LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- The impresario formerly known as the Man with the Yellow Hat broke years of self-imposed media exile Friday to comment on the premier of VH-1's made-for-television biography, Behind the Monkey: Fast Times with Curious George.
In a trailer on the outskirts of Las Vegas, the Man reflects on a career pock-marked with controversy and misunderstanding. Work was scarce after the popular children's entertainer developed a rap sheet which included ongoing bouts with zookeepers, law enforcement officials, firefighters, and an unresolved legal dispute with the proprietor of an Italian restaurant.
"There's still an outstanding warrant in upstate New York," the Man remembers. "And of course his career in children's books effectively ended when he released Bi-Curious George: Monkey Business in Manhattan," says the Man, recalling George's 1995 foray into the world of adult film.
But behind the performing monkey's apparently effortless performances in a popular series of children's books was a meticulous method actor. "That's why we stopped doing books like Curious George Goes to the Hospital," recalls the Man. "That scene with the ether was a big mistake...."
For the first time, the Man reveals George's lifelong struggle with a painful addiction which, to meet tight production schedules, was worked into the storyline of subsequent children's titles. "Remember the time George tried to fly by jumping off the back of the boat? Why do you think George finally had to buy his own stomach pump?"
As George's reputation as a "difficult" performer grew, his career degenerated to a series of lesser projects, the Man remembers. "Oktoberfest, cigarette ads -- wherever the money was." Once cast out of the familiar world of children's book publishing, the monkey's lack of job skills left him with no job options beyond washing windows and delivering newspapers -- even though he had, by that time, learned the alphabet. The Man With the Yellow Hat believes that trapped inside George was a multi-talented and frustrated artist. "He felt no one appreciated his painting," The Man remembers. "After one exhibition, vindictive house-painters even chased him down a fire escape. No wait, that was Curious George Goes to the Hospital again."
In addition, rancorous legal battles from female monkeys in several states left the performing monkey bankrupt and bitter. The Man blames the monkey's eventual psychological breakdown on what he called "the children's literature paparazzi."
"Those 'Monkey Goes to Rehab' headlines really heightened his paranoia. Of course it wasn't long after that when they found him in Tijuana," laments the Man, referring to George's notorious fatal 1997 overdose after freebasing Bovine Growth Hormone in the Mexican border town.
Remembering happier times, the Man's eyes glisten as he unveils a solid gold stomach pump -- monogrammed with the letter's "C.G." Fumbling for his lighter, he remembers life with the celebrity he calls "that monkey."
His lip quivers. "That monkey. That Goddamned monkey. I loved him so."
David Cassel is Interactive Media editor for GettingIt.