Saturday, December 13, 2014

Television Fame And Commercial Success/Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer Part 2

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

Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.
Hermey the Elf And Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer from the 1964 TV Special (Wikipedia)

Chicago, Illinois,  the start of Route 66 has many legendary characters associated with it. Perhaps the most famous is a character that few associate with the city, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. As we learned last week, he was created in Chicago to be used in a Christmas catalog for Montgomery Ward. The brother in law of the stories author wrote a song about him and Gene Autry made it a hit. A lot of artist recorded the song and we looked at many of them. Now lets take a look at how Rudolph's fame continued to grow.

2014 is the fiftieth anniversary of the release of what has become a staple of the Christmas Season. In 1964, NBC aired a Christmas special that was sponsored by GE. The film was a stop motion children's animation that retold the story of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer,

Happy Fiftieth Rudolph! (Wkipedia)!

The film was created by the animation team of Rankin/Bass Productions. They were ran a young animation company called Videocraft International that had just a few films to their credit when they created this classic for NBC and their sponsor GE.

Johnny Marks, the writer of the song Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, was recruited to compose a score for the production. This may seems surprising since it was so long after he originally wrote the song fifteen years before in 1949.

During that time, however, Marks was not sitting still. The Jewish-American songwriter had made a career out of Christmas music. The list of songs he wrote is fairly long and the number of hits he wrote is quite impressive. Here is a list from from Wikipedia:
  • Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer – 1949 (inspired by a poem by Robert L. May, Marks' brother-in-law)
  • When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter – 1952
  • The Night Before Christmas Song – 1952
  • An Old-Fashioned Christmas – 1952
  • Everyone's a Child at Christmas – 1956
  • Run Rudolph Run - 1958
  • Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree – 1958
  • A Merry, Merry Christmas to You – 1959
  • The Santa Claus Parade – 1959
  • A Caroling We Go - 1966
  • Joyous Christmas - 1969
Back to our story. Johnny Marks composed a complete score for the film. Several of the songs from the score have gone on to become Christmas classics in their own right. Here is the play list from the film. Again, from Wikipedia.
  • A Holly Jolly Christmas
  • Jingle, Jingle, Jingle
  • The Most Wonderful Day of the Year
  • Silver and Gold
  • We Are Santa's Elves
  • There's Always Tomorrow
  • The Island of Misfit Toys
  • We're a Couple of Misfits
Just as the song was a little different story than the book, the TV special was a different story than the song. Or rather, it is the same story with quite a few embellishments. To tell this expanded story Burl Ives was cast as the narrator. 

Burl Ives had been a popular performer since the 1940's and had 20 Billboard charting singles before 1960. He specialized in folk songs with an occasional bit of a country edge. He was a great choice to reprise the flavor of Autry's original hit, while making it uniquely his own. In Sam The Snowman, Ives' character,  Rankin/Bass Productions created a character that both perfectly fit the Christmas North Pole fantasy they were creating as well as doing a fine job of resembling Burl while still looking like a classic snowman.

