Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (TV special)

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Promotional advertisement for the original NBC airing.
Based on a story by Robert May
Written by Romeo Muller
Directed by Larry Roemer
Narrated by Burl Ives
(as Sam The Snowman)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 1
Cinematography Tadahito Mochinaga
Running time 55 minutes
Production company(s) Rankin/Bass Productions
Distributor NBCUniversal Television Distribution
Original network NBC (1964–1971)
CBS (1972present)
Original release December 6, 1964
Followed by Rudolph's Shiny New Year
External links

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a 1964 Christmas stop motion animated television special produced by Rankin/Bass Productions and currently distributed by Universal Television. It first aired Sunday, December 6, 1964, on the NBC television network in the United States, and was sponsored by General Electric under the umbrella title of The General Electric Fantasy Hour. The special was based on the Johnny Marks song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" which was itself based on the 1939 poem Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer written by Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May. Since 1972, the special has aired on CBS, with the network unveiling a high-definition, digitally remastered version of the program in 2005. As with A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph no longer airs just once annually, but several times during the Christmas and holiday season on CBS. Unlike other specials that also air on several cable channels (including Freeform), Rudolph only airs on CBS. It has been telecast every year since 1964, making it the longest running Christmas TV special in history. 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the television special[1] and a series of postage stamps featuring Rudolph was issued by the United States Postal Service on November 6, 2014.[2]


Sam the Snowman narrates the story of Rudolph, a reindeer who is born with a glowing red nose. His father, Santa's lead reindeer Donner, feels ashamed after Santa Claus tells him that he will not allow Rudolph to be in the sleigh team with his nose ("Jingle Jingle Jingle"). Donner uses a special cover to hide Rudolph's nose so Donner and his wife can send Rudolph to the Reindeer Games in a year's time.

A year later, Rudolph is a yearling reindeer who is sent to take part in the Reindeer Games to learn how to fly, with Comet as his coach. Donner still tries to hide the nature of Rudolph's nose with the cover. This causes Rudolph's voice to sound as if he had a permanent cold. Despite this, two deer befriend Rudolph. One is a little buck named Fireball, and one unnamed buck is said to be the son of Dasher. The other is a beautiful doe named Clarice, whose affection for Rudolph inspires him to fly higher and more artfully than all of his peers. During some horseplay, Fireball inadvertently pops the cover off of Rudolph's nose; after seeing his glowing nose, the other young bucks, Fireball included, start ridiculing Rudolph. Comet bans Rudolph from the rest of the games as a result. Clarice is the only reindeer who still likes Rudolph and tries to comfort him ("There's Always Tomorrow"). However, their musings are interrupted by Clarice's father, who forbids Clarice from being around Rudolph.

Rudolph runs off into the woods and meets up with Hermey, an elf who had been forced out of his job because he was more interested in dentistry than toymaking and singing ("We Are Santa's Elves"). The two bond ("We're a Couple of Misfits") after they discover they each have something that makes them unique. After deciding to be "independent together", they set out but encounter the Abominable Snow Monster aka the Bumble, a carnivorous monster who hates Christmas and feeds on reindeer. The two manage to escape him.

Later, they meet a prospector named Yukon Cornelius, who professes himself as the Greatest Prospector of the North but never finds any of the precious metal ("Silver and Gold") that he seeks. The trio manages to flee to the Island of Misfit Toys, an island filled by abandoned toys with idiosyncrasies ("The Most Wonderful Day of the Year"). The island is ruled by a winged lion named King Moonracer. Because they are misfits but not toys, King Moonracer allows them to spend one night on his island; the King asks the trio to inform Santa Claus of the toys' plight and find homes for them in return. As Hermey and Yukon sleep, Rudolph leaves the island on his own, fearing that his nose is a danger to his friends.

