Rey, Margret (1906–1996)

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Rey, Margret (1906–1996)

German-born American author, with her husband, of the "Curious George" children's book series. Name variations: Margret Elizabeth Rey. Born Margret Elizabeth Waldstein in Hamburg, Germany, on May 16, 1906; died of a heart attack in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on December 21, 1996; daughter of Felix Wald-stein (a member of the German Parliament) and Gertrude (Rosenfeld) Waldstein; attended the Bauhaus in Dessau, 1927; Dusseldorf Academy of Art, 1928–29; University of Munich, 1930–31; married H(ans) A(ugusto) Rey (1898–1977, a writer and illustrator), in 1935; no children.

Selected writings:

Pretzel (1944, illustrated by H.A. Rey); Spotty (1945); Pretzel and the Puppies (1946); Billy's Picture (1948).

Selected writings with H.A. Rey:

Raffy and the Nine Monkeys (1939); Curious George (1941); Elizabite: The Adventures of a Carnivorous Plant (1942); Curious George Takes a Job (1947); Curious George Rides a Bike (1952); Curious George Gets a Medal (1957); Curious George Flies a Kite (1958); Curious George Learns the Alphabet (1963); Curious George Goes to the Hospital (1966); Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World (2000).

Co-editor with Allan J. Shalleck, based on "Curious George" film series: Curious George and the Dump Truck (1984); Curious George and the Pizza (1985); Curious George Goes to a Costume Party (1986); Curious George Goes Fishing (1987); Curious George at the Beach (1988); Curious George and the Dinosaur (1989); Curious George Goes to a Toy Store (1990).

Margret Rey was born on May 16, 1906, in Hamburg, Germany, the daughter of Gertrude Rosenfeld Waldstein and Felix Waldstein, a member of the German Parliament. In 1927, she attended the famous Bauhaus in Dessau and spent the following two years studying at the Dusseldorf Academy of Art. Her first job was as a reporter and copywriter in Berlin, Germany. A talented artist and photographer, she held several exhibits of her watercolor paintings in Berlin. In the early 1930s, she moved first to London, England, and later to Rio de Janeiro, where she took jobs as a reporter and a copywriter. In Rio, she also met up again with Hans Augusto Rey, with whom she had been acquainted for a time in Hamburg. A struggling artist, H.A. Rey was then making a living selling bathtubs. Together, they started Brazil's first advertising agency, and in 1935 they were married. In 1936, they moved to Paris.

At the urging of an editor at Gallimard, a French publishing company, Rey worked with Hans to create a story from some humorous drawings he had done for a Paris periodical. The result was Raffy and the Nine Monkeys (1939), also published three years later as Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys. The book is the story of a lonely giraffe, Cecily G., who shares her home with a family of monkeys. Rey focused on writing the story, and her husband contributed the illustrations. Their ability to make the absurd seem possible, combined with easy humor and attention to details, earned the couple praise. They also found the formula for their most successful series in Curious George, one member of the book's monkey family, and they were soon writing a story that concentrated on him.

In June 1940, the Reys fled France on bicycles, just hours before the Nazis invaded Paris. Dressed in warm coats and taking nothing but their manuscripts, including the original Curious George, they began pedaling south on a rainy predawn morning. They arrived at the French-Spanish border, where they sold their bicycles to customs officials, then boarded a train for Lisbon. The Reys stayed briefly in Rio de Janeiro, then in October 1940 they had their first view of New York harbor; they would remain in America for the rest of their lives. (Margret became a naturalized citizen in 1946.)

The couple took up residence in Greenwich Village and immediately began searching for a publisher for Curious George. Within a week, Houghton Mifflin accepted the story for publication. The book, which was destined to become a children's classic, is light and cheerful. In the opening line, the impish monkey is introduced thus: "He lived with his friend, the man with the yellow hat. He was a good little monkey, but he was always curious." George's naive, childlike inquisitiveness forever brings him into situations of innocent mischief from which his friend with the yellow hat saves him, without reproach.

Six years later, in 1947, Rey wrote another Curious George story, again with her husband illustrating, entitled Curious George Takes a Job. In all, the Reys published seven books in their "Curious George" series; the last, Curious George Goes to the Hospital, earned the Children's Book Award from the Child Study Association of America in 1966. Although only H.A. Rey's name appeared on the first books, each story was a collaboration of ideas, with Margret Rey writing the text and H.A. Rey drawing the illustrations. Rey, who was barely five feet tall, would often act the part of Curious George for her husband, who then made his drawings from her exaggerated poses. Rey was strong-willed, and the couple often debated the plot of the story. (They rarely argued about other things; H.A. Rey once attributed the success of their relationship to the following: "Years ago, we decided that I make all the big decisions and she makes the small decisions. So far in our marriage, there haven't been any big decisions.") In all, the "Curious George" series sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, in 12 different languages. Pretzel (1944), the tale of an extremely long dachshund, and Spotty (1945), about a brown-and-white rabbit who feels unwanted by his pink-and-white siblings, were works done solely by Rey with her husband contributing the drawings. Appearing toward the end of World War II, the stories advocate tolerance and acceptance.

In 1963, after 20 years in Greenwich Village, the Reys moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, spending many of their summers at their cottage in Waterville, New Hampshire. Rey ceased writing children's books after her husband's death in 1977. However, with Allan Shalleck she edited over 30 new Curious George stories based on an animated film series. (A stage musical was also based on the Reys' books.) She was involved as well in the marketing of Curious George merchandise, a successful business endeavor that made her a millionaire. Having no children, Rey claimed Curious George as her only offspring, and noted that her ongoing involvement with the creation after H.A. Rey's death made her feel connected to her beloved husband.

Rey taught creative writing at Brandeis University from 1978 to 1984. In 1989, she joined the board of directors of Phillips Brooks House at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and two years later she became the founder and trustee of the Curious George Foundation. In 1996, she donated $1 million each to Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and to the Boston Public Library. A lifelong animal lover who with her husband kept pets as varied as turtles, snakes, monkeys and dogs, Rey was also a member of the World Wildlife Fund, the Audubon Society, and the Defenders of Wildlife. She died from complications following a heart attack in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on December 21, 1996.


Commire, Anne, ed. Something About the Author. Vols. 26, 86, and 93. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.

"Margret Rey, 90," in The Day [New London, CT]. December 23, 1996, p. B3.

People Weekly. July 29, 1996, p. 28.

Publishers Weekly. January 27, 1997, p. 33.

Time. January 13, 1997, p. 25.

Kari Bethel , freelance writer, Columbia, Missouri