In 1939 Montgomery Ward, the retail giant, asked Robert Lewis May, who worked in their advertising department as a copywriter, to write a story for their annual Christmas distribution. Montgomery Ward was known for giving coloring books at Christmas, and the management believed having their own version would save money especially in the harsh economic climate of 1939.
Mr. May came up with a novel idea of adding another reindeer to Santa’s original eight made famous by Clement Moore in Twas The Night Before Christmas in 1823. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer was born with his shinny nose which glowed red.
During the first year of publication almost two and half million copies of the booklet found their way into American homes. Mr. May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, put the story into a song. Harry Brannon sang the song on the WOR radio in November 1949. On November 25 Gene Autry, a popular film actor and “singing cowboy” released his version. The public bought over two and half million of the Autry recoding.
The original story penned by May is different than the song and later adaptations. Rudolph lived in a reindeer village and had a great family, but he was teased by some of the reindeer for his size and nose. It had the Ugly Duckling motif. Santa Claus visited Rudolph’s house where he found his ninth reindeer to lead his sleigh through that winter fog of a dreary night.
In some ways the story was biographical since May suffered as a child from the taunts of those who live on this planet traversing the cosmos, but who allow the differences of others to feed their tainted nature of hate. Some children are very cruel to their mates and make life a misery for them.
As a historical note: The management at Wards was concerned about that red nose because it was contrary to family values of the time. A red nose indicated heavy drinking, etc.
May took his friend Denver Gillen of the Montgomery Ward’s Art Department to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago to find inspiration for Rudolph. Gillen’s drawings convinced management that their reputation would be safe and no scandal would be caused by a red-nosed reindeer.
As Rudolph would say, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night”
G. D. Williams © 2011
Gene Autry: 1949
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Cartoon 1944