Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (TV special)

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Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
Rudolph - 1964 ad.JPG
Promotional advertisement for the original NBC airing.
Directed by Larry Roemer, Kizo Nagashima
Written by Romeo Muller, Robert May
Narrated by Burl Ives
(as Sam The Snowman)
Music by Johnny Marks
Production company Rankin/Bass Productions
Country United States
Language English
Original channel NBC (1964–1971)
Release date December 6, 1964
Running time 55 minutes
Followed by Rudolph's Shiny New Year
Official website

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a Christmas television special produced in stop motion animation by Rankin/Bass Productions and currently distributed by DreamWorks Classics. It first aired Sunday, December 6, 1964, on the NBC television network in the United States, and was sponsored by General Electric under the umbrella title of The General Electric Fantasy Hour. The special was based on the Johnny Marks song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" which was itself based on the 1939 poem Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer written by Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May. Since 1972, the special has aired on CBS, with the network unveiling a high-definition, digitally remastered version of the program in 2005. As with A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph no longer airs just once annually, but several times during the Christmas and holiday season and on several cable channels (including ABC Family). It has been telecast every year since 1964, making it the longest running Christmas TV special in history, and one of only five 1960s Christmas specials still being telecast, the other four being A Charlie Brown Christmas, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Little Drummer Boy, and Frosty the Snowman.


Santa Claus's reindeer Donner's wife gives birth to a fawn that they name Rudolph, but the two are shocked to discover that Rudolph's unusually red nose is capable of glowing. When Santa Claus visits their cave to meet the fawn and sees the glowing nose, he warns Mr. & Mrs. Donner that Rudolph won't be able to pull the sleigh if he continues to carry this trait for the rest of his life. Consequently, Donner tries to conceal Rudolph's nose at first with mud and later a small round cap.

A year later, Rudolph's parents take him out to the reindeer games where Rudolph, along with all of the other young bucks, will be trained to fly and pull Santa's sleigh when they get older. There, Rudolph meets a friendly reindeer named Fireball and they quickly become friends. The pair then sees a group of does including one named Clarice, who seems to love Rudolph. Fireball then encourages Rudolph to speak with her. She thinks he's cute which causes Rudolph to perform a dazzling leap into the air and fly. However, when Rudolph and Fireball engage in celebratory play, the cover pops off Rudolph's nose and unveils his "non-conformity," scaring Fireball and ending their friendship. All of the other yearlings then make fun at Rudolph's nose and he is not allowed to join in any more reindeer games. Clarice, who is not the least bit bothered by Rudolph's secret, catches up with the sulking Rudolph to try to comfort him. Soon after, Clarice's father forbids her to hang around with Rudolph, which breaks his heart and he runs away. Meanwhile, an elf named Hermey dreams of becoming a dentist rather than making toys. His supervisor is outraged at his persistent disruption with his dentistry studies. Feeling ridiculed and misunderstood, Hermey also decides to run away. Later, Rudolph meets up with Hermey and the pair decide to set off together.

Along the way, they meet a cheerful and boisterous prospector named Yukon Cornelius, who dreams of discovering silver and gold, before the trio bumps into the Abominable Snow Monster who is attracted to Rudolph's nose. Escaping on an iceberg, they arrive on the Island of Misfit Toys where unwanted toys live with a winged lion named King Moonracer, until he can find homes for them. The king agrees to let them stay for one night in exchange for a promise from Rudolph that as soon as he, Yukon, and Hermey return, they will ask Santa to deliver the Misfit Toys to children who need them. However, Rudolph decides to leave the island alone knowing that his nose will endanger his friends.

