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Bob had created an animal character in his own mind and told the animal's story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form.
By 1946 Wards had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph.
That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an updated version of the book.
(Unlike Santa Claus and other familiar Christmas figures of the time, the Rudolph character was a protected trademark that required licensing and the payment of royalties for commercial use.) “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was reprinted commercially beginning in 1947 and shown in theaters as a nine-minute cartoon the following year, but the Rudolph phenomenon really took off when May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, developed the lyrics and melody for a Rudolph song.
Marks’ musical version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (turned down by many in the music industry who didn’t want to meddle with the established Santa legend) was recorded by cowboy crooner Gene Autry in 1949, sold two million copies that year, and went on to become one of the best-selling songs of all time (second only to “White Christmas”).
A stop-action television special about Rudolph produced by Rankin/Bass and narrated by Burl Ives was first aired in 1964 and remains a popular perennial holiday favorite in the U. May quit his copywriting job in 1951 and spent seven years managing the Rudolph franchise his creation had spawned before returning to Montgomery Ward, where he worked until his retirement in 1971.