Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired Sunday, December 6, 1964 on NBC. The Rankin/Bass stop motion classic has been shown on TV every year since, making it the longest running Christmas TV special in history… This weekend will mark 50 years. It looks like Rudolph really has gone down in history!
To most of us, Rudolph has always been a part of Christmas but in fact, Rudolph wasn’t spotted until the 20th century. In 1939, when Robert L. May wrote Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer for the retailer Montgomery Ward to give away for it’s annual Christmas shopping promotion. The original story is about a reindeer that is outcast because of his bright shiny red nose.
On a foggy Christmas Eve Santa is nearly running out time, and after visiting the home of Rudolph, has the idea of asking this misfit deer to guide his sleigh. After writing a note for his parents, Rudolph helps Santa and saves Christmas, becoming the envy of all the other Reindeer. In its first year of publication, over two million copies of Rudolph’s story were distributed.
Robert May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, adapted the story of Rudolph into a song. Gene Autry’s recording of the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart the week of Christmas 1949. There were many other notable recordings of the song recorded in 50’s and 60’s, including renditions by Bing Crosby, Spike Jones and his City Slickers and even multiple versions by Alvin and the Chipmunks.
After the success of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Johnny Marks continued to write popular Christmas songs that are still known today. In 1958, he wrote Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (a hit for Brenda Lee) and Run Rudolph Run (performed by Chuck Berry).
He even wrote the music and lyrics for the classic stop-animation film. The story is narrated by Sam the Snowman, played by Burl Ives, who sings Holly Jolly Christmas, Silver and Gold and of course Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
The first broadcast of the TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was sponsored by General Electric. The cartoon was produced by Videocraft international, later known as Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc.
The company was founded by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass on September 14, 1960. They would become known for its seasonal television specials, particularly their work in stop-motion animation.
Inspired by George Pal’s Puppetoons, Arthur Rankin wanted to find a way to bring stop motion animation to an international audience. The majority of Rankin/Bass’ work, including all of their stop-motion productions, were filmed in Japan. Throughout the 1960’s, these productions were supervised by stop-motion animator Tadahito Mochinaga.
The script was written by Romeo Muller adapted by the original story by Robert May.
Snuggle up to your favorite blanket and enjoy this special Christmas episode of Animation Treasures honoring 50 years of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer-
For more about the history of Rudolph-
Courtesy of our guest contributor Myron Smith