david greene, host:
have you ever wondered where rudolph came from? well, we will try to help you here. we’re bringing this story back in case you missed it.
(excerpt from gene autry’s song “rudolph the red nosed reindeer”)
greene: you meet dasher, dancer, prancer and vixen. They have been transporting Santa’s sleigh forever. but it turned out that rudolph didn’t arrive until 1939.
barbara may lewis: rudolph was born when i was five, so i’m his older sister.
greene: that’s barbara may lewis. he says sister because he was her father, robert l. May, who introduced the world to Rudolph when she was just a child. Robert was a bit of an outcast, as was Rudolph. he skipped a grade or two and so he was younger and smaller than his classmates. he was a nerdy kid who saw himself as a loser.
lewis: it was his opinion of himself that gave birth to rudolph, I think, so much better.
green: robert l. he may have always wanted to write the great American novel. As life would have it, he ended up a catalog writer at Montgomery Ward in Chicago. The department store used to give children books every Christmas, and you might think that Rudolph would make a great character in one. his daughter remembers her father working on the words, many of which would never make it into the song we now know.
lewis: my father read me the rudolph manuscript, and what i remember is that i didn’t like the word stomach. It looked really gross, so he changed it to belly.
greene: montgomery ward printed more than two million copies of robert l. the May book of that year. received letters from children, teachers, and store managers across the country. Almost a decade later, the bosses gave May the rights to the story. barbara may lewis said they shouldn’t know what her father had created.
lewis: they didn’t know. they didn’t know it was just this silly little almost brochure.
Greene: With the help of his brother-in-law, who happens to be a songwriter, he may eventually turn that silly little book into a song, one chosen by a very famous cowboy.
(excerpt from the song “rudolph the red nosed reindeer”)
gene autry: (singing) rudolph the red nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose…
lewis: isn’t that funny, with the autry gene of all people?
greene: the song exploded on the charts in 1949. then came the classic christmas movie, “rudolph the red nosed reindeer”.
(excerpt from the movie “rudolph the red nosed reindeer”)
billie mae richards: (as rudolph) wouldn’t you mind my red nose?
paul soles: (as hermey) not if you don’t mind me being a dentist.
richards: (as rudolph) it’s a deal.
billie mae richards and paul soles: (as rudolph and hermey, singing) we’re a couple of misfits, we’re a couple of misfits…
greene: all together, “rudolph” won robert l. you may have enough money to keep him and his family comfortable until the end of his life and beyond. Although the author passed away in 1976, the story of Rodolfo, well, went down in history. he continues to bring wonder and joy to children everywhere, especially those who identify with that eccentric reindeer.
and barbara gets a little twinkle in her eye during the holidays when she sees other people hugging rudolph, people who don’t know anything about his connection to reindeer.
lewis: I feel a bit cocky and I think no one knows who I am (laughs).
(excerpt from gene autry’s song, “rudolph the red nosed reindeer”)
greene: i’m looking at a sketch right now by robert l. Rudolph’s Original Book of May. says the red-nosed reindeer, and there’s a picture of this little reindeer with big ears, blue eyes, and yes, a really big red nose. you can view it on our website, npr.org.
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