Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is a popular Christmas song known and loved by children everywhere which tells the story of a red-nosed reindeer. Originally however, the story of Rudolph was just that--a story.
Rudolph the red nosed reindeer was a character created by an employee of Montgomery Ward department stores in 1939. Robert May, an employee of the retailer, was asked to create an idea for the annual Christmas coloring book. Each year, Montgomery Ward stores printed out Christmas coloring books as a way to help draw customers into the store. In response to this request, May created a tale about a reindeer with a red nose based very loosely upon the fairy tale “The Ugly Little Duckling.” Before printing the story, he read it to his young daughter Barbara to “test” the idea to see if it would appeal to children. The story was popular with Barbara and many other children; Montgomery Ward create 2.4 million copies of the story in 1939 alone!
Johnny Marks, a well known song writer, wrote a song about the story that his brother-in-law Robert May had written in 1949. The song, which was recorded by Gene Autry in Hollywood, has sold over 2 million copies since 1949! It has also sold over 8 million sheets of music and has been translated into over 25 different languages.
In addition to writing about Rudolph, Johnny Marks also wrote several other popular Christmas songs including I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree and A Holly Jolly Christmas.
In 1964, an animated television film was created about the song. That film, which was narrated by Burl Ives, is shown each Christmas on television. Johnny Marks also composed the music for this special, which has been seen worldwide by over a billion people.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972. In 1973, the International Society of Santa Claus presented an award to Johnny Marks for writing this popular song. Since then, Mr. Marks has often been referred to as “Mr. Christmas of the music world” or “the man who owns Christmas”.