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The Real Story Behind Rudolph

Ever wonder how or where Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer came from? You may be surprised at this popular holiday character's origin.

Ever wonder what the real story is behind Rudolph?

“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” was “born” in the spring of 1939, at a time when the world was on the verge of a colossal war. He was the creation of Robert L. May, an advertising copywriter for the Montgomery Ward department stores, and the brother-in-law of composer Johnny Marks. Supposedly during a quiet lunch hour, May dreamed up Rudolph for a Christmas pamphlet as a promotional gimmick for Wards.

This pamphlet was used by Montgomery Ward for several years. In 1947, the chairman of Wards made an outright gift of the copyright of the verse to its creator, May. May found a book publisher for it, and 100,000 copies were sold that very same year.

Put It To Music!

In 1949, May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, put the story of Rudolph to music and had the song published. However, finding the right singer for the quaint little song was not easy. Marks thought he had Perry Como lined up, but Como wanted a line in the song changed. Marks refused to even change a comma; he was certain that he had a hit, so he looked elsewhere.

Gene Autry, the famed cowboy and country-and-western singer, was approached, but he thought the song too childish for his image.

It Was A Hit!

Marks had a demonstration record made up by another country singer and sent that to Autry, who liked what he heard. With an added push from Mrs. Autry, Gene grudgingly agreed to record Rudolph. It was one of the best decisions he ever made: the sales of  “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” surpassed any other song Autry recorded.

And the rest, as they say, is “his-stor-y!”

This article was published by the staff at Farmers' Almanac. Interested in becoming a guest author? Contact us to let us know!

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pat zavagnin

I remember the Christmas that Gene Autry recorded this song. I was 6 years old, and it was a real treat to listen to it on the radio.

laura

Saw this on here s few days ago.

Wife:and just how do you know it is going to rain.

Rudolph:
Rudolph the Red
Knows
Rain
Dear

Bill Bacon

The Rudolph album by Gene Autry was the first record my mother brought for me back in the mid 60’s . I still have it and it sounds great on my restored 1950’s Blaupunk stereo console. RIP Gene Autry, “you brought smiles to millions of people both young and old a like”

Betsy Walker

When I lived in South Dakota around 35 years ago I met the woman who actually wrote it. She worked for Ward at the time. He took her creation and presented it as his own and never gave her the credit.

balla1022

As the saying goes…Behind every successful man there is a woman pushing!

ROSALINA GOMES

I was 20 years old when i first heard this song, didn’t understand a word of it then. I’m 57 years old and i still love to hear this song at Christmas time!

Karen from Arkansas

And….Dasher was his father, and Dancer was his Mom….how cool is that.

Jeanine Taylor

He and Clarice (Clarisse ) are SO CUTE!!! I watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at least twice every Christmas season!

Phil Moody

I remember that we had a Montgomery Wards catalog in the house, along with the Spiegel and Sears, and a catalog store on Maine Street. I also remember when Dad brought the pamphlet about Roudolph home with him. We wore it out reading it!

Truth

Actually this is not the truth. An English man wrote this song because his son was different and had disabilities. He wrote this remembering his son. This showed that people were different and it was ok.

Sandi Duncan

‘@ truth – well I like your reason behind cause we all know how hard it is to be different, but all of our research points to the story being as stated. However, we did learn that May, did want Rudolph to be somewhat of an underdog and different as he felt like that growing up. Rudolph is a great story for all ages. Thanks,

kathleen

my 6 year old son requests this song every Christmas on our local country station on the radio. I have the record of this song.

Elaine Geen

Whenever you hear the song you can’t help but smile and sing a long.

Liz1388

Proof was needed that women “have always been involved in major world events”?! LOL
I assume you meant this is *documentation* that women have been instrumental behind the scenes in getting at least trivial stuff accomplished?

The irony you probably aren’t aware of is how instrumental Mr. Autry was in helping to suppress women’s participation in amateur and professional sports after he became influential – particularly in rodeos. Set women back decades. Too bad Mrs. Autry didn’t push him to be more enlightened.

Pam McGuffey

Another case that proves that women have always been involved in major world events! Thank you, Mrs Autry!

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