… was his nose. CBS's page for tonight's annual broadcast doesn't feature a Yukon Cornelius video clip, but here's heartening proof that luxuriant capitalism remains art's greatest patron. Snopes.com explains that the birth of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (rejected first draft names: "Rollo the RNR" and "Reginald the RNR") was midwifed by Montgomery Ward, which in 1939 assigned its Chicago copywriter Robert L. May to come up with a Christmas story as a free customer giveaway. (Here's Thomas Sowell explaining that that was just about the last good idea to come out of Montgomery Ward.) The story is hazy on how May got control of the copyright, but suggests the owners of Wards did him a mitzvah to help him pay off his dying wife's medical bills. The May version of "Rudolph" appears to have survived, though I can't find the text, but the weak closing couplet:
By YOU last night's journey was actually bossed.
Without you, I'm certain we'd all have been lost!
…suggests the 1949 Johnny Marks song was a big improvement. 63 years later, Montgomery Ward is no more, but Rudolph lives on, and for that we can thank not only May and Marks but the 1964 Rankin/Bass special, airing tonight at 8 on your local CBS affiliate. If all this hasn't satisfied your Rudolph curiosity (It clearly didn't satisfy mine), dig Rick Goldschmidt's masterful history of the Rankin/Bass special and all its many versions.