Thought for the Year:
All of us at Westland Financial wish you and yours a very Happy Christmas; and Peace, Health and Success in the New Year. We thank you for your business and appreciate the opportunity to have you as a client.
The story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Rudolph came to life in 1939 when the Chicago-based Montgomery Ward company asked one of their copywriters, to come up with a Christmas story they could give away in booklet form to shoppers as a promotional gimmick. Robert May, who had a penchant for writing children’s stories and limericks, was tapped to create the booklet.
May, drawing in part on the tale of The Ugly Duckling and his own background (he was often taunted as a child for being shy, small, and slight), settled on the idea of an underdog ostracized by the reindeer community because of his physical abnormality: a glowing red nose.
May wrote Rudolph’s story in verse as a series of rhyming couplets, testing it out on his 4-year-old daughter, Barbara, as he went along. Barbara was thrilled with Rudolph’s story, and once approved by May’s superiors, Montgomery Ward distributed 2.4 million copies of the Rudolph booklet in 1939 alone; and although wartime paper shortages curtailed printing for the next several years, a total of 6 million copies had been distributed by the end of 1946.
The post-war demand for licensing the Rudolph character was tremendous, but since May had created the story on a “work made for hire” basis as an employee, Montgomery Ward held the copyright to Rudolph, and May received no royalties for his creation. Deeply in debt from the medical bills resulting from his wife’s terminal illness (she died about the time May created Rudolph), May persuaded Montgomery Ward’s corporate president, Sewell Avery, to turn the copyright over to him in January 1947, and with the rights to his creation in hand, May’s financial security was assured.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was reprinted commercially beginning in 1947 and shown in theaters as a nine-minute cartoon the following year, but the Rudolph phenomenon really took off when May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, developed the lyrics and melody for a Rudolph song. Marks’ musical version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore) was recorded by cowboy crooner Gene Autry in 1949, sold two million copies that year, and went on to become one of the best-selling songs of all time (second only to “White Christmas”). A stop-action television special about Rudolph produced by Rankin/Bass and narrated by Burl Ives was first aired in 1964 and remains a popular perennial holiday favorite in the U.S.
May quit his copywriting job in 1951 and spent seven years managing the Rudolph franchise his creation had spawned before returning to Montgomery Ward, where he worked until his retirement in 1971. May died in 1976, comfortable in the life his reindeer creation had provided for him.
The story of Rudolph is primarily known to us through the lyrics of Johnny Marks’ song (which provides only the barest outlines of Rudolph’s story) and the 1964 television special. The story Robert May wrote is substantially different from both of them in a number of ways.
Rudolph was neither one of Santa’s reindeer nor the offspring of one of Santa’s reindeer, and he did not live at the North Pole. Rudolph dwelled in an “ordinary” reindeer village elsewhere, and although he was taunted and laughed at for having a shiny red nose, he was not regarded by his parents as a shameful embarrassment; Rudolph was brought up in a loving household and was a responsible reindeer with a good self-image and sense of worth. Moreover, Rudolph also did not rise to fame when Santa picked him out from a reindeer herd because of his shiny nose; instead, Santa discovered the red-nosed reindeer quite by accident, when he noticed the glow emanating from Rudolph’s room while he was delivering presents to Rudolph’s house. Worried that the thickening fog that night (already the cause of several accidents and delays) would keep him from completing his Christmas Eve rounds, Santa tapped Rudolph to lead his team, which the young reindeer agreed to do, after first stopping to complete one last task: leaving behind a note for his mother and father.