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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

In 1939, the Chicago-based Montgomery Ward department store chain employed as an advertising copywriter one Robert L. May. He was just 34 years old at the time. May was asked by his bosses to write a Christmas story that they could use as a Christmas promotional give-away. May came up with a 30-plus page booklet, illustrated by co-employee Denver Gillen, which told the story, in rhyming verses, of the misfit reindeer who saves the day.


The hit story of Rudolph was a 'work for hire' and it took some time before its author May could wrangle ownership of the tale from Montgomery Ward. Ultimately May did acquire the rights in 1947 and subsequently wrote two sequels to the original story, Rudolph Shines Again, and Rudolph to the Rescue.

Now, Robert L. May's brother-in-law was an accomplished musician and songwriter by the name of Johnny Marks. Johnny set Rudolph to music. Marks also wrote some of the most popular Christmas songs of all time including, Have a Holly-Jolly Christmas,  and I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, and many more classics. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1981.

While Montgomery Ward distributed over two million copies of Robert May's Rudolph booklet in 1939, and millions more were ultimately given away, it was the recording of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by film and TV star Gene Autry, 'The Singing Cowboy'  in 1949 that began the Rudolph phenomenon.
Autry's recording, the first record ever to go platinum by selling over one million units, sold over 30-million copies in the succeeding decades and inspired one of the most popular and enduring TV Christmas Specials by the same name in 1964.

In the perennial Rudolph Christmas Special, the tale is narrated by Sam the Snowman whose voice is that of the legendary folk-singer and actor Burl Ives. Interestingly, Ives popularized another Johnny Marks penned song, Have a Holly-Jolly Christmas, and is associated by many with the Christmas season, especially children.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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!


 *sung by Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy, recorded in 1949.


It is said that the writer of Rudolph makes about $250,000.00 each Christmas on this one song alone!


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