Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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This article is about the fictional character. For other uses, see Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (disambiguation).
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer Marion Books.jpg
Cover of one of the books of the Robert L. May story by Maxton Publishers, Inc.
First appearance 1939
Last appearance 2001 (films and series)
Created by Robert L. May
Voiced by Billie Mae Richards (TV series)
Kathleen Barr (movie)
Nickname(s) Rudolph In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie: Red, Rudy, Rudy the Red nosed Reject.
Species Reindeer
Gender Male
Title The Red Nosed Reindeer
Family Donner (father in 1964 film)
Mrs. Donner (mother in 1964 film)
Blitzen (father in 1998 film)
Mitzi (mother in 1998 film)
Rusty (brother in Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen)
Arrow (cousin in 1998 film)
Spouse(s) Clarice(1964 T.V Special & 2001 Animated Film) / Zoey in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie
Children Robbie (son in the Robbie the Reindeer films)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a fictional male reindeer with a glowing red nose, popularly known as "Santa's 9th Reindeer." When depicted, he is the lead reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve. The luminosity of his nose is so great that it illuminates the team's path through inclement winter weather.

Rudolph first appeared in a 1939 booklet written by Robert L. May and published by Montgomery Ward.[1][2][3]

The story is owned by The Rudolph Company, L.P. and has been adapted in numerous forms including a popular song, a television special and sequels, and a feature film and sequel. Character Arts, LLC manages the licensing for the Rudolph Company, L.P. In many countries, Rudolph has become a figure of Christmas folklore.

Publication history[edit]

Robert L. May created Rudolph in 1939 as an assignment for Chicago based Montgomery Ward. The retailer had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money. May considered naming the reindeer "Rollo" and "Reginald" before deciding upon using the name "Rudolph".[4] In its first year of publication, 2.5 million copies of Rudolph's story were distributed by Montgomery Ward.[5] The story is written as a poem in the meter of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas". Publication and reprint rights for the book Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are controlled by Pearson Plc.

Of note is the change in the cultural significance of a red nose. In popular culture, a bright red nose was then closely associated with chronic alcoholism and drunkards, and so the story idea was initially rejected. May asked his illustrator friend at Wards, Denver Gillen, to draw "cute reindeer", using zoo deer as models. The alert, bouncy character Gillen developed convinced management to support the idea.[6]

Maxton Books published the first mass-market edition of Rudolph and also published a sequel, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Shines Again in 1954. In 1991 Applewood Books published Rudolph's Second Christmas, an unpublished sequel that Robert May wrote in 1947. In 2003, Penguin Books issued a reprint version of the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with new artwork by Lisa Papp. Penguin also reprinted May's sequels Rudolph Shines Again and Rudolph's Second Christmas (now retitled Rudolph to the Rescue).[citation needed]

The story[edit]

The story chronicles the experiences of Rudolph, a youthful reindeer buck (male) who possesses an unusual luminous red nose. Harassed mercilessly and excluded by his peers because of this trait, Rudolph manages to prove himself one Christmas Eve after Santa Claus catches sight of Rudolph's nose and asks Rudolph to lead his sleigh for the evening. Rudolph agrees, and is finally treated better by his fellow reindeer for his heroism.

Rudolph in the media[edit]


May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, adapted the story of Rudolph into a song. Gene Autry's recording of the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart the week of Christmas 1949. Autry's recording sold 2.5 million copies the first year, eventually selling a total of 25 million, and it remained the second best-selling record of all time until the 1980s.[7]

Theatrical cartoon short[edit]

Rudolph's first screen appearance came in 1944, in the form of a cartoon short produced by Max Fleischer for the Jam Handy Corporation, that was more faithful to May's original story than Marks' song (which had not then yet been written).[8] It was reissued in 1951 with the song added.[citation needed]

Comic books[edit]

DC Comics, then known as National Periodical Publications, published a series of 13 annuals titled Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from 1950 to 1962.[9][10] Most of the 1950s stories were drawn by Rube Grossman.[11] In 1972, DC published a 14th edition in an extra-large format. Subsequently, they published six more in that format: Limited Collectors' Edition C-24, C-33, C-42, C-50[12] and All-New Collectors' Edition C-53, C-60.[13] Additionally, one digest format edition was published as The Best of DC #4 (March–April 1980).[14] The 1970s Rudolph stories were written and drawn by Sheldon Mayer.[15][16]

Children's book[edit]

In 1958, Golden Books published an illustrated storybook, adapted by Barbara Shook Hazen and illustrated by Richard Scarry. The book is similar in story to the Max Fleischer cartoon short. It is no longer in print but a revised Golden Books version of the storybook has since been issued.

