By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

EAST TEXAS – Most folks around here know Dasher and Dancer. They probably know Prancer and Vixen. Their running buddies – Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen – also are also known to frequent the area.

It’s that last one – the one they call Rudolph – the one who claimed to be “the most famous reindeer of them all,” that begs the question ‘what do we really know about him?’

It is common knowledge the guy had a big red nose and he was picked on at school. To hear him tell it, he wasn’t allowed to have any fun. But, where did he come from? It seems like he just appeared on the reindeer playground one day like the new kid at school.

To hear some tell it, it was those infamous reindeer games that were behind Rudolph’s rise to fame. However, according to information compiled in an article on the “Mental Floss” website by Stacy Conradt, it was actually a now-defunct mail order and department store that gave the world a red-nosed Christmas Eve guide.

Conradt reported during the holiday season, Montgomery Ward’s used to sponsor Santa Claus for children to come and have their pictures taken with. In 1939, corporate executives decided they needed a character to star in a Christmas-themed comic book which was being designed and would be sold during the holiday season to the parents of children waiting to visit Santa Claus.

As a result, Robert May, a staff copyrighter with Montgomery Ward, was tasked to come up with a character to entertain the kids. After several not so well-received attempts, the concept of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer was born.

Even though Rudolph is known far and wide these days, he was almost known by a different name. Other monikers considered for the red-nosed flying sled deer included Reginald, Rodney, Rollo and Romeo.

May also very nearly gave Rudolph a different method of sleigh navigation with a pair of “huge headlight-like eyes” but opted for a shiny red nose because he felt the other reindeer would be more likely to pick on poor Rudolph over his nose than big eyes.

It would probably be hard to get accustomed to singing about Rollo, the Bug-Eyed Reindeer.

May came up with the concept in 1939, but it wasn’t until 10 years later when his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the lyrics for the song that immortalized Rudolph – in 1949.

Once the lyrics were worked and re-worked, the song was offered to Gene Autry. Autry originally balked at the idea and nearly turned it down.

It took his first wife – Ina May Autry – to convince him to record it and it appears she was right. The song “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” has sold over 150 million copies and is ranked as the second best-selling Christmas song, behind Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.