Rudolph grows older and drifts from place to place, making and losing friends as he is continually rejected for his glowing nose. Eventually deciding to go home, he returns to his cave to find that his parents, along with Clarice, have left to search for him. Rudolph then sets out to find his family and discovers that they have been captured by the Abominable Snow Monster, who plans to eat them. After a brief fight, Rudolph is knocked unconscious. Fortunately, Hermey and Yukon Cornelius arrive and hatch a rescue plan. Luring the monster out of the cave, the pair knock the Snow Monster unconscious and Hermey extracts his teeth. Rudolph awakens, but he and his family are blocked from their escape by the also awakened beast who blocks the entrance to the cave. Yukon chases the now toothless monster to a cliff, driving him off the edge. Mourning Yukon's loss, Rudolph, the Donners, Clarice, and Hermey nonetheless return home. where everyone apologizes for the way they acted while telling them about their adventure. Santa promises Rudolph that he'll find homes for all the Misfit Toys, the Elf Foreman agrees to let Hermey open his own dentist's office a week after Christmas, and even Donner apologizes to Rudolph for being critical about his nose. During the celebration, Yukon returns with a tamed Abominable Snow Monster, now a kinder and gentler monster. However, a huge blizzard blows in which threatens to cancel Santa's flight. While announcing the news to the elves and reindeer, Santa is caught by Rudolph's gleaming nose and decides that its light could cut through the storm. Meanwhile, the Misfit Toys, grieving about being left out and unloved, are cheered up when Santa and Rudolph arrive to pick them up. The special ends with Santa wishing the viewers a merry Christmas as he and Rudolph fly off into the night.

Cast of characters[edit]

Hermey and Rudolph
  • Rudolph is voiced by Billie Mae Richards[1][2]
  • Santa Claus is voiced by Stan Francis
  • Santa's reindeer are all seen and mentioned by name. Donner and Comet (both voiced by Paul Kligman) have speaking roles:
    • Donner is Rudolph's father
    • Comet is the coach of the Reindeer Games
    • Dasher is mentioned as a father of one of the yearling bucks at the games

The TV special, with the teleplay by Romeo Muller, introduced several new characters inspired by the song's lyrics. Muller told an interviewer shortly before his death that he would have preferred to base the teleplay on May's original book, but could not find a copy.[citation needed]

  • Sam the Snowman - The narrator, voiced by and closely resembling folk singer Burl Ives, who contributes several tunes throughout the program. Among the more well-known songs from the special is Johnny Marks' "A Holly Jolly Christmas," which became a Christmas standard in its own right.
  • Hermey (Voiced by Paul Soles) Hermey is a shy, meek elf who dreams of becoming a dentist instead of making toys. In the end, his supervisor agrees to let him open a dentist's office after Christmas.
  • Clarice is voiced and sung by Janis Orenstein. Although real reindeer of both sexes grow antlers, neither Clarice nor any other doe in the special has antlers. Also setting them apart, the female reindeer have much lighter fur than their male counterparts.
  • Yukon Cornelius (Voiced by Larry D. Mann) Yukon is portrayed as a boisterous prospector whose goal is to find silver and gold to get rich quick. A running gag throughout the special involves him throwing his pickaxe in the air, pulling it out of the ice, sniffing it, licking it to see if he struck rich, and stating, "Nothing." In the end, he becomes the proud owner of a new peppermint mine near Santa's workshop. (The peppermint mine scene was cut out in the special throughout the years since its premiere.)
  • Mrs. Santa (voiced by Peg Dixon) is Santa's devoted wife, concerned with his moodiness and lack of appetite. Santa calls her by the nickname "Mamma."
  • Mrs. Donner is Rudolph's mother and Donner's wife. The character is voiced by Corinne Conley.
  • Elf Foreman (voiced by Carl Banas) is a portly and ill-tempered foreman and songleader of Santa's workshop. He wears a green hat and coat and a goatee styled to resemble popular songleader Mitch Miller and uses Lawrence Welk's famous introduction, "And a one-a, and a two-a, and a three-a!" before conducting the elves in the song "We Are Santa's Elves" for Santa.
  • Fireball is voiced by Alfie Scopp (who also voices the other young bucks)
  • The Abominable Snow Monster of the North (a.k.a. The Bumble)
  • Tall Elf is a minor character who appears in the "We Are Santa's Elves" and "Holly Jolly Christmas" scenes. Tall, thin and bespectacled, this character was an integral part of the stop-motion commercial and subsequent print ads produced for General Electric for the inaugural broadcast. In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys, he is renamed Hank.