A few months later, Rudolph has grown into a young stag and, still unable to find a place where he is accepted, decides to return home. When he arrives, Santa informs him that his parents and Clarice are gone, all searching for him. Rudolph searches the North Pole and finds his family and Clarice being held captive by the Abominable Snowman. Rudolph attempts to rescue them alone before Hermey and Yukon Cornelius catch up to him. Posing as a pig, they manage to lure, then knock out the Bumble long enough for Hermey to remove its teeth, but after the monster awakens, Yukon, in an act of bravado, leads himself, his sled team, and the terrified monster over a cliff. The others return home, where they tell everyone their story. Rudolph and Hermey stop being ridiculed, and the lead elf finally allows Hermey to open a dentist's office the week after Christmas. Yukon, who survived, makes a grand entrance with the toothless and now-reformed Bumble. Everyone decides to keep the friendly monster around because he helps the elves decorate the Christmas trees without a step-ladder.

Santa comes to the conclusion that the winter storm outside would be too much for his sleigh team to handle, so he decides to cancel the Christmas Eve flight. As he announces the decision, Rudolph's nose begins to glow brightly, inspiring Santa to offer Rudolph the front position guiding the sleigh; Rudolph happily accepts ("A Holly Jolly Christmas"). Watched on by his parents and Clarice, Rudolph leads the sleigh to the Island of Misfit Toys to collect the toys, after which they are delivered to their respective homes. With Rudolph leading the sleigh, it turns out to be a merry Christmas after all.

Hermey and Rudolph

Santa's Workshop

Island of Misfit Toys


The TV special, with the teleplay by Romeo Muller, introduced several new characters inspired by the song's lyrics. Muller told an interviewer shortly before his death that he would have preferred to base the teleplay on May's original book, but could not find a copy. Other than Burl Ives, all characters were portrayed by Canadian actors recorded at RCA studios in Toronto under the supervision of Bernard Cowan.[6]

Since those involved with the production had no idea of the value of the figures used in the production, they were not preserved. Santa and Rudolph were given to a secretary, who gave them to family members. Kevin Kriess bought Santa and Rudolph in 2005 and, because they were in such bad condition, had them restored by Screen Novelties International. The figures have been shown at conventions since then.[7]


In 2006, the puppets of Rudolph and Santa used in the filming of the special were appraised on Antiques Roadshow on PBS. The puppets had been damaged through years of rough handling by children and storage in an attic.[8] In 2007, both puppets were restored to original condition by Screen Novelties, a Los Angeles based collective of film directors specializing in stop motion animation with puppet fabricator Robin Walsh leading the project.[9]

Production credits

Different versions

Original 1964 NBC broadcast edit

This version has the NBC "living color" peacock at the introduction. It includes the original end credits, where an elf drops presents which list all the technical credits. It also includes commercials which were exclusively for GE small appliances with some of the same animated elves from the main program introducing each of the products, and closing NBC network bumpers, including promos for the following week's episodes of GE College Bowl and Meet the Press, which were presumably pre-empted that Sunday for the inaugural 5:30 PM (EST) telecast. The College Bowl quiz show was also sponsored by GE.[10] The original does not include Santa traveling to the Island of Misfit Toys, but does include a scene near the end of the special in which Yukon Cornelius discovers a peppermint mine near Santa's workshop. He can be seen throughout the special tossing his pickax into the air, sniffing, then licking the end that contacts the snow or ice. Discarded in 1965 to make room for Santa traveling to the Island of Misfit toys, the audience was left to assume that Cornelius was attempting to find either silver or gold by taste alone.

1965–1997 telecasts

The 1965 broadcast also included a new duet between Rudolph and Hermey called "Fame and Fortune", which replaced a scene in which the same characters sang "We're a Couple of Misfits". Viewers of the 1964 special complained that Santa was not shown fulfilling his promise to the Misfit Toys (to include them in his annual toy delivery). In reaction, a new scene for subsequent rebroadcasts was produced with Santa making his first stop at the Island to pick up the toys. This is the ending that has been shown on all telecasts and video releases ever since. Until sometime in the 1970s the special aired without additional cuts, but eventually more commercial time was required by the network. In 1978, several sequences were deleted to make room for more advertising: the instrumental bridge from "We Are Santa's Elves" featuring the elf orchestra, additional dialogue by Burl Ives, and the "Peppermint Mine" scene resolving the fate of Yukon Cornelius. The special's 1993 restoration saw "Misfits" returned to its original film context, and the 2004 DVD release showcases "Fame and Fortune" as a separate musical number.

