"I saw that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was on the other day and I refused to watch it. It just seems so early! But I probably should have tuned in for two reasons: it might have been my only shot this season, and it would have been nice of me to acknowledge everyone’s favorite Christmas misfit on his 70th birthday. To make up for neglecting our crimson-nosed friend, we’ll dedicate today’s Q10 to him."
1. Rudolph was created in 1939 when the department store Montgomery Ward asked one of their writers, 34-year-old Robert May, to come up with a character they could base coloring books around so they would have freebies to hand out to the kiddies who came to visit Mr. Claus. As you can probably tell, the character was a huge hit. Montgomery Ward gave out 2.4 million copies of the Rudolph booklet in the first year alone and Rudolph ended up going commercial.
2. Although the song has become synonymous with Christmas at this point, “Rudolph” is actually still copyrighted.
3. He could have been Rollo the red-nosed reindeer or Reginald the red-nosed reindeer. Those were two of the names considered before May settled on the name we know today. Rollo was rejected for sounding too sunny and happy; Reginald sounded too British.
4. If you grew up in Finland, you’re probably be more familiar with Petteri Punakuono than Rudolph. Peterri is Rudy’s Finnish counterpart. The Finnish legend of Santa Claus (AKA Joulupukki) doesn’t name his reindeer the same way we do – Dasher, Dancer Donner and so on – so the beginning of the song doesn’t start out the same way. Instead of running through the laundry list of reindeer the Finnish version translates to something like, “You remember Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding hood, and the grey wolf, but this reindeer is often forgotten.”
5. Apparently Rudolph hooked up with Clarice at some point, because he has a son named Robbie. At least, he does according to the BBC. They developed three cartoons based on Rudolph’s offspring, but the name of Robbie’s famous dad is never actually mentioned. The plotline tells us that the villain of the series, Blitzen, can’t stand to hear Rudolph’s name. In reality, it’s because the BBC couldn’t get permission to use it (or didn’t want to pay to use it). If you haven’t seen the British version but still remember Robbie, that’s because Fox Family ran the show for a few years in the early ’00s with redubbed voices, including Ben Stiller as Robbie, Hugh Grant as Blitzen, Britney Spears as Donner, Leah Remini as Vixen, and Brad Garrett as Prancer.
6. Although the character came out in 1939, the song wasn’t recorded until 1949. It was May’s brother-in-law who wrote the lyrics for it; Gene Autry recorded it. He actually almost passed on the song, but his wife urged him to go ahead and give it a shot. The song hit #1 on the charts during the week of Christmas, then plummeted right off them entirely. It’s the only song in history to ever hit #1 and then just disappear.
7. In addition to being named Reginald or Rollo, Rudolph almost guided Santa’s sleigh much differently. Instead of having a red, glowing nose that could cut through the fog, May considered giving Rudolph large, headlight-like eyes that would light the way. After much consideration, he decided that mean kids would be more likely to make fun of a red nose than huge eyes. Which is a good thing… that would have changed the song drastically! “Rollo, the bug-eyed reindeer, had very large protruding eyes.” No??
8. Speaking of the song, songwriter Johnny Marks specialized in Christmas songs. We have him to thank for Rudolph, obviously, but also “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Run Rudolph Run” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas” (in addition to a bunch of lesser-known Christmas songs). The irony? Marks was Jewish.
9. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the stop motion animated T.V. special, is the longest-runing Christmas T.V. special of all time.
10. The puppets used for that T.V. special disappeared for many years. When they resurfaced, they did so on Antiques Roadshow in 2006. Well, not all of them – just Santa and Rudolph. A woman who worked for Rankin-Bass, the company who made the show, had stored them in her attic since at least the ’70s. Prior to that, she let her kids play with them. Rudolph last his red nose and somehow Santa’s eyebrows disappeared. But they were fully restored after their trip to Antiques Roadshow and have been displayed at the Center for Puppetry Arts for visitors to see. The new owner hopes that the puppets can go on national tour so more people can enjoy them.