Rudolph – Behind The Shiny Nose
by Bonnie Wurst
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, son of Mr. and Mrs. Donner of the North Pole, first appeared in a 1939 story by Robert L. May, published by Montgomery Ward. Rudolph’s shiny nose was his claim to fame and he was forever immortalized by the Rankin/Bass animated Christmas TV special that first aired in 1964. It is the longest running Christmas TV special in history.
The widely known song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks (Robert L. May’s brother-in-law), was actually based on a poem May wrote in 1939. And like the end of the song predicted – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer went down in history.
But there is more to this story very few people are aware of – a story behind the story, bringing it even closer to the true meaning of Christmas and beyond.
Young and old, most of us are familiar with Romeo Muller’s TV adaptation of Rudolph’s tale. The new characters and original songs are now an intricate part of the holiday season. How could one ‘Have A Holly Jolly Christmas’ without them?
The Donner’s welcome their baby fawn into the world, name him Rudolph, then are shocked to discover his nose glows red. Santa comes to visit their cave and warns Mr. & Mrs. Donner that Rudolph won’t be able to pull the sleigh ‘with a nose like that!’. Donner attempts to hide Rudolph’s ‘deficiency’ by covering it up with dirt. The young fawn could barely breathe. We all know where that went. Rudolph did not have a good experience at the Reindeer Games and ended up running away from home.
In today’s world Rudolph’s parents would have been visited by Social Services. Santa would have been impeached and Coach Comet who threw him out of the games would have been fired. Rudolph was bullied and abused. That also goes for Hermey the Elf (and wannabe dentist), Yukon Cornelius, the whole gang on the Isle of Misfit Toys and even the Bumble. But at the end of the story the message is clear – our differences are what make us special.
What is even more fascinating are the stories which have been circulating on the Internet since early 2001 concerning the ‘real story’ behind the original. Although there is discord about the dates and facts behind them, they reflect what must have been the emotions behind Robert L. May’s writing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
According to a book published in 2001 called Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins, Robert L. May’s character of Rudolph was created to help his daughter cope with her mother’s terminal illness. Brokenhearted, ‘… he stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night. His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing.’ Robert’s wife Evelyn was dying of cancer. Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mother would never be coming home. Barbara looked up into her father’s eyes and asked, “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?”
‘His jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of his life. He had been a small kid and often bullied by other boys and was too little to compete in sports. He was often called names and being different, never seemed to fit in.’
According to Collin’s, Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938. Robert struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn’t buy a gift, he was determined to make one – he wrote a story that would be treasured forever. The story he created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character – Rudolph, a little reindeer with a big shiny nose.
The gift of love he created for his daughter so long ago kept blessing him over and over again – emotionally and financially. Just like his dear friend Rudolph, he learned that being different isn’t so bad. In fact, being different can be a blessing.
Clarification on these events will never be known, for Robert L. May passed away in 1976 at the age of 71. Rudolph, who will be turning 75 in 2014 has outlived him.
I end this story with a wish for you all – to share your blessings and fortunes with others, through acts of kindness, gratitude, acceptance and love. Each and every day of the year.
Bonnie Wurst is a freelance journalist, a weekly columnist for the Montreal Times, a novelist, ghost writer (not the scary kind) and humorist. Her book “Damaged Goods Re-Stitched” can be found on Amazon.com. Bonnie is available for speaking engagements and can be reached at email@example.com