As the holiday season of 1938 came to Chicago, Bob May wasn’t feeling much comfort or joy. A 34-year-old ad writer for Montgomery Ward, May was exhausted and nearly broke. His wife, Evelyn, was bedridden, on the losing end of a two-year battle with cancer. This left Bob to look after their four-year old-daughter, Barbara.
One night, Barbara asked her father, “Why isn’t my mommy like everybody else’s mommy?” As he struggled to answer his daughter’s question, Bob remembered the pain of his own childhood. A small, sickly boy, he was constantly picked on and called names. But he wanted to give his daughter hope, and show her that being different was nothing to be ashamed of. More than that, he wanted her to know that he loved her and would always take care of her. So he began to spin a tale about a reindeer with a bright red nose who found a special place on Santa’s team. Barbara loved the story so much that she made her father tell it every night before bedtime. As he did, it grew more elaborate. Because he couldn’t afford to buy his daughter a gift for Christmas, Bob decided to turn the story into a homemade picture book.
In early December, Bob’s wife died. Though he was heartbroken, he kept working on the book for his daughter. A few days before Christmas, he reluctantly attended a company party at Montgomery Ward. His co-workers encouraged him to share the story he’d written. After he read it, there was a standing ovation. Everyone wanted copies of their own. Montgomery Ward bought the rights to the book from their debt-ridden employee. Over the next six years, at Christmas, they gave away six million copies of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to shoppers. Every major publishing house in the country was making offers to obtain the book. In an incredible display of good will, the head of the department store returned all rights to Bob May. Four years later, Rudolph had made him into a millionaire.
Now remarried with a growing family, May felt blessed by his good fortune. But there was more to come. His brother-in-law, a successful songwriter named Johnny Marks, set the uplifting story to music. The song was pitched to artists from Bing Crosby on down. They all passed. Finally, Marks approached Gene Autry. The cowboy star had scored a holiday hit with “Here Comes Santa Claus” a few years before. Like the others, Autry wasn’t impressed with the song about the misfit reindeer. Marks begged him to give it a second listen. Autry played it for his wife, Ina. She was so touched by the line “They wouldn’t let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games” that she insisted her husband record the tune.
Within a few years, it had become the second best-selling Christmas song ever, right behind “White Christmas.” Since then, Rudolph has come to life in TV specials, cartoons, movies, toys, games, coloring books, greeting cards and even a Ringling Bros. circus act. The little red-nosed reindeer dreamed up by Bob May and immortalized in song by Johnny Marks has come to symbolize Christmas as much as Santa Claus, evergreen trees and presents. As the last line of the song says, “He’ll go down in history.”
oh, I absolutely love this history, Jennie. thank you so much for sharing it –
Isn’t it just the best history? Thank you, Beth!
Reblogged this on NEW BLOG HERE >> https:/BOOKS.ESLARN-NET.DE.
Thank you, Michael!
Thanks for sharing this wonderful story, Jennie! Best wishes, Michael
I’m so glad you liked it, Michael. One of the best!
Thank you so much for sharing this story, Jennie. Merry Christmas.
I’m so glad you liked it, Dan. Merry Christmas!
How lovely, Jennie 🎄🎅🎁
Thank you, Ritu!🎄
This is indeed an amazing story. One that depicts the spirit of Christmas as much as the Rudolf Story itself. My dad was a huge Gene Autrey fan and he sang this song to us every Christmas. Later, I bought the Gene Autrey album and played it for my kids every year. (now I sing it to my dogs). Thanks so much for sharing it!!
Hi Darlene, it is truly an amazing story, and to think that Gene Autrey was the one who recorded the song, and your dad sang it to you- and then you bought the record and sing it to your dogs. That makes the story even better! Merry Christmas!🎄
Jennie, I had no idea! This makes me love the song even more! Thank you for sharing! 💚💚😭😭🙏🏻🙏🏻🎄🎄🎄
It is an incredible story, Karla. It gives me faith and hope, and it makes me feel good. I’m so glad you liked it! Merry Christmas.🎄
Fantastic Jennie… Sending you much love and may many more magical moments surrounding your students whom you have helped SEE Magic through your eyes in many of the books you have shared with them..
Happy Christmas and all the very best for 2023.. ❤ Love Sue xx
Thank you so much, Sue! Merry Christmas!!🎄
Lovely story Jennie!
I’m glad you liked it, FR! Thank you.
I live the snowman! Merry Christmas, GP.🎄
Thanks for sharing. Wouldn’t let him play reindeer games …. I remember how that line stuck with me as a kid. Interesting to know the story behind it. Thanks for sharing!
