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Robert L. May

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, was created in 1939 by Robert L. May, a Dartmouth 1926 Phi Beta Kappa graduate.  In 1958, May donated the original manuscript of Rudolph to Baker Library, which now houses the Robert L. May Collection. 

May was an advertising writer for the Montgomery Ward Company.  In 1939 the company wanted  to give children a book for the Holiday Season. In January, May started to work in January... and through perserverence or rejections  sold the Rudolph concept to the company. May completed the story in August...  Denver Gillen illustrated it... and Mont gomery Ward distributed 2,500,000 that Holiday Season.  In '46, 3,500,000 additional copies were distributed. That same year, Sewell Avery, chairman of Montgomery Ward, gave the copyright to Bob May.

In 1949, Johnny Marks, Mays brother-in-law, wrote the song about Rudolph. It was this song that forever cemented Rudolph in the minds of children.  Gene Autry recorded it; it went to #1 on the Hit Parade and sold 2,000,000 copies. The film version first aired in 1964.  Today, the story and song have been translated into over 25 languages.

 In 1989, Wards reissued a Golden Anniversary Edition, a facsimile of the original 1939 edition, published by Applewood Books

May joined Montgomery Ward in 1936. He left Wards in 1951 to manage Rudolph's career, then returned in 1958 until he retired in 1970. May died in 1976.

Montgomery Ward went out of business in early 2001.

Today, reproductions of the original '39 edition are available from used-book re-sellers

Robert May's depiction of a reindeer was not the first.  In 1821, a sixteen-page booklet, A New Years Present for the Little Ones from Five to Twelve, Part III, was the first to ever picture Santa Claus in a sleigh drawn by a reindeer. 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

By Johnny Marks Copyright, 1949

The poem by Robert May became a song in 1949 by John Marks, one of the most prolific and popular modern composers of Christmas songs. Because the song is still under copyright, it is not reproduced here. The story about the song is best told by Professor (Emeritus) William Studwell.

 
Rudolph lights up season as year's top Christmas Carol
 
Professor William Studwell
Northern Illinois University, November 23, 1999
 

DEKALBThe most famous reindeer of all--who incidentally was born in Chicago, not the North Pole--is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his theme song this Christmas.

To mark the occasion, William Studwell, a professor at Northern Illinois University, has named Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer the 1999 Christmas Carol of the Year. Studwell is the nations leading expert on Christmas carols and various other musical genres, ranging from the obscure and under appreciated to the widely popular.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer went down in history back in 1949 when Johnny Marks wrote the famous Christmas tune. But the character was actually created 10 years earlier by Marks brother-in-law, Robert L. May, for a Chicago-based Montgomery Ward advertising campaign, making the reindeer a decade older than his famous theme song.

.

The charming story coupled with Marks catchy lyrics and music, as well as the talent of the famous singing cowboy, Gene Autry, helped Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer fly to the top of the music charts. Marks went on to write other holiday favorites, including Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Rockin Around the Christmas Tree and Holly Jolly Christmas.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer became the biggest Christmas hit since 1942s White Christmas, and Rudolph became the first significant new holiday character since Santa Claus and his elves," Studwell said.

"Rudolph is a cute and loveable character," he said. "People like him because he was the under-reindeerthe lowest on the pecking order. But he overcame that to become a superhero of Christmas."

"Rudolphs brightly-lit nose and heroic stance have brought him to the forefront of Christmas novelties. An explosion of Christmas merchandise hit the markets after Rudolph hit the airwaves," Studwell said. "Rudolphs fame also sparked the trend for the creation of other holiday characters, such as Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch. Even the schoolyard parodies of the song indicate that Rudolph has indeed "arrived" in everyday culture," Studwell said.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer really got the conspicuous consumption of Christmas merchandise going. It was the first great novelty song after World War IIpeople were ready for something new. The song came out during a time of new prosperitypeople had money to spend. And this trend has continued with the introduction and merchandising of other Christmas characters," Studwell said.

In addition to having a song written for him, Rudolph also enjoyed fame as an actor. His first stint, which has long been forgotten, was a 9-minute cartoon in 1944. Rudolphs big break came in 1964 when he starred in his own Christmas special with a soundtrack written by Marks. Although that show has since become a holiday television tradition, Rudolph's subsequent specials, Rudolphs Shiny New Year and Rudolph and Frosty, havent been nearly as popular.

Studwells expertise on Christmas carols began in 1972 when he researched Oh, Holy Night to create a pamphlet of the song as a gift for a family member. Since that time, Studwell has become a leading expert on Christmas music and has penned several books on the topic, including

See also: William E. Studwell and Dorothy E. Jones, Publishing Glad Tidings: Essays on Christmas Music (New York: Haworth Press, 1998).

Professor Studwell is also providing the text notes to the Millennia Collection of Christmas carols.

In 1986, Studwell began naming a Christmas Carol of the Year to share the little-known stories behind the favorite holiday classics and keep the songs in the spotlight.

Professor William Studwell is now retired from Northern Illinois University. This article was posted on the NIU web site.

Note:

The Story Behind The Story

The Urban Legends Reference Page, by Barbara and David P. Midelson, has a good article on the background concerning the creation of this story, which I recommend. 

There is a story concerning Robert May which is circulating on the Internet titled Rudolph that Amazing Reindeer. No credit for authorship is usually attached, but the author was Stanley A. Frankel (1919-1999). The story was originally titled "The Story Behind Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and appeared in Good Housekeeping, December, 1989 (p. 126)

You can ready Mr. Frankel's article on his web site: Rudolph that Amazing Reindeer (The article is about half-way down the page).