Burl Ives told the story in the film, I will leave up to Wikipedia to tell us:
Santa Claus's reindeer Donner's wife gives birth to a fawn named Rudolph, but the two are shocked to discover that Rudolph's unusually red nose is capable of glowing. When Santa Claus visits their cave to meet the fawn and sees the glowing nose, he warns Mr. & Mrs. Donner that Rudolph won't be able to pull the sleigh if he continues to carry this trait for the rest of his life. Consequently, Donner tries to conceal Rudolph's nose at first with mud and later a small round cap. 
A year later, Rudolph's parents take him out to the reindeer games where Rudolph, along with all of the other young bucks, will be trained to fly and pull Santa's sleigh when they get older. There, Rudolph meets a friendly reindeer named Fireball and they quickly become friends. The pair then sees a group of does including one named Clarice, who seems to love Rudolph. Fireball then encourages Rudolph to speak with her. She thinks he's cute which causes Rudolph to perform a dazzling leap into the air and fly. However, when Rudolph and Fireball engage in celebratory play, the cover pops off Rudolph's nose and unveils his "non-conformity," scaring Fireball and ending their friendship. All of the other yearlings then make fun at Rudolph's nose and he is not allowed to join in any more reindeer games. Clarice, who is not the least bit bothered by Rudolph's secret, catches up with the sulking Rudolph to try to comfort him. Soon after, Clarice's father forbids her to hang around with Rudolph, breaking his heart and runs away. Meanwhile, an elf named Hermey dreams of becoming a dentist rather than making toys. His supervisor is outraged at his persistent disruption with his dentistry studies. Feeling ridiculed and misunderstood, Hermey also decides to run away. Later, Rudolph meets up with Hermey and the pair decide to set off together. 
Along the way, they meet a cheerfully and boisterous prospector named Yukon Cornelius, who dreams of discovering silver and gold, before the trio bumps into the Abominable Snow Monster who is attracted to Rudolph's nose. Escaping on an iceberg, they arrive on the Island of Misfit Toys where unwanted toys live with a winged lion named King Moonracer, until he can find homes for them. The king agrees to let them stay for one night in exchange for a promise from Rudolph that as soon as he, Yukon, and Hermey return, they will ask Santa to deliver the Misfit Toys to children who need them. However, Rudolph decides to leave the island alone knowing that his nose will endanger his friends. 
Rudolph grows older and drifts from place to place, making and losing friends as he is continually rejected for his glowing nose. Eventually deciding to go home, he returns to his cave to find that his parents, along with Clarice, have left to search for him. Rudolph then sets out to find his family and discovers that they have been captured by the Abominable Snow Monster, who plans to eat them. After a brief fight, Rudolph is knocked unconscious. Fortunately, Hermey and Yukon Cornelius arrive and hatch a rescue plan. Luring the monster out of the cave, the pair knock the Snow Monster unconscious and Hermey extracts his teeth. Rudolph awakens, but he and his family are blocked from their escape by the also awakened beast who blocks the entrance to the cave. Yukon chases the now toothless monster to a cliff, driving him off the edge. 
Mourning Yukon's loss, Rudolph, the Donners, Clarice, and Hermey nonetheless return home. where everyone apologizes for the way they acted while telling them about their adventure. Santa promises Rudolph that he'll find homes for all the Misfit Toys, the Elf Foreman agrees to let Hermey open his own dentist's office a week after Christmas, and even Donner apologizes to Rudolph for being critical about his nose. Upon celebrating, Yukon returns with a tamed Abominable Snow Monster, now a kinder and gentler monster. However, a huge blizzard blows in which threatens to cancel Santa's flight. 
While announcing the news to the elves and reindeer, Santa is caught by Rudolph's gleaming nose and decides that its light could cut through the storm. Meanwhile, the Misfit Toys, grieving about being left out and unloved, are cheered up when Santa and Rudolph arrive to pick them up. The special ends with Santa wishing the viewers a merry Christmas as he and Rudolph fly off into the night.
Rudolph and Clarise (Flickr User dackelprincess/CC)
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer's animation was done in studios in Japan. The "Animagic" production were headed by Japanese stop-motion animator Tadahito Mochinaga. He would go onto do several more Christmas specials for Rankin/Bass Productions  in his distinctive style. You may also remember him from his work in Santa Claus Is Coming To Town or The Little Drummer Boy.

Here is a YouTube playlist created by YouTube user Holiday Favorites. It is the closest thing I could find to the complete special to share.

The show has been re aired for years and a few changes have happened along the way. In the original airing a completely different ending occurred. Santa made no return visit to the Island of Misfit Toys. Instead Yukon Cornelius finally found what he had been looking for all along. To our surprise, it was a peppermint mine that he sought and eventually found. Letters flooded into to NBC from concerned children asking how Santa could forget the misfit toys. A new ending was written win which Santa returned to the island as rescued the misfit toys. Because of time constraints, the mine scenes were cut, leaving Yukon an unfulfilled prospector in search of silver and gold.

