When I was a kid, I would excitedly wait for that one special week when all the beloved Christmas shows would air. We did not have DVDs or videos of any form for that matter. We had to wait until it aired live on television.
However, when Rudolph aired, I would feel very sad for Rudolph as all the other reindeer teased him for his shiny red nose. See, I was born with a strawberry birthmark on my left jaw. Think the kids had fun with that? Indeed they did. I completely identified with Rudolph, recognized the mean reindeer in a lot of kids and adults but felt empowered to be unique and special. When I was 11 years old, for my birthday I asked to have the birthmark removed. The kids were endeared by my courage to undergo surgery to fix the problem of which they all teased me about. Then all the reindeer loved me…
Rudolph and Bullying
Then I grew up and had my own children. As I would watch Rudolph every year with each of my kids, I would cringe, the protective mom in me would emerge. I would find myself getting angry at the portrayal of Santa who seemed to support the bullies. With bullying becoming such a pervasive problem in today’s society, I simply cannot watch it, even though, it, along with other stories, empowered positive change within me. I feel that it in some way condones the bullying behavior.
Apparently, I am not the only one who feels this way. An article crossed my desk…Danger: Psychologist says Rudolph Advocates Bullying A school counselor shares insights and concerns relating to bullying. I wondered, will they do a remake with a few tweaks? I wanted to share my thoughts with the readership and seek additional insight, but then the holiday hustle and bustle took over and I never found the time to put it together.
Then last night, we took a ride on the “Santa Express”. We had a wonderful time and towards the end, they handed out a Christmas message. I learned that the true story behind Rudolph is really rather inspiring. Perhaps a remake could be done somehow weaving in this amazing story?
A man named Bob May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night. His four year old daughter, Barbara, sat on his lap, quietly sobbing. Bob’s wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer. Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad’s eyes and asked: “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?” Bob’s jaw tightened and his eyes welled into tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob’s life. Life always had to be different for Bob.
Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he’d rather not remember. From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in. Bob did complete college, married his loving wife, Evelyn, and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression. Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived. Evelyn’s bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings, and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two room apartment in the Chicago slums. Evelyn died just two days before Christmas in 1938.
Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But, if he couldn’t purchase a gift, he was determined to make one – a story book! Bob had created an animal character in his own mind, and told the animal’s story to Barbara to give her hope and comfort. Again and again, Bob told the story, embellishing it with more each telling.
Who was the character? What was the story all about? The story Bob May created was his own autobiography, in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big, shiny nose! Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day! But…the story doesn’t end there. The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. Ward’s went on to print “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, and distributed it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores. By 1946, Ward’s printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Ward’s to print an updated version of the book. In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Ward’s returned all the rights back to Bob May. The book became a best seller! Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, remarried with a growing family – became wealthy from the story he created to comfort his grieving daughter.
But…the Story Doesn’t End There Either!
Bob’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph. Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry. “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of “White Christmas”. The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so long ago kept on returning back to bless him again and again. And Bob May learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being different isn’t so bad. In fact, being different can be a blessing. May 2013 bring change, where diversity is celebrated, and where bullying ends.