Where Did Rudolph Come From?
♫ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose… ♫
But where did the once outcast reindeer come from?
Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created by the department store chain Montgomery Ward as one way to save money on some of their annual Christmas promotions.
Robert L. May created Rudolph in 1939 as an assignment for the department store. The retailer had been buying, then giving away coloring books for Christmas every year. Instead, in order to save money, they decided to create their own. In its first year of publication, 2.4 million copies of Rudolph’s story were distributed by Montgomery Ward.
May was picked on as a child due to his small size, so he decided to go with an ‘ugly duckling’ theme since he related. While he was writing, he tested different versions of the story out on his four year old daughter until he and she were both happy with the results. May’s boss did not like it at first, due to the fact that he felt a red nose implies the reindeer had been drinking. But once it was illustrated by Denver Gillen, who worked in Montgomery Ward’s art department and was a friend of Mays, his boss decided to approve the story.
The Rudolph phenomenon really took off, however, 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 many who didn’t want to meddle with the established Santa legend) was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 and sold two million copies that year.
It went on to become one of the best-selling songs of all time (second only to “White Christmas”). A TV special about Rudolph narrated by Burl Ives was produced in 1964 and remains a popular perennial holiday favorite today.