Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 07/29/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/29/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>Margret Rey

MONKEY BUSINESS

"MY HUSBAND AND I ALWAYS LOVED animals," says Margret Rey, who, with H.A. (Hans Augusto) Rey, created one of the toddler set's most durable characters, the irrepressible Curious George. "Whenever we moved to a new town, we would immediately go to the zoo," she adds.

And move they did. After meeting in their native Hamburg, Germany, in the 1920s, the Reys married in Rio de Janeiro, where H.A., an artist and linguist, sold bathtubs for a relative. In 1935 the couple moved to Paris, where they worked as a freelance artist-writer team, first on advertising, then on a children's book, Cecily G and the Nine Monkeys. "We said, 'This is fun, let's do one about a monkey,' " Margret, now 90, recalls. "But we didn't call him Curious George. It was something stupid like Zoe-Zoe or Coco."

In 1940, just hours before Nazi troops paraded into Paris, the Reys headed south toward Portugal. "It was dark and raining, and all we had was our topcoats and our manuscripts," Margret says. "We rode our bicycles to the Spanish border and sold them to get train fare to Lisbon." Eventually the Reys, who had no children, made their way to New York City, where in 1941, Curious George was born. Six more titles followed in the series, which has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide in 12 languages and spawned more than 50 lucrative licenses. "There's a very nice apron and tote bag," says Margret, a widow living in Cambridge, Mass., who in May gave $1 million both to the Boston Public Library and to the city's Beth Israel Hospital. "Someone wanted to do sneakers, but they were ugly, and another tried pajamas, but the cloth was cheap, so I had to say no."

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