Users of search engine Google in the Czech Republic may have been surprised to see a vaguely familiar cartoon face on the site’s homepage. The “Google Doodle,” as the picture that sometimes appears in place of the plain text is called, featured a bearded character with the red stovepipe hat.
Czechs — especially those who grew up in the 1970s — know this is Rumcajs, the lead character in a series of Czech bedtime stories and 39 television episodes that were enjoyed by adults as well as children.
Google Czech Republic told Czech Position that the image is visible only to local users on Google.cz and Google.com, as servers can distinguish where a computer is located by its IP address.
Writer Václav Čtvrtek — whose real name was Václav Cafourek — was born April 4, 1911, making today the 100th anniversary of his birth. He is considered to have followed in the footsteps of other whimsical Czech writers such as Josef Lada, Ondŕej Sekora and Jan Drda.
“Mr. Čtvrtek was selected because he is a famous and prolific author. Some of his fairy tales were made into TV shows with a very distinct graphical interpretation, which is easily recognizable and very popular — one of the most cherished being Rumcajs,” Google Czech Republic said in an unsigned e-mail. “There have been several other local Doodles featuring other Czech authors and artists [including] Alfons Mucha (in more countries), Božena Němcová, Karel Čapek, Vlasta Burian, Jan Werich and so on.” Audiences in the late 1960s are said to have seen Rumcajs as an underdog fighting against an unfair and corrupt system.
After World War II, Čtvrtek began working for children’s magazines and Czechoslovak Radio, where he became head of the youth department. In 1960 he began working on children’s literature full time. His character Rumcajs — an outlaw and former cobbler — first appeared in 1967. Rumcajs lost his shoemaking shop after insulting the local mayor’s foot and was forced to become a “knight of the road.” Audiences in the late 1960s are said to have seen the character as an underdog fighting against an unfair and corrupt system.
He and his fellow characters, including his wife, Manka, and his son, Cipísek, were drawn by Radek Pilař. Critics have noted that Rumcajs has more than a passing resemblance to the artist Pilař, who also sported a full beard.
While no timeframe for the stories is explicitly specified, some references to “Král Fricek” — apparently Prussian King Frederick William IV — place the stories in the mid 19th century.
The stories have been translated into many European languages such as Slovak, Polish, Bulgarian, German, Hungarian, Romanian, Estonian and Latvian, but so far fame in the English-speaking world has eluded the lovable outlaw. Čtvrtek lived until 1976, while Pilaŕ, who was born in 1931, passed away in 1993.
The Google home page had different doodles in other markets today as well. Hong Kong and Taiwan, for example, had a row of children’s toys that with some imagination — the toy duck on wheels sort of looks like a “g” — spelled out Google. This was to mark Children’s Day, which has been celebrated in Hong Kong on April 4 since 1931 and for the first time this year in Taiwan.
Other countries celebrate it on different days, with International Children’s Day falling on June 1, according to a blog post on SearchEngineWatch.com.