Alan J. Shalleck, a writer and director who helped bring Curious George to television, was murdered on Feb. 7 during a home invasion robbery. He was 76.
Hans A. Rey and his wife, Margret, created Curious George, the inquisitive hero of a series of beloved children’s books. The couple fled Europe during World War II, immigrated to the United States and began publishing the series in 1941.
The stories of George and his friend, the Man with the Yellow Hat, were an instant hit. In the 65 years since Curious George’s first appearance in print, his adventures have been published 27 million times, and in more than 14 languages.
A native of Westchester, N.Y., Alan Shalleck studied drama at Syracuse University and broke into show business as a mailroom clerk for CBS. He climbed up the network ladder to become associate producer for the children’s TV show, “Winky Dink and You,” then formed his own production company.
Hans died in 1977. That same year, Shalleck approached Margret about bringing Curious George into the television medium. She agreed and together they penned nearly 30 books and more than 100 scripts featuring the mischievous monkey. The five-minute “Curious George” cartoons aired on the Disney Channel.
Curious George debuted on the big screen last month in a full-length, animated movie featuring the voices of Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore and Dick Van Dyke.
In 1988, Shalleck produced “Pepito’s Dream,” a children’s film based on John and Margaret Travers-Moore’s popular trilogy about a little boy who wants to plead for world peace at the United Nations. After moving to Florida in the early 1990s, he worked in the children’s department of a Borders bookstore. There Shalleck created Gramps, a persona he used when reading aloud to children. He also conducted workshops on how to improve reading skills through the Delray Beach Kids & Cops Reading program.
Shalleck’s bloodied body was found in the driveway of his South Florida mobile home. It had lain there for a least a day, covered in garbage bags, before a maintenance man discovered it. On Feb. 8, Rex Spears Ditto, 29, and Vincent J. Puglisi, 54, surrendered to police and confessed to killing Shalleck. They’ve been charged with first-degree murder, armed home invasion, aggravated battery and dealing in stolen property.
[Update – Dec. 8, 2006: While Rex Ditto and Vincent Puglisi admit to killing Alan Shalleck, each suspect blames the other for the crime. An autopsy found that Shalleck had 83 blunt force injuries and 37 stab wounds to his abdomen, back, neck, groin and tongue.]
[Update – Dec. 14, 2006: A psychiatrist has concluded that Rex Ditto is competent to stand trail. According to Dr. Jonathan Rapp, who testified at a court hearing on Wednesday, Ditto is exaggerating his symptoms. Attorneys in the case are awaiting results from two other doctors.]
[Update – March 20, 2007: Rex Ditto sent the judge on his case a letter, confessing to his involvement in the murder of Alan Shalleck and implicating his lover Vincent Puglisi. The judge did not read the letter, but his judicial assistant did. The document is currently under seal. Both defendants are charged with first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon. The prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.]
[Update – Oct. 18, 2007: Rex Ditto pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and robbery with a weapon for the slaying of Alan Shalleck. He was sentenced to life in prison and will not be eligible for parole. Ditto also agreed to testify, if asked, against his co-defendant and former lover, Vincent Puglisi who is scheduled for trial early next year. Puglisi was also offered life in prison if he pleaded guilty but he turned the deal down.]