The Real Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
“Why am I such a misfit? I am not just a nit-wit. Just because my nose glows, seems I don’t fit in.” – Rudolph
A man named Robert L. May, who was dealing with a wife battling cancer and struggling to raise their young daughter, can be credited for giving us Rudolph. Back in the 1930’s, the US-based Montgomery Ward department store hired outside agencies to create Christmas books to give away to children while parents shopped at their store. In 1939, May was a copywriter for Montgomery Ward and given the task of writing a Christmas book. This was on the heels of the Great Depression and while May’s wife was losing her battle to cancer.
Originally, the main character in May’s book was a moose, but was changed to a reindeer (as it was deemed “more friendly”) who was a misfit (with similarities to the Ugly Ducking story). Who was the character? What was the story all about?The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose. But the story doesn’t end there. Interestingly enough, the controversy surrounding May’s story had more to do with the large red nose of Rudolph, as many at the company were worried that it would promote overindulgence of alcohol! May convinced an illustrator friend to make the reindeer into cuddly creatures that convinced Montgomery Ward to accept the story. Sadly, May’s wife passed away before his book became a success and May was left ridden with debt and a small child to raise alone.
In 1939, Montgomery ward printed 2.4 MILLION copies of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and distributed it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores. By 1947, Eaton’s had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, May convinced Sewell Avery, Montgomery Ward’s corporate president to give May all of the publishing rights. May was able to pay off all of his debts and finally have some money to provide for the things that he and his daughter had gone without. The book became a best seller. Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now remarried (to a secretary from Montgomery Ward) with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he created. But the story doesn’t end there either.
Bob’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph and was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of “White Christmas.”
The gift of love that Bob May created so long ago kept on returning back to bless him again and again. And Bob May learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being different isn’t so bad. In fact, being different can be a blessing.
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