How Rudolph Came About....
On a December night in Chicago several years ago, a little girl
climbed onto her father's lap and asked a question. It was a
simple question, asked in children's curiosity, yet it had a
heart-rending effect on Robert May.
"Daddy," four-year old Barbara asked, "Why isn't my Mommy
just like everybody else's mommy?"
Bob May stole a glance across his shabby two room apartment.
On a couch lay his young wife, Evelyn, racked with cancer.
For two years she had been bedridden; for two years, all Bob's
income and smaller savings had gone to pay for treatments and
The terrible ordeal already had shattered two adult lives. Now Bob
suddenly realized the happiness of his growing daughter was
also in jeopardy. As he ran his fingers through Barbara's hair,
he prayed for some satisfactory answer to her question.
Bob May knew only too well what it meant to be "different." As a
child he had been weak and delicate.
With the innocent cruelty of children, his playmates had continually
goaded the stunted, skinny lad to tears. Later at Dartmouth, from which
he was graduated in 1926, Bob May was so small that he was always
being mistaken for someone's little brother.
Nor was his adult life much happier. Unlike many of his
classmates who floated from college into plush jobs, Bob
became a lowly copy writer for Montgomery Ward, the big
Chicago mail order house. Now at 33 Bob was deep in debt,
depressed and sad.
Although Bob did not know it at the time, the answer he gave
the tousled haired child on his lap was to bring him to fame
and fortune. It was also to bring joy to countless thousands
of children like his own Barbara. On that December night in
the shabby Chicago apartment, Bob cradled his little girl's
head against his shoulder and began to tell a story...
"Once upon a time there was a reindeer named Rudolph, the
only reindeer in the world that had a big red nose. Naturally
people called him Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." As Bob
went on to tell about Rudolph, he tried desperately to
communicate to Barbara the knowledge that, even though
some creatures of God are strange and different, they often
enjoy the miraculous power to make others happy.
Rudolph, Bob explained, was terribly embarrassed by his
unique nose. Other reindeer laughed at him; his mother
and father and sister were mortified too. Even Rudolph
wallowed in self pity.
"Well," continued Bob, "one Christmas Eve, Santa Claus
got his team of husky reindeer - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer,
and Vixen ready for their yearly trip around the world.
The entire reindeer community assembled
to cheer these great heroes on their way. But a terrible fog
engulfed the earth that evening, and Santa knew that the mist
was so thick he wouldn't be able to find any chimneys.
Suddenly Rudolph appeared, his red nose glowing brighter than
ever. Santa sensed at once that here was the answer to his
perplexing problem. He led Rudolph to the front of the sleigh,
fastened the harness and climbed in. They were off! Rudolph
guided Santa safely to every chimney that night. Rain and
fog, snow and sleet; nothing bothered Rudolph, for his bright
nose penetrated the mist like a beacon.
And so it was that Rudolph became the most famous and
beloved of all the reindeer. The huge red nose he once hid in
shame was now the envy of every buck and doe in the reindeer
world. Santa Claus told everyone that Rudolph had saved the
day and from that Christmas, Rudolph has been living serenely
Little Barbara laughed with glee when her father finished. Every
night she begged him to repeat the tale until finally Bob could
rattle it off in his sleep. Then, at Christmas time he decided to
make the story into a poem like "The Night Before Christmas"
and prepare it in bookish form illustrated with pictures, for
Barbara's personal gift. Night after night, Bob worked on the
verses after Barbara had gone to bed for he was determined
his daughter should have a worthwhile gift, even though he
could not afford to buy one...
Then as Bob was about to put the finishing touches on Rudolph,
tragedy struck. Evelyn May died. Bob, his hopes crushed,
turned to Barbara as chief comfort. Yet, despite his grief, he
sat at his desk in the quiet, now lonely apartment, and worked
on "Rudolph" with tears in his eyes.
Shortly after Barbara had cried with joy over his handmade gift
on Christmas morning, Bob was asked to an employee's holiday
party at Montgomery Wards. He didn't want to go, but his office
associates insisted. When Bob finally agreed, he took with him
the poem and read it to the crowd. First the noisy throng
listened in laughter and gaiety. Then they became silent, and at
the end, broke into spontaneous applause. That was in 1938.
By Christmas of 1947, some 6,000,000 copies of the booklet had
been given away or sold, making Rudolph one of the most widely
distributed books in the world. The demand for Rudolph sponsored
products, increased so much in variety and number that
educators and historians predicted Rudolph would come
to occupy a permanent place in the Christmas legend.
Through the years of unhappiness, the tragedy of his wife's
death and his ultimate success with Rudolph, Bob May has
captured a sense of serenity. And as each Christmas rolls
around he recalls with thankfulness the night when his daughter,
Barbara's questions inspired him to write the story.
This really is a true story.
People who grew up during the Depression remember going to
Montgomery Wards to get the booklet.
"Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when
our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."