To complicate matters, a new song Fame And Fortune was written to replace the reprise of the original song, We're A Couple of Misfits. A few other scenes were cut down as well. In the late 1990's We're A Couple Of Misfits was reintroduced to broadcast version. Since then further editting has been done to make room for more commercial space. And as we will see, Rudolph has been no stranger to commercial space.

A few other trivial points that don't really belong anywhere else came from a list found at a site called The FW.

  • According to Ken Muller, brother of ‘Rudolph’ screenwriter Romeo Muller, the original name for Hermey the Elf was supposed to be “Herbie” in honor of a childhood friend. Meanwhile, Clarice (Rudolph’s girlfriend) was named after the future bride of another friend.
  • Yukon Cornelius has an interesting sled dog team. Instead of Siberian Huskies or Alaskan Malamutes, his rag-tag team of pooches include a Poodle, a Cocker Spaniel, a Saint Bernard, a Dachshund and a Collie.
  • On the Island of Misfit Toys, Dolly for Sue seems perfectly normal on the outside, and for decades fans have debated as to why she was there. Producer Arthur Rankin finally revealed on NPR in 2007 that Dolly considers herself a misfit due to her low self-esteem issues and psychological problems. She’s a doll who feels that she is unlovable.
  • The original puppets of Santa Claus and the younger Rudolph were eventually purchased by a new owner after going on tour in 2007. Since they were in absolutely horrible condition– Santa had half of his mustache missing while Rudolph was missing his famous nose — the new owner spent $4,000 for them to be restored to mint condition by stop-motion animation studio Screen Novelties International.

Commercial Success

The TV Special was an immediate hit. Along with the main special, GE had commissioned Rankin/Bass Productions to make commercials for the show that featured the elves from the Santa's toy shop. Here is a video of those ads featuring some great vintage GE countertop appliances.

Once again, Rudolph droppings made for more Christmas miracles. GE had seen slumping sales and the special helped propel the company through a lucrative season. Perhaps part of GE's success came from the free soundtrack album that was given with each purchase. Rudolph has been a marketers dream throughout his existence!

Wikipedia gives a good list of ads that feature Rudolph. Many of them I have included in a video playlist after this text list.
  • In 1964, Rankin & Bass produced several commercials for General Electric for the original GE-sponsored broadcast.
  • In November 2007, the Aflac insurance company released a commercial that featured Rudolph with a cold who does not want to miss work. All his friends say that he will not be able to pay for his expenses. Santa then tells them about Aflac. Charlie wonders what will happen if he is not better by Christmas, but Rudolph thinks the Aflac duck can do the work. Rudolph gets better in a week, but Blitzen is sick, so the Aflac duck fills in for him.
  • In 2009, Verizon began showing a commercial of the Misfit Toys with an AT&T phone. The characters wonder why it is there with all of its features but soon discover why when the phone shows a map of where it has 3G coverage (Verizon's ad campaign touts its much wider 3G coverage compared to AT&T), to which the toy airplane replies "You're gonna fit right in here!" and falls on the ground laughing.
  • Starting in 2011, there have been several commercials, filmed to look like the same stop-motion style as the special, which feature several characters including Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius, Hermey, the Bumble, and the Misfit Toys.
  • A 2012 commercial for Windows phone again features Bumble the Abominable Snowman (with his full set of teeth), speed-dating, getting advise from friends through Live Tiles. A follow-up features Bumble at Santa's North Pole pool party, and Santa using Live Tiles on his new Windows Phone to help him give his elves the holiday-season toy production directives.
  • A 2013 commercial for Nissan has a woman in a dealership briefly entering a fantasy where Santa's Elves, including Boss Elf and Hermey, have expanded their manufacturing line to include Nissan cars. Furthermore, the Bumble makes an appearance test driving one to his obvious approval.
  • In 2014, the United States Post Office used four characters (Rudolph, Hermey, Yukon Cornelius and Bumble) for the year's "Contemporary Christmas" stamp issue.

The annual program is so popular that CBS, who now airs it, promotes the rest of their line up around it.

