Rudolph, "the most famous reindeer of all," was born over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. The red-nosed wonder was the creation of 34-year-old Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store. The Chicago-based Montgomery Ward company had been purchasing and distributing children's coloring books as Christmas gifts for their customers for several years. In 1939, May wrote a Christmas-themed story-poem to help bring holiday traffic into his store. Using a similar rhyme pattern to ***Moore's "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," May told the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who was teased by the other deer because of his large, glowing, red nose. But, when Christmas Eve turned foggy and Santa worried that he wouldn't be able to deliver gifts that night, the former outcast saved Christmas by leading the sleigh with the light of his red nose.
May drew from "The Ugly Duckling" in part and also from his own experiences as an often-taunted, small, frail youth to create the story of the misfit reindeer. Though Rollo and Reginald were considered, May settled on Rudolph as his reindeer's name. Writing in verse as a series of rhyming couplets, May tested the story on his 4-year old daughter Barbara as he went along. She loved the story.
Rudolph's message that, given the opportunity, a liability can be turned into an asset proved popular. Montgomery Ward gave away almost two and a half million copies of the story in 1939. When it was reissued in 1946, the book sold over three and half million copies. Despite the wartime paper shortage, over 6 million copies had been distributed by 1946.
Sadly, Robert May’s wife died around the time he was creating Rudolph, leaving him deeply in debt due to medical bills. However, he was able to persuade Sewell Avery, Montgomery Ward's corporate president, to turn the copyright over to him in January 1947, thus ensuring May's financial security. May's story "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was printed commercially in 1947, and in 1948 a nine-minute cartoon of the story was shown in theaters.
Several years later, May’s songwriting brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote a short song based on Rudolph's story in 1949. Johnny Marks was a Jewish-American songwriter who was born in 1909 and passed away in 1985. He is most remembered for his Christmas songs, which included, of course, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” He also wrote “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” which was first recorded by Bing Crosby, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” which became a big hit for Brenda Lee, and “A Holly Jolly Christmas” recorded by Burl Ives.
The reindeer song was recorded by Gene Autry at the urging of Autry’s wife. This simple children’s song sold two million copies that year, going on to become one of the best-selling songs*** of all time, second only to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." Since then, the story has been translated into 25 languages and made into a television movie which has charmed audiences every year since its beginning. In 1964, Rudolph made his first television appearance on NBC, when Rankin/Bass produced the stop-motion animated TV special of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This version had been re-broadcast many times over the years, even after it was finally released on Video and DVD. CBS now airs it each year, making it the longest running TV special ever. I bet if you have children or grandchildren you have a copy of this show in your collection. If you don’t, you can bet you’ll be seeing it on TV this season.
It is narrated by Sam the Snowman, voiced by Burl Ives, who tells Rudolph’s sometimes sad and sometimes wild ride to fame. Children as young as a year old can recognize the Red-Nosed Reindeer as well as they identify with Santa Clause. Rudolph toys, ornaments, books, tapes, DVD’s and videos are always under the tree or in a stocking in most homes across America.
Learning the words to Rudolph is also something you learned at a very young age, but for those who may have forgotten the song, I will include it in my story:
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen.
But do you recall,
The most famous reindeer of all?
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
Had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw it,
You would even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer,
Used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph,
Join in any reindeer games.
Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
“Rudolph, with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
Then all the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee:
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
You’ll go down in history!”