Be More Like Rudolph
When Santa needs help guiding his sleigh, who does he turn to? Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, of course. How else would he get gifts to all the boys and girls all over the world? Without a doubt, Rudolph is the most famous reindeer of all but other than his nose, what do we really know about him?
Rudolph was “born” in 1939. Robert May, a copywriter for Montgomery Ward, was asked to write a Christmas story in the form of a booklet to be given away to customers. Often taunted as a child himself, he decided to write about a reindeer ostracized by the other reindeer for a physical deformity, a glowing red nose. May struggled for a name for the reindeer and considered Rollo and Reginald before deciding on Rudolph. As he developed the story, he tested it out on his 4-year-old daughter. His boss, however, wasn’t nearly as excited about the story as his daughter. Afterall, aren’t red noses associated with people who drink a lot? That was unacceptable. May stuck to his guns and to prove that a reindeer with a red nose would make a great story, he took his friend from the Montgomery Ward’s art department, Denver Gillen, to the Lincoln Park Zoo to sketch some reindeer with red noses. May’s boss finally approved the idea. That year, 2.4 million copies of the Rudolph booklet were distributed. By the end of 1946, that number increased to 6 million and would have been much higher had there not been a paper shortage due to the war.
May’s wife died from a terminal illness about the time he created Rudolph and he was deeply in debt with medical expenses. Even though May created Rudolph, he was an employee of Montgomery Ward and they held the copyright to Rudolph. May didn’t make a penny on his creation. In January of 1947, May convinced Sewell Avery, the corporate president, to turn the copyright over to him and his financial security was no longer an issue.
The Rudolph booklet was reprinted in 1947 and in 1948 it was shown in theaters as a 9-minute cartoon. It really took off when May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, turned the Rudolph story into a song. Many in the music industry weren’t interested in the song. In 1949 it was recorded by Gene Autry and went on to become one of the best-selling songs of all time. In 1964, Rudolph became a television special and is a holiday favorite to this day. Both the song and the television show differ greatly from the booklet May wrote but he is credited for Rudolph’s creation.
Now that we know how Rudolph was created, how much do we actually know about real reindeer? Reindeer are a species of deer and in North America are called caribou. They live in the Arctic tundra and forests of Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska and Canada. Both males and females have antlers. Males’ antlers can grow 7 feet in length and can have as many as 44 points or “tines”. In captivity they can live up to 20 years but only 15 years in the wild. Males can grow up to 4 feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 550 pounds. Females are slightly smaller. Their predators include wolverines, bears and even eagles.
Can reindeer live in hot climates like Texas? Yes, they can. As a matter of fact, there’s a reindeer ranch called the Double R Reindeer Ranch just outside of Dallas. To stay cool, reindeer need shade and bodies of water to wade in. One Texas reindeer owner says he puts wet sand on the barn floor and uses fans to cool the animals in hot weather.
With Christmas just around the corner, I think it’s the perfect time to think about Rudolph and the message in his story. Rudolph always knew he was a little different but he let his light shine regardless of what others said. Don’t hide who you are; your difference can be your strength. Let’s all be more like Rudolph!