Stop-motion animation TV special[edit]

In 1964, the tale was adapted into a stop-motion Christmas special by Rankin/Bass. Filmed entirely in Japan with all sound recordings done in Toronto, Canada, the show premiered on NBC, drastically altering the original telling of the story. This re-telling chronicles Rudolph's social rejection among his peers and his decision to run away from home. Rudolph is accompanied by a similarly-outcast elf named Hermey, whose dreams of becoming a dentist are shunned by the other elves, along with a loud, boisterous, eager prospector named Yukon Cornelius who was in search of wealth. Additional original characters include Rudolph's love interest, Clarice; the antagonistic Abominable Snowman; and, as narrator, the anthropomorphic Sam the Snowman, voiced by Burl Ives.

After the story's initial broadcast, its closing credits were revised. Images of wrapped presents being dropped from Santa's sleigh were replaced by "Misfit" Toys being dropped to the homes of children below, where they were found by children who loved them. The changes were prompted by viewer feedback pleading for a happy ending for each toy. The special now airs annually on CBS, rather than NBC, and is hailed as a classic by many. The special's original assortment of trademarked characters have acquired iconic status, and its alterations of the true storyline are frequently parodied in other works. The sequel Rudolph's Shiny New Year continued the reindeer's journeys.

Animated feature-length films[edit]

An animated feature film of the story was produced in 1998, titled Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie. It received only a limited theatrical release before debuting on home video. Its inclusion of a villain, a love interest, a sidekick, and a strong protector are more derivative of the Rankin-Bass adaptation of the story than the original tale and song (the characters of Stormella, Zoey, Arrow, Slyly and Leonard parallel the Rankin-Bass characters of the Abominable Snowman, Clarice, Fireball, Hermey the Dentist, and Yukon Cornelius respectively). The movie amplifies the early back-story of Rudolph's harassment by his schoolmates (primarily his cousin Arrow) during his formative years.

GoodTimes Entertainment, the producers of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie, brought back most of the same production team for a CGI animated sequel, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys in 2001. Unlike the previous film, the sequel licensed the original characters from the Rankin-Bass special.


A live-action version of Rudolph (complete with glowing nose) appears in the Doctor Who Christmas special, Last Christmas, to be broadcast on BBC One on 25 December 2014.[17]

Homages to Rudolph in other media[edit]

In the 2000 film remake of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Grinch disguises his dog, Max, as Rudolph for his plan to disguise himself as Santa Claus and steal everything in each house in Whoville to stop Christmas from coming. He also changes Rudolph's story saying, he hates Christmas and is gonna steal it. He than yells "Action!" through a megaphone. But Max takes off the fake red nose that the Grinch put on him.

In the 2007 film Fred Claus, Rudolph is mentioned and briefly seen, although his red nose is not glowing. Fred (Vince Vaughn) is filling in for his injured brother Nick (Paul Giamatti) delivering the toys on Christmas Eve. While en route, he crashes the sleigh through a billboard advertisement for Pepsi Cola featuring Santa Claus. He then tells Rudolph to "shake it off". There are quick edits of Fred flying through the night making his deliveries. Willie the elf says "Fred, I have a bad feeling about this." followed by a shot of the full moon. The sleigh zips by and turns to go head on into the camera. Here, you can see Rudolph leading the pack. in slow motion, you can clearly count 9 reindeer.

Rudolph is mentioned in the 1963 Beach Boys' song "Little Saint Nick" in the following lyric: "Now haulin' through the snow at a frightening speed with a half a dozen deer with Rudy to lead."[18]

In the Doctor Who promotional mini-webisode, "Songtaran Carols", the Sontaran warrior-nurse-detective, Strax, stated: "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose. It proved to be a tactical disadvantage, because it enabled me to punch him in the dark."

Rudolph was mentioned in the video game Army of Two during a tutorial video about the use of the game's Aggro feature.

"Run Rudolph Run" is a Christmas song popularized by Chuck Berry and written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie and published by St. Nicholas Music (ASCAP). The song was first recorded by Berry in 1958 and released as a single on Chess Records (label no. 1714). It has since been covered by numerous other artists, sometimes under the title "Run, Run, Rudolph". The song is a 12-bar blues, and has a clear musical parallel to Chuck Berry's very popular and recognizable song "Johnny B. Goode", and is also melodically identical to Berry's "Little Queenie", released in 1959.

