fled on bicycles carrying drawings of their children’s stories — one about a mischievous monkey, then named Fifi.

They managed to save their animal characters, even when authorities found them in their belongings.

Those circumstances explain why “saving the day” after a narrow escape became the premise of most of their Curious George tales.

“I definitely believe that their art was galvanizing and helped them get through the situation,” Nahson says.

The exhibit showcases 80 original works, including drawings and bright watercolors for “Raffy and the 9 Monkeys” (in which Curious George makes his debut as Fifi), “Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World” and “Fifi: The Adventures of a Monkey,” later published as “Curious George.”

There’s also a touch-screen interactive timeline about the Reys’ life in France.

As for Curious George’s longevity, Nahson credits the character with being “endearing” and “timeless.”

“It’s kind of old-fashioned, but the character is 70 years old and still going, still fresh,” she says. “There is something you can connect to because basically, that little monkey is a stand-in for the reader — the young child reading the book — acting out the things that they cannot physically do or are allowed to do. That’s priceless. And it never expires.”

IF YOU GO
Curious George Saves The Day: The Art of Margret and H.A. Rey
Where:
Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., San Francisco
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, 1 to 8 p.m. most Thursdays except Thanksgiving Day and Wednesdays; exhibit closes March 13
Tickets: $10 general, $8 seniors and students, free for those 18 and under; $5 Thursdays after 5 p.m.
Contact: (415) 655-7800, www.thecjm.org

artsCurious GeorgeentertainmentFine ArtsOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A construction worker watches a load for a crane operator at the site of the future Chinatown Muni station for the Central Subway on Tuesday, March 3, 2021. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli / Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Major construction on Central Subway to end by March 31

SFMTA board approves renegotiated contract with new deadline, more contractor payments

The Ferris wheel at the Golden Gate Park Music Concourse located near de Young Museum and California Academy of the Sciences on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Samantha Laurey/Special to S.F Examiner)
Golden Gate Park Ferris wheel wins four-year extension

Despite concerns raised by environmental group and many residents, San Francisco’s 150-foot… Continue reading

(Shutterstock)
SF distributes vaccine priority codes to city schools

San Francisco has received its first vaccine priority access codes from the… Continue reading

Charles Joseph, who is represented by the San Francisco Public Defender’s office, is facing deportation to Fiji. <ins>(Courtesy photo)</ins>
Giving immigrants a second chance after incarceration

Legislation would allow some faced with deportation a chance to challenge their old convictions

The San Francisco Police Department released body camera footage of the alleged assault on Dacari Spiers. (Via SFPD Body Cam)
SF police officer to stand trial for assault over baton beating

A San Francisco police officer who prosecutors say unnecessarily beat a man… Continue reading

Most Read