This year marks the 50th anniversary of the stop-motion animated Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Prior to on-demand television and DVDs, if you missed a particular holiday broadcast, you had to wait another twelve months for an opportunity to see it. No child wanted to miss the unique magic that was, and is, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”!
Produced by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass in 1964, “Rudolph” debuted on NBC on the afternoon of Sunday, December 6th. The program, brought to life overseas by Japanese stop-motion animators, was inspired by Robert L. May's 1939 book, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and the famous song penned in 1949 by May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks. In fact, Marks wrote all the songs for the project, including my favorite, “Silver and Gold,” sung by Burl Ives, aka narrator “Sam the Snowman”. While Ives was a well known actor/folk singer in America at the time, the production's remaining cast members were Canadian actors.
Rudolph was voiced by entertainer, Billie Mae Richards, then 43 years old. Born in 1921 in Toronto, Ontario, Richards was Canada's Shirley Temple and enjoyed a long, varied career including much radio work. Her voice, naturally rich in vigor and joy, perfectly brought Rudolph to life. Richards passed away in 2010 at 88 years young. Hermey, Rudolph's elf buddy with a gift for dentistry, was performed by Toronto native Paul Soles. Soles, born in 1930 and one of the last surviving cast members from the Marvel Super Heroes show (1966) and Spider-Man (1967), is most remembered as the voice of the misfit elf. While some believe Mickey Rooney lent his voice to Santa, in this Rankin/Bass production, the guy in the red suit was voiced by actor Stan Francis. Not much is known about Francis, but if you would like to put human faces to the other charming voices in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, log onto behindthevoiceactors.com.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” stirs fond memories for me. The night “Rudolph” aired, I was sure to finish my homework as quickly as possible so I could be sitting in front of the television when Sam the Snowman slid along the snow to once again narrate the story I knew so well. I didn't miss a moment (except when Bumble, the Abominable Snow Monster, roared onto the screen, and I hid in the dining room). During the show, my Mom made me hot chocolate, which I sipped slowly to make it last. When my cup was empty, and Rudolph triumphantly took the lead in Santa's team, I went to bed happy and filled with Christmas spirit. The Rankin/Bass production of “Rudolph” is pure holiday magic that withstood the test of time to become a holiday tradition in countless homes, including my own.
So Happy Anniversary, Rudolph! It wouldn't be Christmas without you!