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The story of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer was written in 1939 by Robert L. May, a copywriter for the Chicago-based Montgomery Ward department stores, as a promotional gift for the store's customers. The stores had bought and distributed coloring books every Christmas and saw writing their own story as a way to save money. Montgomery Ward distributed 2.4 million copies of the Rudolph booklet in 1939. A total of 6 million copies had been given out by the end of 1946, even though wartime paper shortages restricted printing.
The story reflects May's own childhood difficulties as the smallest boy in his class. He was taunted for being a frail, scrawny misfit.
The reindeer was almost named Rollo or Reginald. May considered both these named before settling on Rudolph.
Rudolph's story was made into a song when May's brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, developed the lyrics and melody for it. Marks' musical version was first recorded by Gene Autry in 1949, selling 2 million copies that year.
Autry didn't want anything to do with this song. It was his wife who talked him into recording it, and it went on to become the second biggest-selling Christmas song of all time, next to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas
." (thanks, Jeff - Boston, MA)
Autry was known as "The Singing Cowboy." He teamed up with Roy Rogers in the 1930's and 40's to make movies in a new genré called "Musical Westerns." Autry had his own TV show in the 1950's and was the owner of the California Angels baseball team, now known as the Anaheim Angels. Autry, who died in 1998, is the only person with 5 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which he earned for motion pictures, radio, music recording, television, and live theater.
This song was the basis for a children's TV Special made in 1964. It was narrated by Burl Ives, and became a Christmas classic.
The Chipmunks did a version of this that was a hit in 1960.
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