Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas 2010 Blog: The Story of Rudolph

Last night my son and I watched the 1964 animated Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  Rudolph is kind of a stickler between my husband and me, because he thinks it is rediculous that after, what?, like 40 years of watching the show, it still brings me to tears every year.  And I'm not just talking moist eyes; every year, after Rudolph's triumph and the scene on the island of misfit toys where they think they've been forgotten once again, I have tears streaming down my cheeks.  But what can I say--especially when that little doll says something like "I don't have any dreams left."  For me--killer.

But the actual story behind Rudolph is fairly uplifting.  Robert L. May wrote the story for the Montgomery Ward store, to be made into a booklet that could be given to the children who were waiting to see Santa.  May tapped into a major middle schooler theme--my (fill in the blank) makes me different from everyone else (a major topic in many of the big contenders for the Newbery Award for this year).  May claimed he got inspiration from the classic tale of the outsider from his own life, where he was teased for being "shy, small, and slight."  He was paid a nominal fee by Montgomery Ward, but he was glad to get it, since his wife had been diagnosed with terminal cancer at the time.  She died, living May with not only a four-year-old daughter to care for, but with multiple medical bills for dealing with his wife's cancer.

Once Montgomery Ward had printed 6 million copies of the booklet, they were contacted by a major publisher about printing the story in a book.  Now comes the best part of the story....since Montgomery Ward had paid May for the work, the rights belonged to the company.  But Montgomery Ward generously decided to give the copyright back to May.  The success of the book enabled  Ray to settle his debts, take care of his child, remarry, and establish a more stable life.

His lifestyle was enhanced, though, when it turned out that a brother-in-law,  Johnny Marks, turned the story into a song that was eventually sung by Gene Autry.  It became a best-selling song, and also inspired one of America's favorite television specials.

So it turns out to be an inspirational story of overcoming one's personal issues and problems from the past and of corporate generosity rather than greed.

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