Yes, and that message is still being taught today (thank goodness). It’s #1 in my preschool class. It’s quite a wonderful story.
That is so cool. I did not know this story of that story. Thanks for gifting it here!
And happy holidays!
Glad you liked it! Yes, what a story! Merry Christmas.
Jennie, I hope you don’t mind but Kid linked this post over at the Saddle Up Saloon. There’s a few characters holed up there but they’ve got a cheery fire going and are telling stories. There’s some music. It’s not a bad place to be.
Thank you so much!
See ya there!
I never knew the entire backstory. Thank you, Jennie.
Isn’t it just wonderful? Thank you, Don.
What a wonderful story!! I never knew this is how the story came to be.
I was bowled over when I learned about Bob May and Rudolph. One of the best stories!
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Thank you, Sharon!
Thanks for this lovely story, Jennie.
You’re welcome, John.
Thanks so much for sharing this beauitful Christmas story and history of Rudolph, Jennie! 🎄 Wishing you A Very Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year! xo
Hi Bette, I’m so glad you liked it. Merry Christmas to you!🎄
Lovely Jennie. Merry Christmas! 🔔🎉🎅🎁🎄
Thank you, Cindy! Merry Christmas to you.🎄
The story of its origins is as touching as the story itself.
Yes, very much so!
I love this Jennie. I still have my old copy of Rudolph (with a similar cover) from when I was a child. What a heartwarming story about the author.
I think it is one of the best stories, too. I’m so glad you still have your old copy!! Merry Christmas, Carla.🎄
Oh my wow! I never knew this. There are stories of miracles all over the world. This is the gift, the magic I need. We all need it. Thank you and happy holidays.
Isn’t it just the best? Yes, there are miracles all over the world, and this one is truly a gift. Merry Christmas to you, Mireya.
Nice story and love it to read.
Heartwarming story to read on Christmas Eve. I never knew the back history to the song – I dont think I was aware it was a story either. Thanks so much for sharing.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Jennie. I hope you have a good break.
Thanks so much, Brenda. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Merry Christmas.🎄
I lived 70 years and never knew any of this! It is pretty much the most perfect Christmas story ever!
Best wishes, Pete.
Isn’t it an amazing story? Yes, perfect is the right word. Best to you, Pete.
Jennie, thank you for this wonderful story!
Isn’t it just the best?
Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
Please enjoy this wonderful post from Jennie, the excellent teacher!
Thank you, Charles!
Thanks for this important backstory regarding “Rudolph!” I knew about Bob May, but I didn’t know about his ill/dying wife or that the story evolved as a way to comfort and inspire their young daughter. Hurrah for the healing spirit of creativity (even when catalyzed by great pain) and hurrah for the Montgomery Ward leadership not to have held onto the copyright for May’s story! I believe his (new) brother-in-law, the composer and songwriter Johnny Marks, was Jewish, and Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_L._May) tells us that May was Jewish, too — and managed to attend Dartmouth while his first wife was a Radcliffe graduate. 1939, the year he created “Rudolph” was also the year that Hitler closed down all Jewish businesses in Germany and invaded Poland, triggering the declaration of war against Germany by Allied countries such as the UK, Australia, France, and Canada. The line “They wouldn’t let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games” takes on an even deeper poignance to me when this geopolitical layer of history is added to the tale of how “Rudolph” came to be created… Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
Hi Will! Thank you for this. The Wikipedia article gives even more detail to the story.
Yes, I believe Marks was Jewish. Honestly, Jewish people are givers, well educated, with a great appreciation for the arts. I think perhaps that’s why many composers are Jewish. I will never understand prejudice, especially when it comes to people who are givers. Growing up, my good friends were Jewish, but that wasn’t important; what was important was them-as good people with an appreciation for arts and education. I think you are spot on with the importance of the line, “They wouldn’t let poor Rudolph join n any reindeer games” at the time when the Nazi’s invaded Poland. I’m so glad the story and the importance of giving and caring is a message today (although you wouldn’t think so listening to the news). Have I ever told you the back story of Eric Carle in Nazi Germany? Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
I do not remember reading about Eric Carle’s backstory on your blog. Have you written a blog post about it that I could refer to?
Hmmm… yes, I have. I’ll see if I can find it for you.
Interesting, I never knew this. Thanks for sharing this story ❤️
I don’t think I’ve heard this story, Jennie. Thanks for sharing it here. I was working on my own twist for Rudolph, but didn’t finish it in time. Maybe next year. Hugs.
Glad you enjoyed the story, Teagan. It’s a heart warmer. Yes, your Rudolph and next year will be here before you know it.
Beautiful, thanks for sharing.
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