Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” Was Written To Comfort a Grieving Daughter –Fiction!


Summary of eRumor:

Claims that Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer was created by Robert L. May to comfort his grieving daughter who had lost her mother to cancer.

The Truth:


There is some truth to the story, Robert L. May wrote the Christmas poem “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” in 1939.  We have researched dozens of sources which include interviews with May himself and his children and there is never a mention that he did this for comforting his child from the death of her mother.

Robert L. May worked as a catalog advertising copywriter for Montgomery Wards & Company when the company, recognizing his skills in poetry,  asked him for ideas on a booklet of illustrated poems as a promotional give away.

May’s wife, Evelyn, died of cancer in July of 1939, according to his account in a December 22, 1975 Gettysburg Times article.  This is one year later from the account of the eRumor.

May also had a daughter, name Barbara, and according to a Paul Harvey Rest of the Story article she was recruited to help in development of the story to make sure Rudolf  would appeal to children.  May would read to her his verses and if she inquired about the meaning of any words he would simplify the vocabulary.

May pitched his story to Montgomery Wards executives about the ugly duckling reindeer with three possible names.  The company turned down the idea and asked May to return with a second draft.  When May came back with his improved story that included sketches by an illustrator the company executive accepted it, named the red nosed reindeer Rudolf and the rest is history. The stores distributed 2,400,000 copies of the booklet during the 1939 and 1946 Christmas season promotions.  The year 1946 proved to be such a financial success for the company that the executives awarded May with the copyrights of his popular Christmas story.

This eRumor may have been sparked by a story in the book “Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas” by Ace Collins that said May created the character of Rudolf to bring hope and comfort to his grieving daughter, Barbara, after the death of his wife.  Collins told TruthOrFiction.Com that his source for this version of the story came from someone working in the Montgomery Wards & Co. public relations department.

The story of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer has been released world wide in twenty-five languages.

In 1949 Johnny Marks, May’s brother-in-law, adapted the story to music and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer was immortalized by singing cowboy star, Gene Autry.  Over two million copies of the recording sold.

updated 12-22-10

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

**True Story of Rudolph**

A man named Bob May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night. His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing.

Bobs wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer.

Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad’s eyes and asked, “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?” Bob’s jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears.

Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob’s life. Life always had to be different for Bob.

Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he’d rather not remember. From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in. Bob did complete college, married his loving wife and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression. Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived. Evelyn’s bout with cancer stripped them of all their s avings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums. Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938.

Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn’t buy a gift, he was determined to make one – a storybook! Bob had created a character in his own mind and told the animal’s story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. Again and again Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling.

Who was the character? What was the story all about? The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose.

Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day. But the story doesn’t end there.

The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. Wards went on to print,_ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer_ and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores. By 1946 Wards had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an updated version of the book.


In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Wards returned all rights back to Bob May. The book became a best seller. Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now remarried with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he created to comfort his grieving daughter. But the story doesn’t end there either.

Bob’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph. Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of “White Christmas.”

The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so long ago kept on returning back to bless him again and again. And Bob May learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being different isn’t so bad In fact, being different can be a blessing.