Island of Misfit Toys[edit]

The "Island of Misfit Toys", another addition to the original story, is an island sanctuary where defective and unwanted toys are sent. It is during the initial scene on the Island that Johnny Marks standard, "The Most Wonderful Day of the Year" is performed by the inhabitants. Toy versions of nearly every character from this show were produced in the 1990s. Among its inhabitants are:

  • King Moonracer is voiced by Stan Francis. A winged lion who rules the entire Island of Misfit Toys. His appearance is similar to the mystical being, the griffin, a creature who is part lion and part bird.
  • Charlie-In-The-Box is voiced by Alfie Scopp and is a misnamed, but otherwise seemingly normal jack-in-the-box who is the island's sentry.
  • Spotted Elephant is a polka dotted elephant who also works as King Moonracer's footman in his castle.
  • Dolly is voiced by Corinne Conley and is a seemingly normal girl rag doll with red hair and a red gingham dress. Her misfit problem is never explained on the special; many decades later, on NPR's Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me! news quiz show (broadcast December 8, 2007), Rudolph's producer, Arthur Rankin Jr., noted that Dolly's problem was psychological, caused by being abandoned by her owner (named as Sue in the special) and suffering depression from feeling unloved.[3]
  • Other toys (all voiced by Carl Banas) include a bird who swims instead of flies, a cowboy who rides an ostrich, a train with square wheels on its caboose, a bear on a bicycle, a boat that cannot stay afloat, a set of clown nesting dolls with a wind-up mouse as the last one, a water pistol that shoots jelly, an airplane that cannot fly, and a scooter with two wheels in front and one in back.

Other than the American narrator, all characters were portrayed by Canadian actors recorded at RCA studios in Toronto under the supervision of Bernard Cowan.[4]

Different versions[edit]

Original 1964 NBC broadcast edit[edit]

This version has the NBC "living color" peacock at the introduction. It includes the original end credits, where elves are seen delivering boxes which list all the technical credits. It also includes commercials which were exclusively for GE small appliances with some of the same animated elves from the main program introducing each of the products, and closing NBC network bumpers, including promos for the following week's episodes of GE College Bowl and Meet the Press, which were presumably pre-empted that Sunday for the inaugural 5:30 PM (EST) telecast. The College Bowl quiz show was also sponsored by GE.[5] The original does not include Santa traveling to the Island of Misfit Toys, but does include a scene near the end of the special in which Yukon Cornelius discovers a peppermint mine near Santa's workshop. He can be seen throughout the special tossing his pickax into the air, sniffing, then licking the end that contacts the snow or ice. Discarded in 1965 to make room for Santa traveling to the Island of Misfit toys, the audience was left to assume that Cornelius was attempting to find either silver or gold by taste alone.

1965–1997 telecasts[edit]

Viewers were so taken by the forlorn Misfit Toys that many complained Santa was not seen fulfilling his promise to include them in his annual delivery. In reaction, a new scene for subsequent rebroadcasts was produced with Santa making his first stop at the Island to pick up the toys. This is the ending that has been shown on all telecasts and video releases ever since. However, to make room, several sequences were deleted: the instrumental bridge from "We Are Santa's Elves" featuring the elf orchestra, Rudolph & Hermey's duet reprise of "We're a Couple of Misfits," additional dialogue by Burl Ives, and the "Peppermint Mine" scene resolving the fate of Yukon Cornelius. A new duet, "Fame and Fortune," was shot for the revised version and put in place of "We're a Couple of Misfits." The special's 1998 restoration saw "Misfits" returned to its original film context, while the 2004 DVD release showcases "Fame and Fortune" as a separate number.