1998–2007 CBS telecasts

Most of the 1965 deletions were restored in 1998, and "Fame and Fortune" was replaced with the original "We're a Couple of Misfits" reprise. The "Peppermint Mine" scene was not restored; it has not aired on CBS since the mid 70s.

Starting in 2005, CBS aired the video of the "Fame and Fortune" scene with the soundtrack replaced by an edited version of "We're a Couple of Misfits". The special has been edited to make more time for commercial advertising by shortening some musical numbers.

CBS telecasts since 2008

"Fame and Fortune" has once again been replaced with "We're a Couple of Misfits". Additional cuts have been made for more commercial time.

Home media

When Rudolph was first issued on VHS and LaserDisc by Family Home Entertainment and Broadway Video from 1989 to 1997 under the Christmas Classics Series label, the 1965 rebroadcast print described above was used. All current video prints of Rudolph by Classic Media are a compendium of the two previous telecast versions of the special. All the footage in the current versions follow the original NBC airing (without the original GE commercials) up until the "Peppermint Mine" scene, followed by the final act of the 1965 edit (with the Island of Misfit Toys finale and the 1965 alternate credits in place of the original end credit sequence).

In 1998, the special was released by Sony Wonder on VHS. In 2000, it was released on DVD, and on Blu-ray Disc in 2010 (although the Blu-ray does not contain the bonus features from the previous DVD release.) This edit has been made available in original color form by former rights holders Classic Media,[11] (which in 2012 became the DreamWorks Classics division of DreamWorks Animation, and finally in 2016, part of Universal Pictures)[12] As previously mentioned, this is also the version currently airing on CBS, albeit in edited form to accommodate more commercial time. In November 2014, Classic Media released a 50th anniversary edition of the special on Blu-ray.[13] Walmart released an exclusive 50th anniversary Blu-ray edition with a storybook.


The songs and incidental music were all written by Johnny Marks, with Maury Laws supervising. In addition to the songs previously mentioned, the score also includes the film's love theme "There's Always Tomorrow", sung by Clarice after Rudolph is kicked out of the reindeer games. Marks' holiday standard "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" appears as instrumental background music when Rudolph first arrives at the Reindeer Games. Also included in the soundtrack is an instrumental version of Marks' setting of the Christmas hymn "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

In 1964, an LP record of the soundtrack was released on Decca Records. It contained all the original songs performed as they are in the special, with the exception of Burl Ives' material, which has been re-recorded. MCA Special Products released the soundtrack on CD in June 1995. It is an exact duplication of the original LP released in 1964. Tracks 1-9 are the original soundtrack selections while tracks 10-19 are the same songs performed by the Decca Concert Orchestra. The song "Fame and Fortune" is not contained on either release. On November 30, 2004 the soundtrack was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over 500,000 copies.

Ives re-recorded "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas", with different arrangements, for his own album Have a Holly Jolly Christmas in 1965.[14]


Books and other items related to the show have in some cases misspelled "Hermey" as "Herbie". Rich Goldschmidt, who wrote Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Making of the Rankin/Bass Holiday Classic, says the scripts by Romeo Muller show the spelling to be "Hermey".[15]

A Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer video game was released on November 9, 2010. The adaptation was published by Red Wagon Games for the Wii and Nintendo DS systems, and was developed by High Voltage Software and Glyphic Entertainment, respectively. The Wii version was received poorly, and garnered extremely negative reviews from sites such as IGN giving it a 1.5/10.[16]


The Rankin/Bass special, which currently airs on CBS, inspired numerous television sequels made by the same studio:

Parodies of, and homages to, Rudolph

The television special's familiarity to American audiences through its annual rebroadcasts, along with its primitive stop-motion animation that is easy to recreate with modern technology and the special's ambiguous copyright status, has lent itself to numerous parodies and homages over the years.

