Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was Christmas magic then, and is still magical today
It struck a chord and pretty soon, Rudolph wasn’t just a reindeer with a shiny nose — he was a household name. Sales soared as the song spun its magic across the globe, moving an impressive 40 million records in the United States alone.
When NBC decided to turn this tune into a TV special, they snagged Burl Ives to narrate. His voice was like hot cocoa for the ears, especially when he crooned “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” The 1964 special was a hit, thanks to this storytelling and a bunch of new, hummable songs from Marks.
When the show aired, it was a technical marvel of its time. The producers, Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass, along with director Larry Roemer, employed “Animagic,” a form of stop-motion animation, to bring inanimate puppets to life. This painstaking process required minute adjustments for every frame, but the result was a visually engaging and endearing portrayal of Rudolph’s adventures.
The story had it all: misfit buddies, a monster chase, and a big blizzard. But the heart of it was Rudolph’s glow-up, showing us it’s cool to be different. His bright nose went from laughable to legendary, lighting up Santa’s foggy flight like a Christmas miracle.
Fast forward and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is still the king of the Christmas castle. It’s not just the yearly reruns; it’s the toys, books, craft activities — and even more shows it inspired. It’s a holiday staple, like cookies and milk for Santa.
In the end, Rudolph’s tale is a cozy reminder that the things that make us stand out can be our superpowers. And every year, as Rudolph leads the sleigh across the night sky, he proves that being a little different is something to celebrate.
Below we’ve reprinted some video clips, photos and articles from back in the day when Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first found its way from song to screen, capturing hearts with its pioneering stop-motion charm.
Seven new Christmas songs in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer fantasy (article from 1964)
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the shy little buck who emerges as a hero after being humiliated by his friends because of his shiny beak, encounters many adventures in the wild North before he reaches his night of glory in the NBC special color-cast of the classic Christmas story.
Burl Ives is the off-camera voice of Sam the Snowman in the fully-animated color-filmed musical program presented as a holiday feature of the Fantasy Hour.
Several new Christmas songs, especially written for the color-cast by Johnny Marks, will be introduced on the show. His perennial “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” will be the theme.
The new Rudolph story
As Ives narrates the TV adaptation, Rudolph is the butt of his fellow reindeer in Christmasville because of his shiny red nose. In desperation, he runs away with another outcast, Hermey the Elf, who would rather be a dentist than a toy-maker, and the pair of misfits brave the Arctic wilderness.
They are chased by the Abominable Snow Monster, and then meet prospector Yukon Cornelius, who takes them aboard his dog sled. When the monster gets too close, they all board an ice-floe and find refuge on the Island of Lost Toys. There they find a kingdom of living playthings that would fulfill every wish of every lonesome child.
The trio returns to Christmasville to tell Santa Claus of their discovery, and learn that Rudolph’s family was captured by the Abominable in their search for him. The shiny-beaked buck tracks them to the monster’s forbidding cave and, with his friends’ help, effects their rescue.
Then a great blizzard strikes and threatens to cancel Christmas until Santa asks, “Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight.”
The little reindeer proudly takes his place to lead the sleigh team through the storm and above the clouds on Christmas Eve.
Animagic stop-motion by Rankin/Bass and songs from Johnny Marks
Since 1949, Marks’ original “Rudolph” tune has sold 40,000,000 recordings in the US, and more than 30,000,000 around the world.
He later wrote several other yuletide hit tunes, which reached the multi-million sales mark. They include “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “The Night Before Christmas Song.”
The songs of the show’s score are: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the seven new selections — “Jingle Jingle Jingle,” “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” “There’s Always Tomorrow,” “We Are Santa’s Elves,” “Silver and Gold,” “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas.”
In the background score are Marks’ previous songs — “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “The Night Before Christmas Song,” “When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter” and “A Merry Merry Christmas.” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was adapted for TV by Romeo Mueller.
The story of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on NBC-TV will be enacted by puppets “brought alive” in the special “Animagic” (dimensional animation) technique created by its producers, Arthur Rankin, Jr., and Jules Bass of Videocraft International. Larry Roemer directed the program, for which Maury Laws did the orchestration.
See a clip of Rudolph on video here!
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer so memorable thanks to Burl Ives’ Holly, Jolly Christmas
Burl Ives to sing “A Holly, Jolly Christmas” and narrate holiday special
New York — Burl Ives narrates and sings on the Christmas animated special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which can be seen on NBC (Channel 12, 3:30 p.m.), today. Ives became involved in this project because he heard a Christmas song called “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” about a year ago and recorded it last January.
The song was written by Johnny Marks, who set ‘Rudolph’ to music some 15 years ago and 40 million records ago, and who was naturally signed to compose a score for the NBC special about his red-nosed goldmine.
“Nobody wants to record a Christmas song,” explained Marks who seems to come cut of the woodwork every year around this time. “And you can’t really blame them. After all, a new holiday song must go into the shops and face head-to-head competition with ‘Rudolph,’ ‘White Christmas.’ ‘Silent Night,’ and many other standards which always sell now.
“Another knock is the short selling season for a specialized song, which makes it even more difficult to have a hit. But Burl Ives never thinks in terms of hits… if he likes the song, he’s ready.”
Burl recorded “A Holly Jolly Christmas” for Decca and, naturally, the song was part of the score Marks was writing for the TV show. The composer was so impressed with the demonstration record that he begged Decca to defy all the rules and give him a copy of it.
When he played it for the executives of Videocraft, producers of the program, they immediately knew Burl was the man to narrate the show, sing and do the voice of “Sam the Snowman.” But they had contracted to produce the special at a specific price and there was no way of fitting Burl into the picture without going as deep into the red as Rudolph’s nose.
But GE, sponsor of the project, heard the record and told Videocraft to hire Ives without worrying about the price. GE intends to repeat the show next season and probably has options on it extending deep into the 25th century, so they weren’t in the mood to haggle ever money.
In addition to “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas,” Johnny penned six other new tunes for the show and, for additional background music, he wove in in another half dozen Christmas songs by Johnny Marks. He considers “Holly Jolly Christmas,” the best Christmas tune he has ever written — Rudolph excepted, of course.
“I’m tired of people asking me whether a song is as good as ‘Rudolph,’ said the man who could be considered Santa’s librettist, “I liked ‘Rudolph,’ but its success was so big it’s almost a freak. I’m not complaining, mind you… but you don’t turn out two like that in one lifetime.”
The story of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” as written by Romeo Muller was music and lyrics by Marks, contains just about everything the kids might expect from the red-nosed hero to an Abominable Snow-monster who captures Rudolph’s family.
Rudolph, once the outcast reindeer, saves the day for Santa Claus in the finale, just as he did in the original story and song, by obeying Santa’s request… “Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
The charm of the show, however, comes from the unique puppet animation, the music, Burl Ives and the imagination of the producers in making Rudolph’s adventures colorful and exciting.
Rudolph & friends promoting the latest GE small appliances in 1964