1998–2007 CBS telecasts[edit]

The above 1965 deletions were returned to the film, but "Fame and Fortune" was not included and was replaced with the original "We're a Couple of Misfits" reprise. The "Peppermint Mine" scene has still not been restored; to date, it has never aired on CBS.

Starting sometime in the 2000s, CBS aired the video for "Fame and Fortune" synced with an edited version of "We're a Couple of Misfits." Beyond that, the special has been edited further due to more commercial time by being time-compressed with some musical numbers shortened.

2008-Present CBS telecasts[edit]

"Fame and Fortune" has once again been replaced with "We're a Couple of Misfits," with the special itself undergoing further cuts for more commercial time.

Home media releases[edit]

50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray cover

When Rudolph was first issued on video by previous owner Broadway Video, the 1965 rebroadcast print was used with the changes listed above under 1965-1997 telecasts. All current video prints of Rudolph by Classic Media are a compendium of the two previous telecast versions of the special. All the footage in the current versions follow the original NBC airing (without the original GE commercials) up until the "Peppermint Mine" scene, followed by the final act of the 1965 edit (with the Island of Misfit Toys finale and the 1965 alternate credits in place of the original end credit sequence).

In 1998, the special was released by Sony Wonder on VHS. In 2000, it was released on DVD, and on Blu-ray Disc in 2010 (although the Blu-ray does not contain the bonus features from the previous DVD release.) This edit has been made available in original color form by former rights holders Classic Media,[6] which in 2012 became the DreamWorks Classics division of DreamWorks Animation. As previously mentioned, this is also the version currently airing on CBS, albeit in edited form to accommodate more commercial time. In November of 2014, Classic Media released a 50th anniversary edition of the special on Blu-ray. Walmart released an exclusive 50th anniversary Blu-ray edition with a storybook.


1995 CD cover
  • The songs and incidental music were all written by Johnny Marks, with Maury Laws supervising. In addition to the songs previously mentioned, the score also includes the film's love theme "There's Always Tomorrow", sung by Clarice after Rudolph is kicked out of the reindeer games. Marks' holiday standard "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" appears as instrumental background music when Rudolph first arrives at the Reindeer Games. Also included in the soundtrack is an instrumental version of Marks' setting of the Christmas hymn "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

In 1964, an LP record of the soundtrack was released on Decca Records. It contained all the original songs performed as they are in the special, with the exception of Burl Ives' material, which has been re-recorded. MCA Special Products released the soundtrack on CD in June 1995. It is an exact duplication of the original LP released in 1964. Tracks 1-9 are the original soundtrack selections while tracks 10-19 are the same songs performed by the Decca Concert Orchestra. The song "Fame and Fortune" is not contained on either release. On November 30, 2004 the soundtrack was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over 500,000 copies.

Ives re-recorded "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas", with different arrangements, for his own album Have a Holly Jolly Christmas in 1965.

Fate of the figures[edit]

Since those involved with the production had no idea of the value of the figures used in the production, they were not preserved. Santa and Rudolph were given to a secretary, who gave them to family members. Kevin Kriess bought Santa and Rudolph in 2005 and, because they were in such bad shape, had them restored by Screen Novelties International. The figures have been shown at conventions since then.[7]


The Rankin/Bass special, which currently airs on CBS, inspired numerous television sequels made by the same studio:


Books and other items related to the show have in some cases misspelled "Hermey" as "Herbie". Rich Goldschmidt, who wrote Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Making of the Rankin/Bass Holiday Classic, says the scripts by Romeo Muller show the spelling to be "Hermey".[8]

Video game[edit]

Based on this special, a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer video game was released on November 9, 2010. The adaptation was published by Red Wagon Games for the Wii and Nintendo DS systems, and was developed by High Voltage Software and Glyphic Entertainment, respectively. The Wii version was received poorly, and garnered extremely negative reviews from sites such as IGN giving it a 1.5/10.[9]

Parodies of, and homages to Rudolph[edit]

The television special's familiarity to American audiences through its annual rebroadcasts, coupled with its primitive stop-motion animation that is easy to recreate with modern technology, has lent itself to numerous parodies and homages over the years.

