by Rick Goldschmidt
We all love A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS and HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, but no one's nose has shined longer or brighter than that of the RANKIN/BASS "Animagic" classic RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER.
Premiering on NBC December 6th, 1964, RUDOLPH has become the longest running, highest rated television special in the history of the medium. "At first Johnny Marks (composer of the classic song) didn't want to do the special," says Arthur Rankin. "He was very protective of the song. The song provided a very large income to Marks and he was afraid that over exposure of the hit song might interfere with it's success as a popular song. He was a neighbor of mine at the time and I eventually persuaded him to do the show and he wrote some very memorable songs in addition to RUDOLPH."
The special originally premiered on the GENERAL ELECTRIC FANTASY HOUR on NBC and G.E. sponsored the show for the first three broadcasts. There were many GE print ads with the RUDOLPH characters from 1964-66 and the soundtrack album was a premium when you purchased GE home appliances.
During these early airings, RANKIN/BASS (then known as VIDEOCRAFT INT'L) produced the GENERAL ELECTRIC commercials complete with Christmas caroler elves in 'Animagic.' Tony Peters, the continuity designer on the show explains, "I worked at VIDEOCRAFT since the beginning and when it came time to make RUDOLPH, I had started my own company.
"I was hired back to work on the show and I helped design the three Christmas Carolers that appeared in the commercials. I saved a photo of the carolers but I no longer have a film print of the commercials." A network print of RUDOLPH from the first three airings (w/ commercials) has yet to show up.
Apparently, the original pre-production work on the show did not include Sam the Snowman played by Burl Ives. In fact, Larry D. Mann had recorded all of the songs as Yukon Cornelius that Burl would later sing as Sam, such as "Silver & Gold."
Burl Ives was brought in, most likely by GENERAL ELECTRIC, as a star name to sell the show to the network. This became the beginning of a tradition that RANKIN/BASS continued well into the eighties. "Who better than to portray Sam than America's leading balladeer! Burl looked like the character," says Rankin.
When it came time to rebroadcast the special in 1965, GENERAL ELECTRIC executive Willard Saloff decided he wanted to replace the song and sequence of "We're A Couple Of Misfits" with a NEW song "Fame and Fortune."
The sequence is very similar to the original with the exception of the snowless trees on the set for "Fame And Fortune," so there was obviously a re-shoot done in 1965. There were also some minor deletions made to the program and this brings us to the 1998 restoration project of the special.
When my book was published, I was still trying to put the puzzle together to what was actually changed in RUDOLPH. It seemed odd that "Fame and Fortune" did not appear on the soundtrack LP and Maury Laws remembered the song switch in 1965.
It was decided to re-master the RANKIN/BASS Christmas classics at GOLDEN BOOKS FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT for SONY WONDER re-release and I was used as a consultant for the restoration which was being prepared by Vincent Apollo, Todd Sokolove and Kirsten Hansen-Love.
When I got the call that some footage was discovered in the archives, I nearly fell out of my seat. We first learned that "We Are Santa's Elves" had an instrumental break that was deleted. It shows the Chief elf dropping his baton to his embarrassment and the elf with the glasses being stuffed into a toy sack. It also shows the elf band, which you could barely see in the existing cut.
Then came, what I consider the most significant deleted scene, which we called "The Peppermint scene." After Santa's sleigh takes off for the Island on Misfit toys being guided by Rudolph, we see several characters for the very last time in the special. Donner, Mrs. Donner and Clarice are all proud of RUDOLPH. As Rudolph flies away, Donner says "That's my Buck!" This confirms that he is no longer ashamed of his Red-nosed son.
Yukon comes running out of the castle and yells at his sled dogs (who wouldn't pull his sled throughout the special) "See! That's how it's done!" as he looks up at Rudolph. Then Yukon throws his pick up in the air and picks it up and licks it (As he did throughout the entire special).
His pick licking never made any sense.
He thought he was looking for silver and gold, but he was really looking for Peppermint. After licking his pick, he says, "Peppermint! What I've been searching for! I've found me a peppermint mine....yahoooo!" Hermey, seen for the last time, has a surprised look on his face as he falls back in the snow in disbelief. This scene is no longer than a minute and never should have been deleted.
When told "We're A Couple Of Misfits" was found, everything fell into place. The 1964 version of the show was finally reassembled! "We're A Couple of Misfits" is far superior animation wise and the song also fairs better.
It includes two animated owls that "who" in the trees and a fish who comes up out of a pond to spit water at Hermey and Rudolph. Hermey even rides Rudolph at one point, which he doesn't do in any other scene. Hermey punches the snowman likeness he apparently has created of the Chief elf, right in the nose. A disgruntled elf you might say.
One thing I should make clear is that the elf who wants to be a dentist is named Hermey. Why everyone is calling him "Herbie" I will never fully understand. Maybe one day someone will correct the error because it is simply not right to change a character's name that has become a television icon.
