Saturday, December 6, 2014

Born in Chicago/Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer Part 1

This is part of a multi-part post:Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitz-en,
But do you recall?
The most famous reindeer of all?

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Children the world over know that he has a nose so bright and shiny that it puts W.C. Fields to shame. His navigational skills are quite known as well. A lot of people don't know, however, that Rudolph was born in Chicago, Illinois, the city we are exploring as we so slowly begin our virtual journey down Route 66.

The Birth Of Rudolph

(Wikimedia Commons)
In 1939, Chicago was the home of two of America's largest department store chains. Most people remember the cities connection to Sears, because of its famous tower, and the fact that the company is still in business. Fewer people may remember the long out of business Montgomery Wards. In its day the chain rivaled Sears in stores, products and catalogs sales.

With the nation finally starting to pull out of the Great Depression, Wards wanted to put out a holiday promotion to get children's attention and ultimately sell more toys. They turned to the staff of their copy writing department to come up with a story for a children's book that could be sent out with the catalog. A young copy writer named Robert L. May was given the assignment.

May struggled with the task. Like many writers, he was a shy, withdrawn personality. The loneliness he felt as shy child would be at the core of the character he created. Reindeer had already been a part of Christmas since at least 1821 when William Gilley published a sixteen page booklet titled A New Year's Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve Number III : The Children's Friend which is the first known published account of associating reindeer with Santa Claus and his annual journey. In 1823, Samuel Clark Moore cemented the connection when they animals were mentioned in his timeless Christmas poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (The Night before Christmas),

The team of reindeer that pulled Santa Clauses sleigh was to be at the root of May's story, May decided that Rudolph was a playful alliterative name that he could christen as the stories star. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was born. The famous story of how he was shunned for being different yet redeemed himself by way of the very thing that made him different was truly an American story of individuality and gumption. His glowing red nose acted like the navigation lights on the commercial airplanes that were starting to fly people around the world (just like the reindeer flew the Jolly Old Elf around the world every Christmas Eve).


When May took his story to the management at Montgomery Wards, they took issue with Rudolph's red nose. They were concerned that the public would consider the red nose to be a symbol of drunkenness. Even though liquor and Christmas go hand in hand, they were concerned that some would condemn the stores lack of family values.

May was undaunted. He took an illustrator, Denver Gillam, from the copy department to Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. He had him sketch a reindeer and made sure to include a red nose. It must have been a cute drawing because it won the executives over and the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was approved to be included with the holiday catalog.

The story differed a bit from the story we know and love now. You see Rudolph still had to grow up.

Travels Thru History explains some of the differences from the modern populist story.
For starters, Rudolph was not one of Santa’s standby reindeer. He didn’t live with Santa at the North Pole; he lived somewhere else known only to Robert May.
It wasn’t yet a foggy Christmas Eve when Santa initially found Rudolph. Santa was moving through the house when he saw a strange light coming from the little reindeer’s room. Santa peeked in and saw the bright shining nose. He could hardly believe his eyes.  A few moments later as Santa was getting back into his sleigh he noticed heavy fog beginning to roll in. Santa made an instant decision; he asked for, and received, permission from Rudolph’s parents to hitch the little guy with the strange bright nose to the front of the team of reindeer.
At the end of the night’s journey around the world in which Rudolph made not one wrong turn, Santa said to Rudolph – in the original poem-story by Robert May “ By YOU last night’s journey was actually bossed. Without you, I’m certain we’d all have been lost!”
 Here is modern YouTube reading of the story with sketches.



Rudolph Takes Flight
So far, Rudolph was the star of an admittedly large department store chain, I think of him as sort of the Geico lizard of his day. Well known perhaps, but hardly an iconic Christmas legend. That would change soon, 

Robert L. May, the writer of Rudolph, had a brother-in-law who worked in Radio production. His name was Johnny Marks. He had coincidentally had had some success writing other pop music Christmas songs and saw the potential to adapt the story of Rudolph into song 

Usually, Wards would have owned the copyright. But a Christmas miracle happened here.You see Wards wife had significant medical issues in the 1940's and to pay his medical bills, May asked Wards management, and was given the rights to the character and his story in gratitude for the ads success,

In fact, a 1944 cartoon was released by Max Fliescher provided May with a timely amount of royalties. After the song became a hit it was reworked and re-released with the song as its soundtrack in 1951. Here is the re-released version.



