The Montgomery Ward company, the Chicago-based retail operator, had purchased and distributed children's coloring books as Christmas gifts for their customers for several years. In 1939, Montgomery Ward used one of their own employees to create a book for them, thus saving money. Robert L. May, a 34-year old copywriter, wrote the story of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer in 1939, and 2.4 million copies were handed out that year. Despite the wartime, when paper was at a premium, over 6 million copies were distributed by 1946.
May's inspiration for the story was "The Ugly Duckling" as well as his own childhood experiences as an often picked-on, small, fragile boy to create the story of the misfit reindeer. Other names were pondered, including Rollo and Reginald . But May decided on Rudolph as his reindeer's name. Writing in verse as a series of rhyming couplets, May read his rhymes to his four-year old daughter, Barbara, to see if it would appeal to kids. She loved the story.
Sadly, Robert's wife died around the time he was creating Rudolph, and he was stuck with a huge debt in medical bills. However, he convinced Montgomery Ward's corporate president, Sewell Avery, to turn the copyright over to him in January 1947, thus ensuring May's financial security.
May's story "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was printed commercially in 1947 and, a year later, a nine-minute cartoon of the story was shown in theaters. When May's brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the lyrics and melody for the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", the Rudolph phenomenon was born. Many musical artists were hesitant to record a song, afraid to contend with the legend of Santa Claus. But in 1949, at the urging of his wife, Gene Autry sang what turned out to be a hit. The song sold two million copies that year, going on to become one of the best-selling songs of all time, second only to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas". The 1964 television special about Rudolph, narrated by Burl Ives, remains a holiday favorite to this day and Rudolph himself has become a much-loved Christmas icon.
Merry Christmas to you... and Happy New Year!!!