The Urban Legends page has other articles about Santa's Reindeer, including:

Does Santa have a reindeer named 'Donner'? [No]

Are Santa's reindeer all female? [Yes]

Did Coca-Cola create the modern image of Santa Claus? [No]

*****************************

Robert L. May

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, was created in 1939 by Robert L. May, a Dartmouth 1926 Phi Beta Kappa graduate.  In 1958, May donated the original manuscript of Rudolph to Baker Library, which now houses the Robert L. May Collection. 

May was an advertising writer for the Montgomery Ward Company.  In 1939 the company wanted  to give children a book for the Holiday Season. In January, May started to work in January... and through perserverence or rejections  sold the Rudolph concept to the company. May completed the story in August...  Denver Gillen illustrated it... and Mont gomery Ward distributed 2,500,000 that Holiday Season.  In '46, 3,500,000 additional copies were distributed. That same year, Sewell Avery, chairman of Montgomery Ward, gave the copyright to Bob May.

In 1949, Johnny Marks, Mays brother-in-law, wrote the song about Rudolph. It was this song that forever cemented Rudolph in the minds of children.  Gene Autry recorded it; it went to #1 on the Hit Parade and sold 2,000,000 copies. The film version first aired in 1964.  Today, the story and song have been translated into over 25 languages.

 In 1989, Wards reissued a Golden Anniversary Edition, a facsimile of the original 1939 edition, published by Applewood Books

May joined Montgomery Ward in 1936. He left Wards in 1951 to manage Rudolph's career, then returned in 1958 until he retired in 1970. May died in 1976.

Montgomery Ward went out of business in early 2001.

Today, reproductions of the original '39 edition are available from used-book re-sellers

Robert May's depiction of a reindeer was not the first.  In 1821, a sixteen-page booklet, A New Years Present for the Little Ones from Five to Twelve, Part III, was the first to ever picture Santa Claus in a sleigh drawn by a reindeer.

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer went down in history back in 1949 when Johnny Marks wrote the famous Christmas tune. But the character was actually created 10 years earlier by Marks brother-in-law, Robert L. May, for a Chicago-based Montgomery Ward advertising campaign, making the reindeer a decade older than his famous theme song.


.


The charming story coupled with Marks catchy lyrics and music, as well as the talent of the famous singing cowboy, Gene Autry, helped Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer fly to the top of the music charts. Marks went on to write other holiday favorites, including Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Rockin Around the Christmas Tree and Holly Jolly Christmas.


"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer became the biggest Christmas hit since 1942s White Christmas, and Rudolph became the first significant new holiday character since Santa Claus and his elves," Studwell said.


"Rudolph is a cute and loveable character," he said. "People like him because he was the under-reindeerthe lowest on the pecking order. But he overcame that to become a superhero of Christmas."


"Rudolphs brightly-lit nose and heroic stance have brought him to the forefront of Christmas novelties. An explosion of Christmas merchandise hit the markets after Rudolph hit the airwaves," Studwell said. "Rudolphs fame also sparked the trend for the creation of other holiday characters, such as Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch. Even the schoolyard parodies of the song indicate that Rudolph has indeed "arrived" in everyday culture," Studwell said.


"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer really got the conspicuous consumption of Christmas merchandise going. It was the first great novelty song after World War IIpeople were ready for something new. The song came out during a time of new prosperitypeople had money to spend. And this trend has continued with the introduction and merchandising of other Christmas characters," Studwell said.


In addition to having a song written for him, Rudolph also enjoyed fame as an actor. His first stint, which has long been forgotten, was a 9-minute cartoon in 1944. Rudolphs big break came in 1964 when he starred in his own Christmas special with a soundtrack written by Marks. Although that show has since become a holiday television tradition, Rudolph's subsequent specials, Rudolphs Shiny New Year and Rudolph and Frosty, havent been nearly as popular.


Studwells expertise on Christmas carols began in 1972 when he researched Oh, Holy Night to create a pamphlet of the song as a gift for a family member. Since that time, Studwell has become a leading expert on Christmas music and has penned several books on the topic, including

Christmas Carols: A Reference Guide
The Christmas Carol Reader (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1995)
The End of the Year: Twelve Original Holiday Songs (Kingsville, TX: The Lyre of Orpheus Press, 1999), which features his own carols.
See also: William E. Studwell and Dorothy E. Jones, Publishing Glad Tidings: Essays on Christmas Music (New York: Haworth Press, 1998).

Professor Studwell is also providing the text notes to the Millennia Collection of Christmas carols.


In 1986, Studwell began naming a Christmas Carol of the Year to share the little-known stories behind the favorite holiday classics and keep the songs in the spotlight.

Professor William Studwell is now retired from Northern Illinois University. This article was posted on the NIU web site.

Note:

 


The Story Behind The Story

The Urban Legends Reference Page, by Barbara and David P. Midelson, has a good article on the background concerning the creation of this story, which I recommend.

There is a story concerning Robert May which is circulating on the Internet titled Rudolph that Amazing Reindeer. No credit for authorship is usually attached, but the author was Stanley A. Frankel (1919-1999). The story was originally titled "The Story Behind Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and appeared in Good Housekeeping, December, 1989 (p. 126)

You can ready Mr. Frankel's article on his web site: Rudolph that Amazing Reindeer (The article is about half-way down the page).

 

 

Go To... Hymns & Carols of Christmas main site.