When a little girl’s mother dies of cancer, a Christmas reindeer makes the world a brighter place.
As a copywriter for Chicago’s Montgomery Ward, Robert May drafts an original Christmas story about a reindeer. In the wake of the Great Depression, he tries to write something hopeful with holiday cheer. Although his boss is wary of a story about a “shiny” red-nosed reindeer named Rudolph, Robert’s daughter, Barbara, is comforted through the tale when her mother dies of cancer. In time, the story becomes a best seller, and it’s even adapted into a very famous Christmas song and franchise.
In 1939, when Robert May, a Montgomery Ward copywriter, decides to write a poem about a reindeer with a shiny nose, he hopes the world will become a brighter place. Many families could still feel the effects of the Great Depression. Instead of making the annual coloring book, Robert drafts an original Christmas story about an animal with holiday cheer. After all, his daughter, Barbara, loves reindeer, especially with Santa Claus and his sleigh. Although Sewell Avery, CEO of Montgomery Ward, is doubtful that the poem about a reindeer is the best idea, he approves Robert to write the piece. With the original name Rudolph, Robert sets off on brainstorming for the story. Coming home from work that evening, Robert sighs at the tiny, unkept two-bedroom Chicago apartment. He checks on his bedridden wife, who had been suffering from cancer for the past two years. He explains he’s been working on his poem about Rudolph the reindeer all day again. His wife hopes his writing is a big hit with the shoppers, and his daughter runs to him to hear the latest version of the story. Although his daughter Barbara is sad that her mother is sick, she finds joy in her father’s reindeer story.
As Robert reads to his daughter at bedtime about a reindeer named Rudolph with a very shiny nose, she falls asleep. Later in the week, Mr. Avery agrees to consider drawings of Rudolph from Denver Gillan from the company art department. Robert tells Mr. Avery that he’ll spend the whole weekend at the zoo with Denver. When Saturday morning comes, Barbara goes with her father and the artist to the zoo to make drawings of deer. Unfortunately, Barbara’s mother is too sick to accompany them. The next week, Robert sits at his desk, scribbling on pads of paper and throwing them in the trash can. As he stares out the window, he cannot see through a thick fog from Lake Michigan. He realizes that Rudolph’s nose can shine like a spotlight through the fog on Christmas Eve, so Santa can make his deliveries. While at work, when the phone rings, and Robert hears his wife’s mother on the phone, he feels sick to his stomach. He sobs on the way to the hospital, trying to figure out how to tell his daughter that her mother has passed away. When he lays eyes on his daughter, she cries and cries and collapses in his arms, kicking and yelling. He tries to tell her about Rudolph, but she says he’s not real; he’s only a stupid reindeer.
After his wife’s funeral, Mr. Avery insists that Robert doesn’t have to finish the Rudolph poem. Although Mr. Avery suggests he takes a couple weeks off, Robert insists on finishing it. He wants to finish the story for Barbara. After a few more weeks of writing, Robert bursts through his apartment door one evening and announces he has finished the story about Rudolph. His daughter is so pleased and thinks her mother would enjoy the story. By Christmas, 2.4 million copies of the poem are distributed to Montgomery Ward shoppers to great success. Rudolph is almost as important as Santa Claus, making the world a little brighter after all.
Copyright 2022 Jennifer Waters