How a young Jewish girl inspired the most loved Christmas song of all time.
For many people, Christmas will forever be associated with the television specials they watched as children, and there may be no better-loved program than Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The original broadcast of this Rankin/Bass stop-motion classic took place Dec. 6, 1964, on NBC.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Book The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer began in 1939 with a Jewish Chicago copywriter named Robert May. May worked in the ad department of Montgomery Ward, a department store chain second only to Sears as America’s largest retailer. Every year, they purchased and gave away free Christmas colouring books, but they decided that year to create their own. They gave the task of writing it to May with the instructions: make it about an animal. However, Robert May’s story would take a tragic turn. The same year, May’s wife contracted cancer, and when she died a few months later, he was left to raise their young daughter Barbara alone. His employer suggested he quit work on the book and turn in whatever he had done so far but May refused, writing years later, “I needed Rudolph now more than ever.” Remembering his daughter’s love for the deer at the Lincoln Park Zoo, May invented for the subject of his book a little reindeer with a shiny nose. He thought this creature might become a symbol for himself and Barbara that happier times lay ahead. He was right. When Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer came out at Christmas 1939, it was an instant hit. Montgomery Ward gave out 2.4 million copies, and only stopped issuing it afterwards because of wartime restrictions on paper. When they resumed in 1946, it was even more popular. For all his efforts, Robert May never received anything more than his salary, but that changed in 1947. Sewell Avery, the head of Montgomery Ward, perhaps moved by the spirit of the holiday, gave all the rights for Rudolph to the copywriter. It was the first time the company had ever done so.