But Do You Recall The Most Famous Reindeer Of All
December 24, 2011 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Last year, an archivist at Dartmouth College discovered a forgotten scrapbook donated to the school by Robert L. May, the writer and illustrator of the original story of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer", documenting the origins of the now-classic holiday story. The book was written in 1947 on commission from Montgomery Ward's, which was looking for a Christmas promotional item. Detailed in the scrapbook are May's list of possible names for the character, including "Rollo", "Reginald", "Romeo" and you-know-what. Ward's actually turned over the copyright to Rudolph to May, who became a millionaire when, two years later, his brother-in-law Johnny Marks wrote the song which became a huge hit for Gene Autry. Snopes.com adds more details to the tale, including debunking the myth that the song was written by May to comfort his daughter while her mother lay dying.
posted by briank (5 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Johnny Marks is one of many Jewish writers of Christmas songs.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:08 AM on December 24, 2011

This also came up in my feeds today. The original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animation from 1948.
posted by pashdown at 9:07 AM on December 24, 2011

When you get right down to it, it's a horrible song.

It describes a society where those who look and act differently are to be mocked, shamed and cast out to die, and also where one's value and place in the world are only determined through authoritarian means by assignment into the workforce. I'm surprised there wasn't a verse about how Rudolph's father beat the shit out of his mother because obviously she was sleeping around, but if you recall in the Rankin Bass animation Santa shames the father and it would be too simple to take that scene two seconds farther where they both glare at the mother and that would be enough.

In other words, a perfect mirror of the time in which it was written: mid 20th century, just after the war, with the American black racial stereotypes still casting their shadows on everything.

I think about how trivial it would be to recast it as Rudolph being born a mulatto through some genetic sport, his mother getting her teeth kicked in, thrown out of the house and being forced to live in a shack at the edge of town until the boy turns out to be a musical sport who saves the town's pride by leading the High School Band with a trumpet solo at the state fair. I mean FUCK ME, isn't that exactly what's going on here?

Going through this now it's like realizing that one of my favourite treats, maybe salt water taffy, is actually made from the tears of dying kittens or something. But it's just a WRETCHED song.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:25 AM on December 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

Jesus Christ SMP! I mean, dayyyyymmmnn!
posted by sfts2 at 9:30 AM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know if the song, Rudolph can really be labeled as some sort of hidden racist attack. It could just be about children being afraid of or ostracizing anyone who looks different. It could be about people learning that looking different is not a bad thing.

There is a chance you are right. You do make a decent analogy, especially with the animated version. We shouldn't be afraid of people who look differently.

However, if your child has a nose that shines with enough bio-luminosity to lighten up the night, I don't know that I wouldn't be a bit put off by him :)
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:21 AM on December 25, 2011

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