Rudolph the Red-Nosed Wayseer & the Miraculous Story Behind the Story
by Garrett John LoPorto
Your darkest hour may be the moment you make your greatest contribution, for then you are in the crucible where miracles are born.
When times are hard you might relate to Robert L. May’s tragic and inspiring true story of the making of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Many people are overjoyed when they hear this story, and surprised they’d never heard it before…
Right in the midst of the Great Depression, Bob struggled to keep it together through Christmastime. His wife was dying of cancer, the medical bills were piling up and his 4 year old daughter was depending on him to be strong. Brokenhearted, desperate and overwhelmed with medical expenses, Bob was given the job to write an uplifting children’s “animal story” for a department store called Montgomery Ward. This was to be a Christmas promotional coloring book.
How do you write a jubilant children’s story when your heart is breaking and your life is collapsing?
Bob didn’t have the luxury of failing, so he focused on the two things that brought him strength … his daughter and his triumph over his difficult childhood. Bob was always different and never seemed to fit in. He was what some might call a Wayseer.
Despite his difficult childhood, Bob got through college, married his loving wife, was blessed with his beautiful little girl and was grateful to have work to support his family during the Great Depression. But it was all short-lived. His wife Evelyn’s bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and Bob and his daughter were forced to live in the Chicago slums. Evelyn was going to die within a year.
Bob struggled to give hope to his little girl, but he could barely afford to buy her a Christmas present. Bob had to use what little he had to work with to transform their lives – even if just for a moment – into something positive and hopeful.
Inspired in part by his daughter’s fascination with the deer at the local zoo, Bob chose a reindeer to be the focus of the story he would tell and retell to his grieving daughter. Her favorite name for this reindeer was Rudolph, and so it was.
The character he created was a misfit just like he was. Out of the imagination of a man at his breaking point, somehow Bob found the grace to tell a story that shed a light of hope and optimism in the face of adversity.
When he finally shared his heartfelt story with the supervisor in the catalog copy department of Montgomery Ward, his story was rejected. The supervisor didn’t like the red nose because he associated red noses with drinking and drunkards.
Most people would have acquiesced and given their boss whatever they wanted, because it was the Great Depression and Bob had little energy left to fight. However, Bob was no stranger to adversity. Instead of acquiescing to the man controlling his only source of income, Bob pushed back. This wasn’t just a red nosed reindeer. This was the precious creation that he shared with his daughter and his dying wife. This story was the thing that brought them comfort during the most difficult moment in their lives. He would not let it go.
Bob brought in an illustrator to depict an innocent red nosed reindeer that would appeal to children and parents alike in order to show the Wards catalog supervisor the merit of Bob’s vision. With that illustration and a good amount of spine, Bob convinced the supervisor to go with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and Bob was paid for his book.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was an astonishingly huge success. Wards ended up distributing more than six million copies of the Rudolph book.
But that is not where the story ends…
A major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print a new version of the book. Wards held the copyright, because they already paid Bob to write it, so Bob would receive no royalties. Bob’s wife had died by then and Bob was left with nothing but a mountain of medical expense debt and his daughter to take care of.
In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the president of Wards gave all the rights back to Bob May, so he could benefit from his own creation. The book became a best seller.
Many merchandising deals followed and Bob became wealthy, all from a little story he created in the crucible of his darkest hour to comfort his grieving daughter.
But there’s more…
Bob’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph.
The song was turned down again and again, but after not giving up, Gene Autry recorded “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and it was released in 1949 to become a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of “White Christmas.”
The simple gift of love Bob May created to comfort his daughter years ago kept on returning back to bless him and his family over and over.
“Love is a living energy that when released into the world goes on and on forever blessing everyone it reaches.”
Bob experienced the truth of that statement, just like we all can. Remember, your darkest hour may be the moment you make your greatest contribution, for then you are in the crucible where miracles are born.