SCMF Musings: This Adventurous Monkey has a Curious Backstory…


Not to be skipped over the weekend was an article appearing in the Friday Arena section of The Wall Street Journal — “The Making of a Curious Monkey.”


Curious George Wall Street Journal

The piece opened talking about how the Jewish children’s-book writers, Hans Rey and Margret Rey escaped Paris just as the Nazis moved in (June 1940) by jumping on a pair of hastily assembled bicycles with suitcases strapped to the back. They carried winter coats, food and water, and their manuscripts, which included the tale of an adventurous monkey that would become “Curious George.”


There’s been a lot of talk about Curious George as he turns 75 this year. The series has 133 titles from the Reys and others. Plus in August, Ema Ryan Yamazaki’s Kickstarter project for a documentary film exploring the lives of the Rey was funded to the tune of $186,010 by 1,483 backers. Impressive!

The WSJ Arena piece is kind of a “Reader’s Digest” version of the Reys’ story — just enough to whet the appetite for Ms. Yamazaki’s film.


She actually came to our attention from an AP article appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle in early August (the day The Little Prince movie made its debut — so yeah, we were a bit preoccupied and held the story).

AP story: Filmmaker digs into lives of ‘Curious George’ creators

Ms. Yamazaki’s background is interesting. She is a graduate of New York University’s film school, who grew up in Japan reading ‘George’ — in Japanese. She told the AP that upon learning about how the husband-and-wife team fled the Nazis on bicycles with the first “Curious George” book with them, she became interested [we say ‘got curious’].

We don’t know how she made that particular discovery, but we do know that she did some research and found out that nobody had done a movie about the Reys. Striking when the iron was hot — she immediately jumped in a car and headed to Cambridge to meet the lady who runs the estate. Things fell into place and Ms. Yamazaki has spent the last two years working on her documentary.

More on Ms. Yamazaki’s R (Research)…

Here’s something she discovered from her research:

… I love how Margret [Rey] describes the monkey as someone that finds himself in trouble and through his own gets himself out of trouble. That’s her words, and it might have as well been them, describing them, especially in their escape. They literally found themselves, the night before, it was too late to leave, with no cars, no trains to be had, not even a bicycle. All they had was a tandem bike. It was Margret who had no patience basically to ride a tandem bike to flee the Nazis. And she said, “Hans, my husband, do something about this.” And he cobbled together two separate bicycles out of spare parts…

Ema Ryan Yamazaki Curious George film

There’s that word we here at Jedemi love: Ingenuity — the quality of being cleverly inventive or resourceful; inventiveness

Which reminds us…

Our Joey told us a story about how Jame Joyce’s Finnegans Wake was saved from the clutches of the Nazis in December of 1941.

We located this online to give you a sense of what happened:

One day in early December of that year [1941], a big, gray military car stopped in front of the bookshop, and a high-ranking officer got out. He studied the display window and then asked, reader-to-reader and in perfect English, to buy Finnegans Wake. When Beach explained that she had only one personal copy left, not for sale, he clicked his heels and stomped out. Beach hid her copy of the book; the German officer returned; they had the same conversation with the same result, though this time the officer shouted, “We’re coming to confiscate all your books today!” In two hours Beach and Friends had all 5000 volumes of Shakespeare and Company in hiding up on the fourth floor, where they stayed until the liberation. If the officer returned that day he must have thought he was in a Twilight rather that a Militarized Zone, as 12 rue de l’Odeon was completely empty — light fixtures, shelves, everything — and the sign outside had been painted over.

And in case you are wondering, in 1944, Joey’s “A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake” — The first major text to provide an in-depth analysis of Finnegans Wake (James Joyce’s final novel), was published.

Incredible Journey…

We can’t close out this piece without tying in “The Hero’s Journey,” because in our thinking ingenuity needs to tag-team with persistence — the quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people.


The Hero’s Journey includes:

  • THE ORDEAL.—Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life.

Our point to all of you reading this — Please be open to the adventures (Honestly, the hints come early and often if you make time to listen). But realize that the journey and overcoming obstacles is part of the adventure — and that’s where your ingenuity and persistence will come in handy.

We’ll just leave it at that. You’ll find more inspiring stories here at Jedemi. We are hoping you’ll let us know if something you read here or elsewhere triggered a “Call to Adventure.”

Thanks for reading and #SCMF!

—The Gang


Bonus Content:

Trailer of a most excellent film by Patrick Takaya Solomon. Finding Joe is a self-funded, labor of love.

Check it out!


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  1. tiffwilch says:

    What an inspiration…to improve your means of escape at the last possible second.  And what a blessing that Ema feels the level of passion that she feels for the Reys and their Curious George.

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