Relatives in different adaptations[edit]

Two BBC animations carry on the legend by introducing Rudolph's son, Robbie the Reindeer. However, Rudolph is never directly mentioned by name (references are replaced by the character Blitzen interrupting with the phrase "Don't say that name!" or something similar, presumably for copyright reasons.)

Rudolph is also given a brother, Rusty Reindeer, in the 2006 American special, Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen. Unlike in the "Robbie the Reindeer" cartoons, Rudolph's name is mentioned in the film.

Michael Fry and T. Lewis have given Rudolph another brother in a series of Over the Hedge comic strips: an overweight, emotionally-damaged reindeer named Ralph, the Infra-Red nosed Reindeer. Ralph has a red nose, but his is good for defrosting Santa's sleigh and warming up toast and waffles. He enviously complained about his brother's publicity and his own anonymity.

Rudolph has a cousin, Leroy, in Joe Diffie's 1995 song, "Leroy the Redneck Reindeer", which tells the story of Leroy joining the sleigh team because Rudolph was too ill.

In the animated specials produced by both Rankin-Bass and GoodTimes Entertainment, Rudolph has been given different sets of parents. In Rankin-Bass's holiday special, he is Donner's son, and his mother is a tan doe who is called Mrs. Donner. In GoodTimes's retelling, Rudolph's father is Blitzen and his mother is named Mitzi, 3 of Santa's reindeer (Dasher, Comet and Cupid) were his uncles and he has a cousin Arrow (who is Cupid's son) who also serves as his rival.

Robert L. May's original book does not name Rudolph's parents.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara; Mikkelson, David P. (December 19, 2010). "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". Urban Legends Reference Pages. Archived from the original on December 2, 2011. Retrieved December 2, 2011. 
  2. ^ Ramer, Holly; Talbot, Toby (Photo) (December 23, 2011). "Scrapbook tells how Rudolph went down in history". Hanover, N.H.: Associated Press. Retrieved December 23, 2011. 
  3. ^ Wook Kim (December 17, 2012). "Yule Laugh, Yule Cry: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Beloved Holiday Songs (With holiday cheer in the air, TIME takes a closer look at some of the weird stories behind our favorite seasonal tunes)". TIME.  - "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (p. 3)
  4. ^ "Old Fashioned Christmas". University Place/Wisconsin Historical Society. December 12, 2010. 0:28 minutes in. Wisconsin Public Broadcasting Station. Wisconsin Channel.
  5. ^ Burnaby Now(2010.Dec.24), Jennifer Moreau, "Rudolph's Burnaby roots", p. A11, [1], archive available
  6. ^ Burnaby NewsLeader(2010.Dec.24), Wanda Chow, "How Rudolph the reindeer came to be", p. A3, [2], no archive found
  7. ^ Kenneth T. Jackson, Karen Markoe, Arnie Markoe, The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. Simon and Schuster, 1998, p.28
  8. ^ "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer"., April 13, 2012
  9. ^ Irvine, Alex; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1950s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. DC began an annual tradition of producing a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special. Following the success of the famous song (released in 1949), DC licensed the character and put Rudolph at the center of a series of lighthearted adventures...The Christmas Special would continue until 1962, and then return from 1972-1977. 
  10. ^ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Annual at the Grand Comics Database
  11. ^ Markstein, Don. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on December 4, 2011. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  12. ^ Limited Collectors' Edition #C-20, #C-24, #C-33, #C-42, and #C-50 at the Grand Comics Database
  13. ^ All-New Collectors' Edition #C-53 and #C-60 at the Grand Comics Database
  14. ^ The Best of DC #4 at the Grand Comics Database
  15. ^ Markstein, Don. "Sheldon Mayer". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on December 3, 2011. Retrieved December 3, 2011. [Mayer] also worked on several tabloid-formatted comic books for DC in the mid-1970s, including the company's first use of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer since the early 60s. 
  16. ^ Arnold, Mark (December 2012). "You Know Dasher and Dancer: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer". Back Issue (TwoMorrows Publishing) (61): 7–10. 
  17. ^ Preview clip from Last Christmas,, accessed 16 December 2014
  18. ^

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Mule Train" by Frankie Laine
U.S. Billboard Best Sellers in Stores number-one single
January 7, 1950 (Gene Autry)
Succeeded by
"I Can Dream, Can't I" by The Andrews Sisters