{ subscribe_url: '/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/navcc.php' }

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s First Starring Film Role

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall that the most famous reindeer of all was the creation of a Montgomery Ward copywriter? And did you know we have that celebrity reindeer’s first appearance on film, in a version rarely seen before?

In 1939, Robert L. May was given the assignment of coming up with a Christmas-themed giveaway that would replace the coloring books the retail giant usually gave its junior customers. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Ugly Duckling, May’s story of Rudolph and his shiny red nose was a phenomenal hit with over 2.5 million booklets distributed in the first year alone.

In 1948 the Jam Handy Organization–a Detroit-based producer of some fine promotional and educational films (Master Hands, their balletic 1936 automotive assembly line short, is on the National Film Registry)–copyrighted a cartoon version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to be shown in theaters as yet more advertising for Montgomery Ward; legendary animator Max Fleischer directed. We have a beautiful Technicolor nitrate print in the AFI/Columbia Pictures Collection, and we present it here with their kind permission.

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Jam Handy Organization, 1948)


May originally created Rudolph as a work-for-hire, and thus wasn’t entitled to any royalties or licensing fees for his creation. But in 1947 he convinced Montgomery Ward to give him the rights to the book version of Rudolph, which turned out to be amazingly good timing. May’s brother-in-law was a songwriter named Johnny Marks, and in 1949 Marks wrote the song most of us know so well. That song has sold more than 25 million copies to date, thus making it one of the most popular songs (Christmas or not) of all time.

But back to the Jam Handy cartoon. You won’t have any trouble finding it online (for example, on the Internet Archive), but you’ll notice that it begins and ends with the Johnny Marks song. But if the film was released in 1948 and the song wasn’t published until a year later, how can that be? The version with the song is a 1951 re-release of the cartoon that retains the body of the story, but includes a new opening and end credit. As far as we can tell, we have the only complete version of the original 1948 release.


Now Playing at the Packard Campus Theater (December 18-20, 2014)

The following is  guest post by Jenny Paxson, Administrative Assistant at the Packard Campus and the Packard Campus Theater programmer for December. We finish 2014 with a quartet of wonderful holiday films, and as a special added attraction, here’s the trailer for Remember the Night, which will close out the calendar Saturday at 7:30 pm. […]

Gargantuan Graphophone Records

At some point time around the year 2008 the last physical audio format, the cd, seems to have nearly winked out of existence. Its replacement? An army of wispy, intangible files including mp3, .aiff, wave, ogg vorbis, flac and many others.  Of course, many of these formats produce very high-quality audio, and I can now pack a collection of […]

Now Playing at the Packard Campus Theater (December 11-13, 2014)

The following is  guest post by Jenny Paxson, Administrative Assistant at the Packard Campus and the Packard Campus Theater programmer for December. Thursday, December 11 (7:30 p.m.) The Castle (Miramax, 1997) This charming Australian comedy was the biggest cinematic hit in 1997 in its native land. After it played at the Sundance Film Festival, Roger […]

It’s scandalous! It’s immoral! It’s the “Turkey Trot”!

This blog post was co-written with Jan McKee, Reference Librarian, Recorded Sound Section, Library of Congress. This year, after Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family, why not burn off some of those calories and thwart those tryptophans by dancing the Turkey Trot instead of sleeping on the living room sofa?  This vigorous dance was developed […]

The Accidental Rock Star

Last night the Library of Congress honored veteran songwriter and performer Billy Joel with its coveted Gershwin Prize for  Popular Song. The Library of Congress awards the prize annually to a composer or performer whose lifetime contributions exemplify the standard of excellence associated with George and Ira Gershwin. It’s not entirely coincidental that the Library has also just uploaded a revealing interview with Joel […]

The Very Popular “Are You Popular?” — Now in Color!

In the varied universe of educational films–titles like Facts on Film, which we’ve featured on “Now See Hear!”–few have achieved a wider cultural resonance than the 1947 Coronet Films classic Are You Popular? It’s pretty much the epitome of the type of “social guidance” film that to modern audiences can seem unintentionally hilarious in their […]