A Special Look at "Rudolph": One of THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS

Herbie J Pilato


[The following is a special excerpt from the book, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED by Herbie J Pilato, published by Archway Publishing.]

“Come on, Dad!” I pleaded. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is going to be on television next week. We have to put up the red bells that play his theme song and all of the other Christmas decorations too!” From the moment in December 1964 that I noticed the perennial holiday classic advertised in TV Guide, that’s all my family would hear me say.

Of course, you would also hear my father. “This kid never stops,” he would fluster. “He never stops!” He was right. I never did. But I couldn’t help it. Each year, I couldn’t wait to watch Rudolph, narrated by Burl Ives (the Snowman), and other animated musical television specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas. Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy score from that Peanuts classic, and his beloved compositions like, “Christmas Time Is Here,” always warm my heart. When Linus recites the Nativity from the Bible to the mainstream American audience, A Charlie Brown Christmas becomes more than just a holiday TV special.

Other small-screen December TV favorites include Santa Claus is Coming to Town (narrated by Fred Astaire, with Mickey Rooney heard as Santa), and Frosty the Snowman (narrated by Jimmy Durante with Jackie Vernon voicing Frosty). But it was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reinder, and those red bells, that officially signaled the Christmas season to begin. Rudolph’s story of deer pressure was universal. As the fable unfolds, his bright snout becomes a dilemma, especially when he develops a crush on a doe named Clarice, who is a comfort, a joy, and a real doll (literally!).

At one point, Rudolph becomes entranced when Clarice sings, “There’s always tomorrow…for dreams to come true” (for shiny noses to lose their luster). Along with “Holly Jolly Christmas,” and so many other charming tunes from the special, “There’s Always Tomorrow” remains unforgettable. It’s especially adored because after Clarice finishes singing it, she kisses Rudolph on the cheek and calls him cute. To which he then heralds, “I’m cute! I’m cute! She thinks I’m cute!”

Rudolph then proceeds to fly for the first time (the world-renowned rite of passage for Santa’s reindeer); something he was previously incapable of doing. Before he was too self-conscious of his issue. That’s why “all the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.” But now, Clarice’s love gives him strength, and fortunately, we all get caught in the fallout. She offers hope for every little boy who isn’t a picture-perfect school athlete of the year. She demonstrates how every little girl should perceive her sometimes overwhelming Barbie and Ken world. She loves Rudolph for who he is and not what he can do for her. She loves him from the inside, out, out despite his appearance and outcast status. She’s the woman strong and smart enough to stand, with uncommon uprightness, sensitivity, and maturity, behind this boy who is growing into a man.

Strong characters abound in Rudolph. There’s Hermey, also called “Herbie,” which, of course, delighted me, even though his name changes halfway through the show. He’s the independent elf with a contemporary view who seeks elf-improvement and has little desire to exist as an ordinary imp. Hermey/Herbie wants to be a denn-tist. There is the strong-willed, brave, weather-bearing, no-bones-about-it Yukon Cornelius and his fearless band of sleigh dogs. Next, a discerning Santa Claus has the poise to admit when he’s wrong, while Burl Ives’s kindly, stable, and wise Sam the Snowman explains the North Pole genesis of Christmas trees. “Yep,” he says early on, “…this is where we grow ‘em.”

Who can turn away from the lion King Moonracer? He’s the one who rules the Island of Misfit Toys where playthings like little trains with square wheels and water pistols that shoot jelly are discarded. Near the end of the story, the elegant feline royale laments, “A toy is never truly happy unless it is loved by a child,” and we believe him. With moments such as these, Rudolph glows with style, and like A Charlie Brown Christmas, becomes everything a Christmas television special should be – and more.

Many seasons after I first watched Rudolph as a child, it was comforting to see students in my college study lounge still watching the show on TV. I thought, “How cool that I am not the sole ‘Rudite’ of my generation.” Also, years following Rudolph’s debut, the advertising firm that represented Norelco’s 1960’s electric razor TV commercials broadcast during the special — the one with Santa riding a razor on a snow-bound mountain — was inundated with viewer appeals to rerun its original campaign.

At last, even the business world accepted Rudolph. And isn’t acceptance really what Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is all about? The show’s shining star and his band of stop-action animated friends help us to look beyond our differences and to concentrate on what makes us the same. They teach us compassion and tolerance and assist us in comprehending the importance of encouragement (e.g., to give courage) and the destructiveness and outright cruelty of name-calling and mocking. The beloved TV special screams with compassion, “Be who you are and not what everyone tells you to be. All will one day notice your unique traits and the gifts you have to offer the world. Your time will come. Just hang in there. Repeat to yourself, ‘I’m cute. I’m cute. I’m cute,’ and remember, ‘There’s always tomorrow.’”

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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