'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' animated special celebrates its fiftieth anniversary

'Rudolph' first aired on television 50 years ago this month. The animated Rankin/Bass special tells the story of the title reindeer who is teased because he is different. However, when disaster strikes, the denizens of the North Pole soon discover that's not always a bad thing.

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'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year.

This year, a certain red-nosed reindeer is celebrating a very big birthday.

The Rankin/Bass holiday special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” aired for the first time 50 years ago. Created by the same studio that crafted the holiday classics “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” among others. “Rudolph” follows the titular reindeer, who is the son of one of the reindeer who pulls Santa’s sleigh, but soon finds himself to be a misfit because his nose is red and shiny. He befriends Hermy, an elf who wants to be a dentist rather than make toys. When an Abominable Snowman and a snowstorm threaten the North Pole, its residents learn that being different isn’t a bad thing. The special includes such classic songs as the title tune, “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” and “Silver and Gold,” among many others.

According to NPR, the story of Rudolph originated with writer Robert L. May, who penned a children’s book about the reindeer as a holiday promotion for the department store Montgomery Ward. More than 2 million copies of the book were handed out that year at Montgomery Ward locations in the US, according to NPR. May’s brother-in-law wrote a song about the reindeer and his adventures, and when Gene Autry recorded a version, the reindeer with the glowing red nose became even more popular. 

Fifty years later, “Rudolph” is still a favorite – according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the program still regularly wins its time slot when it airs on TV. Actor Paul Soles, who voiced the elf Hermey, told CBS that he recently attended Comic-Con and met both adults and child fans there. “The profound impact this show’s had on their lives is such a reward for an actor," he said. "You look in the face across the table at these little kids and you realize exactly why you do shows like this.”

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