Johnny Marks wrote the classic Christmas carol we all now know and love, that tells the story of Rudolph's childhood and fateful Christmas Eve when he proved himself to be a hero.

Marks did not have immediate success in finding a taker for his song, Reportedly he had sent a demo recording to Perry Como, Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore. They all declined...at first.

Gene Autry had a radio program that was airing out of Chicago at the time. His career was in a bit of slump due to competition new comer Roy Rogers. He was always looking for new material to feed his radio program and when he heard the demo for Rudolph he was skeptical, However, he had some moderate success with a recording of Here Come Santa Claus and it was time for a followup.

Gene liked the underdog theme of redemption though, and his wife Ina seemed to like the song as she would encourage him to record it. From the book Public Cowboy No. 1:The Life and Times of Gene Autry by Holly George-Warren:
Over the years, Gene always told the story that he didn't care for the song either, but that Ina heard Marks's demo acetate and, "enchanted" by its "Ugly Duckling" theme, encouraged him to record it. It became widely acknowledged that if not for Ina, there would be no "Rudolph" by Gene Autry. According to Carl Cotner's widow, Juanita, Marks originally contacted Gene's musical director and "wanted Carl to talk Gene into [recording it]... Johnny Marks had... said, 'I'll give you a piece of the action if you will do it,' and Carl said, 'Well, I don't want that,'... which was not a good business [decision], but that was Carl. Carl had told Gene, 'I think it's a good song for you,' and Carl did the arrangement. When working out the material for the session, Gene said, 'How about that song that you're so crazy about?' They threw it up on the stand, and did it in one take... [Later] a publicity man put it out that it was Ina that talked Gene into it."
Gene's wife was right. The song was released the week of Christmas in 1949 and rocketed to the top top of the charts. The week of January 7, 1950 saw it hit number one. It was the first number one song of the 1950's. But by then it was January, and Christmas was over. The song also has another unusual distinction. It is the only number one hit to disappear COMPLETELY from the charts the following week.

"Single Gene Autry-Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer cover" by May be found at the following website: http://www.tvtoymemories.com/ PICTURE_248.html. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

People loved the song and the following year Bing Crosby charted with a version. Since then one artist after another has had success with the song and Rudolph continues his Christmas miracle in artists royalties for many musicians.

Wikipedia offers a list of versions that is  pretty intensive. I am going to add as many as possible to the video playlist for this post.,You have been warned! Check out this list!

