Sunday, December 23, 2018

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created by Robert Lewis May in 1939 as an assignment from Chicago-based retailer Montgomery Ward.

Montgomery Ward, founded by Arron Montgomery Ward (1843-1913), was one of the giants of Chicago’s retail industry. In the 1930’s, the company expanded beyond its initial mail order business. They built hundreds of department stores across the country. Wards found it hard to break into the department store retail, especially in cities with established shopping districts like Chicago’s State Street.

Montgomery Ward offered special promotions in order to stand out from crosstown rivals like Sears, The Fair Stores and Marshall Field’s during the holiday shopping season. Ward handed out free coloring books to children for several years in the 1930s. This was popular, but the store lost money on each book.
Robert May standing with his creation “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” in front of his home in Skokie, Illinois, December 19, 1949.
A copywriter named Robert L. May was assigned to create a new coloring book for the stores to pass out for free. The company hoped that creating their own book would save money and give them a unique promotion. That book would become the world-famous Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
May drew upon existing children’s stories and Christmas folklore, along with his own memories and feelings when creating Rudolph. In a later interview May said “I’d always been the smallest in the class. Frail, poorly coordinated, I was never asked to join the school teams.”
DC Comics Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1st published in 1950.
May grafted those memories of ostracization onto a story inspired by The Ugly Duckling. He also drew upon the wildly popular poem “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” It provided the rhyming meter used in Rudolph and helped May decide upon using a reindeer in his story. May’s four-year-old daughter, Barabara, was also part of his inspiration. She loved going to the Lincoln Park Zoo and seeing the deer and reindeer were her favorites. Seeing that made May feel certain that kids would like and identify with Rudolph. He also tested out the rhymes on her before publishing. May considered naming the reindeer "Rollo" or "Reginald" before deciding upon using the name "Rudolph." 

Initially the idea of Rudolph having a red nose was not liked. Red noses are a universal indication of drunkenness. Understandably, that’s not an association the Wards executives wanted. Making the protagonist of a kids’ book look drunk is, of course, a bad idea. The lively illustrations by artist Denver Gillen wound up convincing the executives in the end.
Little Golden Book; Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1958.
A recent scholarly paper affirmed that Rudoplh’s famous red nose is ideal for guidance on a foggy night. Red light carried further in refractive light, which means Santa made a very astute decision in asking Rudolph to lead his sleigh. Before publication, the president of Montgomery Ward hoped that the book would bring “a tremendous amount of Christmas traffic.” The book went far beyond that and became a staple of Christmas around the country. The store published and distributed 2.4 million copies of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1939. Further publication was impossible because of war-time limitations on paper.

After World War II ended, May asked for the rights to the story he created. Inspired by either goodwill or short-sightedness, the company signed over the rights of Rudolph to May. May had new editions printed, which unexpectedly sold millions more copies.

MOVIE THEATER SHORT
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer made this first screen
appearance in 1948, in this cartoon short produced
by Max Fleischer for the Jam Handy Corporation.

In 1949, May asked with his brother-in-law, the songwriter Johnny Marks, to turn the story into a song. Bing Crosby famously declined to perform it. Into the breach stepped the “singing cowboy” Gene Autry. That version of the song would hit #1 on the 'Pop' and 'C&W' charts and eventually selling over 25 million copies. It’s still one of the best-selling songs of all time! The book and song made Rudolph into a permanent part of Christmas around the world.
SONG
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, 1949
Gene Autry, featuring the Pinafores.

SONG LYRICS
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 how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
You'll go down in history"

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 how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
You'll go down in history"

Songwriter: Johnny D. Marks

MOVIE
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer:
The Movie (runtime: 1:17:14)

The story is now owned by The Rudolph Company, LP and has been adapted in numerous forms including a popular song, the iconic 1964 television special and sequels, and a feature film and sequel. Character Arts, LLC manages the licensing for the Rudolph Company. In many countries, Rudolph has become a figure of Christmas folklore. 2014 marked the 75th anniversary of the character and the 50th anniversary of the television special. A series of postage stamps featuring Rudolph was issued by the United States Postal Service on November 6, 2014.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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