Rudolph, Hermey and the rest of the gang have enabled lots of toy makers and other merchants to have merrier Christmases over the years. These shots illustrate just a fraction of the Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer merchandise available.

The Little Golden Book (Flickr User User dackelprincess/CC)
A Plethora of Plush toys (Flickr User pocolover1957/CC)

Rudolph Paying Milton Bradley's Rent (Flickr User Mike Mozart/CC)

Royalties Required? (Flickr User rawdonfox/CC)

Playlist Additions

I am embarrassed to say that I have not got the soundtrack to the Rankin/Bass production in my collection. I probably have not gotten around to it since so many of the songs from the special are featured on a great collection from Nick-At-Nite records: A Classic Cartoon Christmas, our first addition to the playlist.

Album: A Classic Cartoon Christmas: Various Artists

  • Welcome Christmas   Boris Karloff, The M-G-M Studio Orchestra and Chorus/How the Grinch Stole Christmas 3:37
  • Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer   Burl Ives/Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer  1:36 
  • We're A Couple Of Misfits Billie Richards And Paul Soles/Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer  1:22 
  • Frosty The Snowman Jimmy Durante/Frosty The Snowman  2:34 
  • Put One Foot In Front Of The Other Mickey Rooney And Keenan Wynn/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town  2:58
  • Christmas Time Is Here Vince Guaraldi Trio/A Charlie Brown Christmas  2:45 
  • Hark, The Herald Angels Sing Vince Guaraldi Trio/A Charlie Brown Christmas  1:53 
  • Medley: Jingle Bells-Jingle Bell Rock The Muppets/A Muppet Family Christmas  2:00 
  • You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch Thurl Ravenscroft/How The Grinch Stole Christmas  2:58 
  • Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town Fred Astaire/Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town  2:05 
  • O Tannenbaum Vince Guaraldi Trio/A Charlie Brown Christmas  5:07 
  • The Little Drummer Boy Vienna Boys Choir/The Little Drummer Boy  3:36 
  • A Holly Jolly Christmas Burl Ives/Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer  1:21 
  • We Need A Little Christmas The Muppets/A Muppet Family Christmas  1:27 

Next,  I scoured my music collections for versions of other Johnny Marks hits, and not surprisingly, I found a few. 
  • Old Fashioned Christmas Santa Claus Is Canadian Ontario Lottery Corporation 2:24
  • Run Rudolph Run   Christmas Island Jimmy Buffett 2:38
  • Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree Christmas Favorites  Brenda Lee 2:06
  • Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree A Partridge Family Christmas The Partridge Family 2:34
  • Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree Jaime Levasseur 1:47
  • A Caroling We Go  Christmas Favorites Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians 1:41

Signing Off And Coming Attractions

Wow! This post turned out to be longer than I expected. There is still more to share. Whats a blogger to do? Bonus post! Join me tomorrow for a special Sunday post. Until then, are you a Rudolph fan or do you prefer one the other Rankin/Bass Animagic specials? And if you are a Rudolph fan, I'd love to hear who your favorite character in the special was. I guess I kind of like the Bumble. People think he is a big many, but he just has a toothache..I'd love to know what you think. Let me know in the comments section.

Tomorrow: The last note of the year from Chicago, Illinois at the start of Route 66 will be the end of my series on Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. I'll look at his post-television career as an unsuccessful movie character, but still an international superstar, and Portland icon.
Next Week: Highway 101 in San Diego, California has led us to Old Town. We will look at Christmas in that State Park as well as holiday fun in other parts of San Diego.
Two Weeks: We'll take a look through the rear view mirror at 2014 and see where we have been and who we have met on Old Highway Notes.
Three Weeks: A return to Florida as we visit another Spring Training ballpark and more in Port St. Lucie, a city on the Interstate 95 corridor.

Mileage Stats

Route 66: 0 Miles/1 State/740 Tracks/251 Videos/38 Posts

Highway 101: 22 Miles/2 Countries/1 State/518 Tracks/247 Videos/25 Posts

Interstate 95: 123 Miles/1 State/68 Tracks/109 Videos/13 Posts

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