Films by Corky Quakenbush[edit]

Animator Corky Quakenbush has produced parodies of Rudolph for several American television shows:

  • In its December 16, 1995 episode, the Fox Network's comedy series MADtv aired "Raging Rudolph",[10] which also parodied Martin Scorsese's films. In it, Sam The Snowman narrates in a Joe Pesci-like voice how Rudolph and Hermey got violent Mafia-style revenge on their tormentors. This was followed by two sequels: "The Reinfather",[11] spoofing The Godfather trilogy and "A Pack of Gifts Now",[12] spoofing Apocalypse Now.
  • A 2001 episode of That '70s Show, titled "An Eric Forman Christmas", featured a subplot where Kelso was taunted by his friends for still watching "kiddie shows" like Rudolph even though he was in high school. A dream sequence produced and directed by Quakenbush, Kelso himself appears in stop-motion form with Rudolph and Santa who encourage him to continue watching their show.
  • In December 2005, the George Lopez Show featured an animated segment in which Lopez sees a stop-motion version of himself on television in a Rudolph-style special mirroring the theme of the holiday episode.

Other parodies of Rudolph[edit]

  • In the 1993 stop-motion animated film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack looks through a book version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to find a logical answer to explain Christmas to the other citizens of Halloween Town. Later, Zero the ghost dog, has a magnificently glowing pumpkin nose, which is bright enough to break through the fog that Sally has conjured up. Jack lets Zero go to the head of his skeleton reindeer team and light the way for him.
  • On Saturday Night Live in 2001, Robert Smigel's TV Funhouse shows Sam the Snowman refusing to narrate the story because of the September 11, 2001 attacks. He then takes two children to Ground Zero at New York City, but Santa Claus convinces him to narrate the story because people need comforting stories like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Sam decided to narrate the tale, but was immediately interrupted by a special news report. Three years later, TV Funhouse would again parody Rudolph, this time referencing the Red state-blue state divide. In the segment, Santa hangs out with liberal celebrities Natalie Merchant, Margaret Cho, Al Franken, and Moby while skipping over the Red states ("screw the red states, voting for that dumbass president just because of that moral values crap. I don't want any part of them!"). Rudolph's red nose turns blue. Both episodes were directed by Chel White of Bent Image Lab.
  • In 2004 for the show's 40th anniversary, CBS produced stop motion promos for their programming line-up, done in the style of Rankin/Bass animation. Appearing as elves in the CBS promos were puppet versions of CBS stars Jeff Probst from Survivor, Ray Romano and Doris Roberts from Everybody Loves Raymond, William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger from CSI, Charlie Sheen from Two and a Half Men, Phil Simms and Greg Gumbel from The NFL on CBS, and late-night talk show host David Letterman. A new stop-motion animation featuring Rudolph and Santa meeting even more CBS network stars was also aired in 2005.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 made numerous references to the special in their movie hecklings such as Rudolph's line "I'm cute!! I'm cuute!! She said I'm cuuuuuutte!!!!". In episode 321, which screened Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, the MST3K cast had their own ideas for potential residents on the Island of Misfit Toys including Toaster Dolls, Patrick Swayze's Roadhouse board game, the EZ Bake Foundry, and Mr. Mashed Potato Head.

Uses in advertising[edit]