  • 1950: The song was recorded by Bing Crosby. His version reached No. 6 on Billboard magazine's Best Selling Children's Records chart and No. 14 on Billboard's pop singles chart that year.
  • 1950: Spike Jones and his City Slickers released a version of the song that peaked at No. 7 on Billboard magazine's pop singles chart and No. 8 on Billboard's Best Selling Children's Records chart.
  • 1951: Red Foley and The Little Foleys released a version of the song that peaked at No. 8 on Billboard magazine's Best Selling Children's Records chart
  • 1953: Billy May recorded a mambo version of the song titled "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo" with vocals by Alvin Stoller.
  • 1957: The Cadillacs released a doo-wop version of the song that peaked at No. 11 on Billboard magazine's Rhythm & Blues Records chart.[9]
  • 1959: Dean Martin recorded the song for his album, A Winter Romance.
  • 1959: Ray Conniff recorded the song for his album, Christmas with Conniff, which was designed as a presentation for dancing.
  • 1960: Alvin and the Chipmunks recorded a popular cover for their album Around the World with The Chipmunks. They would record the song again for their 1961 album Christmas with The Chipmunks and their 1994 album A Very Merry Chipmunk as a duet with Gene Autry.
  • 1960: The Melodeers released a doo-wop version of the song that peaked at No. 72 on Billboard magazine's Hot 100 singles chart.[10]
  • 1960: Paul Anka released a version of the song that peaked at No. 104 on Billboard magazine's Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart.[11]
  • 1963: The Crystals recorded the song for the rock 'n' roll holiday album A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, which was produced by Phil Spector.
  • 1964: Ernest Tubb recorded a country version on his LP Blue Christmas.
  • 1964: Burl Ives recorded the song for the soundtrack of the holiday TV special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
  • 1965: The Supremes recorded the song for their holiday album, Merry Christmas.
  • 1968: The Temptations released a version of the song that peaked at No. 12 on Billboard magazine's special, year-end, weekly Christmas Singles chart (this same version later got as high as No. 3 on the same chart in December 1971).[12] Their version of the song was also included on the group's 1970 Christmas album, The Temptations Christmas Card.
  • 1970: The Jackson 5 recorded the song for their holiday album, The Jackson 5 Christmas Album.
  • 1977: Filipino singer Rico J. Puno covered the song for his holiday album, Christmas.
  • 1982: Merle Haggard recorded the song for his holiday album, Goin' Home for Christmas.
  • 1985: Ray Charles recorded the song for his holiday album The Spirit of Christmas.
  • 1987: The California Raisins did a Motown pop-influenced rendition of the song for Will Vinton's A Claymation Christmas Celebration.
  • 1989: The Simpsons performed the song during the end credits of the pilot episode "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire".
  • 1990: Dolly Parton recorded the song for her holiday album, Home for Christmas.
  • 1995: Mannheim Steamroller produced a techno-like synth-driven arrangement on their album Christmas in the Aire.
  • 1996: Alan Jackson released a version of the song that peaked at No. 56 on Billboard magazine's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.[13]
  • 1996: The Wiggles recorded this song for their album, Wiggly, Wiggly Christmas. A year later, they sang it on their video, Wiggly Wiggly Christmas.
  • 1996: Peach Hips, a group consisting of Kotono Mitsuishi, Aya Hisakawa, Rica Fukami, Emi Shinohara and Michie Tomizawa covered this song for a Christmas album coinciding with the fifth season of Sailor Moon.
  • 1998: Babyface recorded the song for his holiday album, Christmas with Babyface.
  • 1999: Jewel recorded the song for her holiday album, Joy: A Holiday Collection.
  • 1999: Ringo Starr recorded the song for his holiday album, I Wanna Be Santa Claus.
  • 2000: Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded the song for their holiday album, Christmas Time Again.
  • 2002: Jack Johnson recorded the song for a various artists holiday album released by Nettwerk Records and titled Maybe This Christmas (this same version was also released on the 2008 various artists holiday album, This Warm December: Brushfire Holiday Volume 1, which was released on Johnson's record label Brushfire Records).
  • 2003: Chicago released a jazz-funk arrangement of the song for their album, What's It Gonna Be, Santa
  • 2004: Destiny's Child included the song on a reissue of their 2001 holiday album, 8 Days of Christmas.
  • 2004: Rugrats characters Susie Carmichael, and Kimi Finster performed a Rock version of the song for their 2004 album Rugrats Holiday Classics
  • 2007: 1910 Fruitgum Company recorded the song for their Christmas album, Bubblegum Christmas.
  • 2008: Jack Johnson Recorded for his Record Labels Holiday Compilation album, "This Warm December"
  • 2009: Barry Manilow included the song in the re-release of his third Christmas album, In the Swing of Christmas.
  • 2012: Rapper DMX performed an a cappella version of the song with his own ad-libs.[14]
  • 2012: Metalcore band August Burns Red recorded and released the song on their holiday album, August Burns Red Presents: Sleddin' Hill.
Playlist Additions
            
                   To Download songs and albums from Amazon CLICK HERE

Today's playlist feature the songs in my personal collection that are listed in the Wikipedia list above. As I promised, just about every song in the above list made it onto the video playlist.


  • Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits Gene Autry 3:16
  • Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer Swingin' With Bing: Bing Crosby's Lost Radio Performances Ella Fitzgerald & Bing Crosby 2:30
  • Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo Mambo Santa Mambo: Christmas From The Latin Lounge Billy May Orchestra 2:40
  • Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer Dean Martin - Return To Me Dean Martin 2:18
  • Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector The Crystals 2:34
  • Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Have A Holly Jolly Christmas  Burl Ives 2:10
  • Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Merry Christmas Diana Ross & The Supremes 2:44
  • Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer Christmas In The Aire Mannheim Steamroller 3:15
  • Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer Chicago Christmas: What's It Gonna Be, Santa? Chicago 3:45




Signing Off And Coming Attractions

There is more to tell about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and we will do that next week. I hope you can join us, Until the, I'd love to hear from you in the comments, Who performs YOUR favorite version of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer? Merry Christmas everybody!


  • Next Week: The Story or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer continues as we look at his career on television and in movies as well as his move into legendary Christmas character status.
  • Two Weeks: Old Town San Diego is our jumping of point into exploring the Christmas Season in San Diego California.
  • Three Weeks: We recap the the year by looking at what we have seen in the rear view mirror.



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