The original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer book is available again from Applewood Books, a facsimile of the 1939 original written by Robert L. May and illustrated by Denver Gillen. But the story behind this American reindeer hero is as fascinating and enchanting as the story itself. As Bob May himself said: "Everything connected with Rudolph has a touch of miracle about it, a kindly star."
It all began in 1939...
Montgomery Ward & Co. wanted to give away a special book to children during the Christmas season. Robert L. May, a young copywriter with the company, was asked by his boss to come up with some ideas.
He began working on the story about a reindeer who was not like all the others. At first his boss rejected the idea. But May persevered.
He worked on the story for months and finally finished it in late August. Montgomery Ward printed it and handed out almost 2,500,000 copies that Christmas, and children were immediately enchanted by Rudolph and his brilliant...nose.
World War II came, and Rudolph went into hibernation. In 1946, the company again published the book, this time distributing over 3,500,000 copies.
Rudolph's popularity was soaring. May was approached by publishers and songwriters, all wanting a chance to be a part of this phenomenon. But the copyright was owned by Montgomery Ward, and May was unable to sell what he did not own. In 1946, in an act of great generosity, Sewell Avery, the chairman of Montgomery Ward, gave the copyright to Bob May.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Fun Rudolph book facts:
° In 1947, a small children's book publisher brought out a Rudolph edition that sold 100,000 copies in two years.
° In 1949, May's brother-in-law Johnny Marks wrote a 113-word song summarizing the Rudolph story.
° Gene Autry's recording of the song climbed to #1 on the Hit Parade and sold 2,000,000 copies during its first Christmas season.
° Over 500 licensed Rudolph products appeared—everything from stuffed toys to bracelet charms, cuckoo clocks, and cookie cutters.
° A film version of the story first aired in 1964 and has been broadcast on a major TV network every year since.
° In 1990, Applewood Books republished in hardcover the original Rudolph, exactly as it appeared in 1939, and the book went on to sell over a million copies in facsimile.
° The story and song have been translated into over 25 languages, proving that Rudolph appeals to people all around the world.