  • In 1964, Rankin & Bass produced several commercials for General Electric for the original GE-sponsored broadcast.[1]
  • In November 2007, the Aflac insurance company released a commercial that featured Rudolph with a cold who does not want to miss work. All his friends say that he will not be able to pay for his expenses. Santa then tells them about Aflac. Charlie wonders what will happen if he is not better by Christmas, but Rudolph thinks the Aflac duck can do the work. Rudolph gets better in a week, but Blitzen is sick, so the Aflac duck fills in for him.[13]
  • In 2009, Verizon began showing a commercial of the Misfit Toys with an AT&T phone. The characters wonder why it is there with all of its features but soon discover why when the phone shows a map of where it has 3G coverage (Verizon's ad campaign touts its much wider 3G coverage compared to AT&T), to which the toy airplane replies "You're gonna fit right in here!" and falls on the ground laughing.
  • Starting in 2011, there have been several commecials, filmed to look like the same stop-motion style as the special, which feature several characters including Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius, Hermey, the Bumble, and the Misfit Toys.
  • A 2012 commercial for Windows phone again features Bumble the Abominable Snowman (with his full set of teeth), speed-dating, getting advise from friends through Live Tiles. A follow-up features Bumble at Santa's North Pole pool party, and Santa using Live Tiles on his new Windows Phone to help him give his elves the holiday-season toy production directives.
  • A 2013 commercial for Nissan has a woman in a dealership briefly entering a fantasy where Santa's Elves, including Boss Elf and Hermey, have expanded their manufacturing line to include Nissan cars. Furthermore, the Bumble makes an appearance test driving one to his obvious approval.
  • In 2014, the United States Post Office used four characters (Rudolph, Hermey, Yukon Cornelius and Bumble) for the year's "Contemporary Christmas" stamp issue.[14]
  • CBS celebrated the special's 50th anniversary in 2014 with Rudolph and Sam the Snowman celebrating with cast members from The Big Bang Theory and NCIS while passing by their studio lots.


  • The copyright year in Roman numerals was mismarked as MCLXIV (1164) instead of the correct MCMLXIV (1964).[15] This invalidates the copyright under U.S. law at the time, which required a valid date of copyright to be affixed to the production; this means that still images from the special and all of the characters unique to the special are, as a result, in the public domain. However, because the original story and song are still copyrighted and the soundtrack was validly copyrighted separately, for all practical purposes, permission is still required to air the special.
  • In 2006, the puppets of Rudolph and Santa used in the filming of this famous television special were appraised on PBS Television's Antiques Roadshow. The puppets had been damaged through years of rough handling by children and storage in an attic.[16] In 2007, both the puppets were restored to original condition by Screen Novelties, a Los Angeles based collective of film directors specializing in stop motion animation with puppet fabricator Robin Walsh leading the project.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Young, John (September 14, 2010). "Billie Mae Richards, voice of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, dies at 88". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on December 2, 2011. 
  2. ^ Ford, Don (November 19, 2010). "‘Rudolph’ remembered". My View. Halton, Ontario: Archived from the original on December 2, 2011. Retrieved December 2, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Not My Job". Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me! (NPR). 2007-12-08. Arthur Rankin, Jr. 
  4. ^ Dennis Braithwaite, "Canadian voices", The Globe and Mail, December 8, 1964, p. 31.
  5. ^ YouTube video of original bumpers and commercials from the 1964 NBC telecast of Rudolph
  6. ^ TV Rudolph--Behind The Scenes, Part II, by Rick Goldschmidt
  7. ^ Heldenfels, Rich (December 19, 2012). "Mailbag: A Rudolph restoration, departed ‘Partners,’ more". Akron Beacon-Journal. Retrieved December 21, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Ask SAM: 'It's a Wonderful Life' pre-empted by 'Sound of Music Live'". Winston-Salem Journal. 20 December 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  9. ^ IGN's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Review
  10. ^ "Raging Rudolph". Video.
  11. ^ "The Reinfather". Video.
  12. ^ "A Pack of Gifts Now". Video.
  13. ^ "Aflac - Rudolph". Video.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Heldenfels, Rich (19 December 2013). "Mailbag: 'Rudolph' numerals wrong in opening credits". Akron Beacon-Journal. 
  16. ^ "Rudolph & Santa Characters from 'Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer'". Antiques Roadshow. PBS. May 15, 2006. Archived from the original on December 2, 2011. Retrieved December 2, 2011. 
  17. ^ Goodman, Brenda (2006-12-23). "Rudolph and Santa, as Good as New". The New York Times. 

External links[edit]