Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
The Christmas of 1938 was shaping up to be the worst holiday ever for Bob May, an advertising copywriter for Montgomery Wards in Chicago.
May’s income was paltry. Exhaustion was settling in. So was the Depression. And his wife, Evelyn was fighting an uphill battle against cancer for two years.
One night in December, after visiting her emaciated, bed-ridden mother, four-year old Barbara May jumped up into her father’s lap and sadly asked him, “Why isn’t my mommy like everybody else’s mommy?”
Put squarely on the spot, May struggled for an answer.
Inspiration for his response came from his recollection as a frail child. So thin was May that other kids made fun of him, calling him, “sissy,” and other names.
Despite being forced by the Depression to work at a job far below his skill level, and despite living in a two-room slum-like apartment, and despite his beloved wife having life-threatening cancer, May wanted to give his daughter an answer filled with hope.
There in that tiny apartment, with his inquisitive daughter in his lap, May made up the story of a reindeer with a large, bright red nose.
Barbara enjoyed her father’s story so much that she asked him to tell it every night. And so May did, each night adding more details.
Unable to afford a Christmas present for Barbara that year, May utilized his skill as an artist and made a book with drawings about his story about the reindeer he called Rudolph. He’d work on it at night, when his sickly wife and daughter were asleep.
Before Christmas arrived, Evelyn succumbed to cancer. His heart filled with grief, May somehow finished the Rudolph book before Christmas. Barbara found it on Christmas morning.
A few days later, May was expected at the company Christmas party. Called upon to read his book in front of his fellow workers, May’s book was a hit, and every employee wanted a copy.
Realizing May was in need of funds, the chairman of Montgomery Wards, Stewell Avery bought all the rights to the Rudolph book from May. Avery then had thousands of copies printed and sent to Wards stores in time for Christmas 1939. For the next six years, any child visiting Santa at a Wards store was presented a Rudolph book.
It is now 1946 and over six million of the books have been given away.
As Avery was inundated by requests to publish a new version of the book, Avery exhibited the utmost in holiday spirit.
In a phenomenal gesture, Avery gave, he didn’t sell, he GAVE all rights to Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer back to May.
One year later, May was officially a wealthy man.
Re-married and very happy, May allowed his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks to adapt the story into a song.
Marks wanted Bing Crosby to sing Rudolph.
Crosby said no.
The next choice was Dinah Shore.
In fact, nobody wanted their voice associated with the song.
Then, Gene Autry was contacted.
The thought was Autry, who liked to sing kids’ songs, would do it, especially since he had recorded, “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
Autry didn’t like the song.
Marks didn’t give up and begged Autry to reconsider.
Autry took the song home for his wife to hear (Remember, Walt Disney’s wife told him to change Mortimer’s name to Mickey).
Touched by the lyrics, Ina Autry insisted Gene record the song.
Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is the second-largest selling Christmas song of all-time. Burl Ives immortalized Rudolph in an incredibly popular animated special that debuted in 1964.
But the most popular song from Burl Ives' Rudolph wasn't Rudolph.