Films by Corky Quakenbush

Animator Corky Quakenbush has produced parodies of Rudolph for several American television shows:

Other parodies of Rudolph

Uses in advertising

Copyright issues

The copyright of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special lies in a gray area of federal copyright law. When the recording was originally published, the date of copyright (published in Roman numerals) was accidentally listed as 1164 (MCLXIV), omitting an M that should have been present (1964 in Roman numerals is MCMLXIV); this mistake was not corrected with subsequent edits and remains on televised prints to this day.[23] The songs were validly and separately copyrighted, and the original character on which the special was based also remains under copyright and trademark protection, extending some indirect copyright protection to the special as a derivative work. (A number of films, such as It's a Wonderful Life and His Girl Friday, fall under similar circumstances: a public domain film loosely based on a copyrighted work.)

Assuming the error in the copyright is considered substantial enough to invalidate it (U.S. copyright law before 1988 required works to have a valid date on a copyright notice, while providing some leeway in regard to non-substantial errors), the error puts large portions of the special not directly tied to the songs or original story into the public domain. (Some of the characters, particularly Santa Claus and the adult reindeer, relied on material that was already public domain anyway; all of the characters except Rudolph, most of the images, and large portions of the spoken sountrack would thus be public domain in this interpretation.) Because of the indirect copyright protections and uncertainty over their extent, permission is still required to show the program as a whole. The extensive derivative works seen in popular culture are likely a byproduct of this uncertain copyright status.

See also


  1. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer celebrates 50th anniversary". CBS News. December 9, 2014. Archived from the original on December 10, 2014.
  2. 1 2 "Rudolph all red-nosed over stamp of approval". United States Postal Service. November 6, 2014. Archived from the original on December 24, 2014. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the nation’s longest-running and highest-rated Christmas television special 'went down in history' to receive its stamp of approval today. The set of four Limited Edition Forever stamps depicting Rudolph, Hermey, Santa and Bumble were created from still television frames from the special which premiered 50 years ago in 1964.
  3. Young, John (September 14, 2010). "Billie Mae Richards, voice of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, dies at 88". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on December 2, 2011.
  4. Ford, Don (November 19, 2010). "'Rudolph' remembered". My View. Halton, Ontario: Archived from the original on December 2, 2011. Retrieved December 2, 2011.
  5. "Not My Job". Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me!. NPR. 2007-12-08. Arthur Rankin, Jr.
  6. Braithwaite, Dennis, "Canadian voices", The Globe and Mail, December 8, 1964, p. 31.
  7. Heldenfels, Rich (December 19, 2012). "Mailbag: A Rudolph restoration, departed 'Partners,' more". Akron Beacon Journal. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
  8. "Rudolph & Santa Characters from 'Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer'". Antiques Roadshow. PBS. May 15, 2006. Archived from the original on December 2, 2011. Retrieved December 2, 2011.
  9. Goodman, Brenda (2006-12-23). "Rudolph and Santa, as Good as New". The New York Times.
  10. YouTube video of original bumpers and commercials from the 1964 NBC telecast of Rudolph
  11. TV Rudolph--Behind The Scenes, Part II, by Rick Goldschmidt
  12. Lieberman, David (July 23, 2012). "DreamWorks Animation Agrees To Pay $155M For Classic Media". Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  13. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition Blu-ray". August 19, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  14. Torreano, Bradley. "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives". AllMusic. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  15. "Ask SAM: 'It's a Wonderful Life' pre-empted by 'Sound of Music Live'". Winston-Salem Journal. 20 December 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  16. Steimer, Kristine (December 15, 2010). "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Review". IGN. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  17. "Raging Rudolph". Video.
  18. "The Reinfather". Video.
  19. "A Pack of Gifts Now". Video.
  20. "General Electric Rankin Bass Rudolph Commercials (1964)". YouTube. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  21. Aflac - Rudolph.
  22. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". United States Postal Service. November 6, 2014. Archived from the original on December 4, 2014. Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamps. The Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer stamps are being issued as Forever® stamps.
  23. Heldenfels, Rich (19 December 2013). "Mailbag: 'Rudolph' numerals wrong in opening credits". Akron Beacon-Journal.

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