Updated: Dec 13, 2022
As a child, Bob May was often bullied by other boys. He was small, slight, and
shy, and was frequently called names he would rather not remember. Bob was
different and never seemed to fit in. However, Bob completed college, married to
his loving wife, Evelyn, and they had their little girl Barbara. He was very grateful
to get a job as a Copy-Writer at Montgomery Ward’s during the “great
depression”. But the happiness that his married life gave him was short-lived.
In 1938 this depressed and brokenhearted man stared out of his drafty apartment
window into the chilly December night as his four year-old daughter,
Barbara, sobbed while perched on his lap. Bob’s wife, Evelyn, is dying of
cancer. Young Barbara could not understand why her mother would never come
home from the hospital.
Evelyn May’s battle with terminal cancer stripped them of all their savings and left
him with an overwhelming medical debt. Now, Bob and his daughter were forced
to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums.
Months before Christmas, Mr. Montgomery Ward asked Bob to write a booklet
that the company Santa Claus could hand out to their customers during
the Christmas season. They had been gifting coloring books for years, but Mr.
Ward wanted to print their own giveaways to save money. He knew Bob May was
a gifted story writer and therefore the perfect person for the task.
Bob created a story based partly from “The Ugly Duckling”, and his own
childhood, that told a story about an animal that was different, that didn’t fit in
with all the other animals, and later, became the most valuable one because of
its’ difference. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was born.
Mr. Ward went on to print “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and distributed it
to children visiting Santa Claus in all the Montgomery Ward’s stores. And, much
later, in 1946, Mr. Ward had printed and distributed more than six million copies
of “Rudolph”. Unfortunately, Bob May did not see a penny from the sale of these
books because he was an employee of Montgomery Ward when he wrote it,
making it property of the corporation.
But, in January of 1947, in an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the Corporate
President of Montgomery Ward, Sewell Avery, returned all the rights to Bob May,
changing Bob’s bleak finances to financial security overnight. Now, with copy
rights in hand, Bob commercially printed his story, and a nine-minute cartoon was
in theaters the following year.
But the story doesn’t end here…
Bob’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to his story,
“Rudolph the Red- Nosed Reindeer”. Although the song was turned down by
popular vocalists of that time such as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, it was
recorded by Gene Autry, the singing cowboy. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling 2 million copies,
only second to White Christmas. Then later, in 1964, a TV special narrated by
Burl Ives remains a popular perennial favorite in the United States.
Bob May left Montgomery Ward’s in 1951 to manage his creation for the next
seven years, and then returned to the company that gave him his start until he
retired in 1971, and then he lived comfortably for another five years until he died
This true story inspired me to change my Thanksgiving tradition of sitting in front
of the TV in my jammies with a hot frothy mug of cocoa watching the annual
Thanksgiving Day parade. Instead, my former husband joined me and we braved
the chilly 34 degree weather in Syracuse, NY in layers upon layers of clothing to
feed carrots to a few horses I give Reiki to and to their stable mates. As we drove
away, we both agreed that it felt great to give the horses some special attention on a
day when most Americans are spending it with their families, which is where we
we're heading to next.
In Loving Gratitude, Happy Holidays to You and Yours