One of the keys to this special's HUGE success is a man named Romeo Muller. Romeo embellished the short Children's story written by Robert L. May, with memorable characters and scenes that will never be forgotten. For instance the Island of Misfit Toys, the Abominable Snowmonster, Yukon Cornelius and Rudolph's dentist friend Hermey the elf were all Romeo's creations.
Romeo put together such an excellent screen play that he would later write many RANKIN/BASS classics such as THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN and NESTOR THE LONG-EARED DONKEY. "My brother was Father Christmas and he loved children," says Romeo's brother Gene. "He had a knack for writing and telling stories to children and he would read his story NOEL every Christmas on the radio. He was loved by all and this love of life emanated from his stories."
The number one question that we get asked about the special is: What is wrong with the MISFIT GIRL DOLL? Arthur Rankin answers this question on page five of my book. Apparently, her problem was more psychological than physical. I have recently obtained THE original 10-28-63 draft of the script by Romeo Muller and the MISFIT GIRL DOLL does not appear in this first draft.
I am expecting two more later drafts of the script in a few days and hopefully they will have some answers. The original draft of the script has many interesting tidbits to discuss. It clearly spells Hermey's name, the Chief Elf is identified as FOREMAN and the reindeer coach is identified as SKIPPER.
More than half the script has the finished lines word for word, but there are many characters and scenes that did not make the final cut. There was a stork named GUS who delivered RUDOLPH, the forest animals are more prevalent and Yukon is making good use of his guns.
The final scene of the special, where Santa returns to the ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS to pick up the toys, was not in the original broadcast.
According to Jules Bass, apparently a write-in campaign after the 1964 broadcast prompted the final scene to be added. This would explain why the "Peppermint Scene" had to be trimmed for time reasons. We are searching the archives for the original end credits and perhaps this would make a good addition to a future collector's DVD.
The RUDOLPH soundtrack, which was given to Romeo in demo form, was extremely strong. Johnny Marks had the task of writing several NEW songs for the special and he delivered some classics. "Holly, Jolly Christmas" was so well received that it became a HUGE hit for Burl Ives, who re-recorded it and issued it immediately.
"We're A Couple Of Misfits," "Silver and Gold," "There's Always Tomorrow," "We are Santa's Elves," "The Most Wonderful Day Of The Year" and "Jingle, Jingle, Jingle" all resonate from this special. Marks had many years of success with Christmas tunes. He wrote "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" and "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" among others.
In fact, in the special, they use instrumental tracks of Mark's earlier classics for the score. Speaking of the instrumental score, it was perfectly directed by Maury Laws. Maury Laws brought a whole new class of stylistic music to animation.
His score has a bouncy, holiday feeling that is unique to the RANKIN/BASS specials. "We did that score in England and we began work on THE DAYDREAMER picture around the same time," says Maury Laws. "Jules and I worked very hard during this period and RUDOLPH was the first time I was given the Musical Director title."
Of course, later Marks and Laws would have to pen "Fame and Fortune" for the 1965 follow-up broadcast. "I am glad that 'We're A Couple Of Misfits' was added back into the special in 1998," says Arthur Rankin. "It's a better song and it fits the plot better."
Paul Soles, Canadian actor, did the voice of Hermey and Billie Mae Richards performed Rudolph's voice. In a November 1998 TORONTO SUN article Soles commented about RUDOLPH saying, "It's a nice little inspiration for kids. Get out there and do it. Don't let people tell you you can't. Believe in what you believe, take your own path, be true to yourself."
Original Santa animation model
Billie Mae Richards is slightly disappointed in RUDOLPH. I have made several attempts to contact her, but she feels that more of the residuals should have come her way. The truth of the matter is that the Canadian actors had a very agreeable union to a 3 year buyout. The actors were well compensated for a three year run and that was the contract they signed. Burl Ives, on the other hand, signed a much different contract and his family still receives a royalty check every year it airs.
The CBS network now airs the special, usually to kick off its holiday programming shortly after Thanksgiving. After completing the restoration at GOLDEN, CBS had every reason to promote the NEW footage. After all, a year earlier they counted the restored footage in A CHARLIE BROWN'S CHRISTMAS, which was only mere seconds.
I was very impressed with the commercials CBS aired prior to the broadcast. They included sing-a-longs about the NEW footage with scenes of the NEW footage and called it "the restored edition." I was shocked when they broadcast the special and then once again deleted the peppermint scene! Words can't describe this move.
It was also called to my attention that there used to be a short scene of Yukon firing off his gun and a line said by Donner to Mrs. Donner, "This is man's work" that may have been deleted for political correctness. These types of decisions never cease to amaze me.
at least I can now say that the 1964 version of
CVS PHARMACY could hardly keep their recent ISLAND OF MISFIT TOY doll line on store shelves and RUDOLPH has now been released on DVD. No doubt - RUDOLPH will definitely fly brightly into the next century! I wouldn't be surprised to start seeing Rudolph games online in the near future.
"He'll go down in his-to-ry!"
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the Red-Nosed Reindeer
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