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Robert L May the author of the story of Rudolph the red nosed reindeer

Robert L May the author of the story of Rudolph the red nosed reindeer

We are all familiar with the story of Rudolph the red nosed reindeer but there is a touching story involving its author that is not so well known.

Almost as popular as Santa himself is his sometimes lead reindeer with a glowing red nose, Rudolph. Unlike Santa’s history, the story of Rudolph can be traced back to a specific author: Robert L. May. May was a copywriter for Montgomery Ward department stores in 1939. The company had been buying and giving away coloring books at Christmas time for many years. May’s boss thought they could save some money by printing their own books and asked May to come up with a story. May thought up the idea of a misfit reindeer who saves the day for Santa on a foggy Christmas Eve.

The story of Rudolph was written originally for a coloring in book for a Department Store

The story of Rudolph was written originally for a coloring in book for a Department Store

The story took off, but unfortunately May did not own the rights. His employer, Montgomery Ward, did.

With a generosity not often seen in the corporate world, in 1947 the company’s President turned the rights over to May, who was in debt because of his wife’s terminal illness.

How many companies do you know that would make a gesture like that? This was not an insignificant gesture either as the rights were  worth a lot of money. It was certainly a gesture made in the spirit of what Christmas is meant to be all about.

With a hit song written in 1949 by May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, and a TV special in 1964, May’s financial security was assured and Rudolph earned a permanent spot in American Christmas pop culture.

-unmuseum.org

May, photographed with his daughter, Barbara, right, next to a first edition cover, left, was a Dartmouth College graduate.

May, photographed with his daughter, Barbara, right, next to a first edition cover, left, was a Dartmouth College graduate. -photo dailymail.co.uk

 

May’s (Jewish) wife, Evelyn, had contracted cancer in 1937 and was quite ill as he started on the book in early 1939.May “drew on memories of his own painfully shy childhood when creating his Rudolph stories.”He decided on making a deer the central character of the book because his then 4-year-old daughter, Barbara, loved the deer in the Chicago zoo.He ran verses and chapters of the Rudolph poem by Barbara to make sure they entertained children. The final version of the poem was first read to Barbara and his wife’s parents…

…In 1947, Harry Elbaum, the head of Maxton Publishers, a small New York publishing company, took a chance and put out an updated print edition of the Rudolph (poem) book. Other publishers had passed on the book, believing that the distribution of millions of free copies had ruined the market.The book was a best seller.

In 1948, May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote (words and music) an adaptation of Rudolph. Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, it 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”.

-Wiki


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