If you don’t know the story, catch up by watching the 1948 cartoon written by Robert May and Joe Stultz, and directed by Max Fleischer. The song we all know was written by May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks. Below it you’ll find how Rudolph can help us with memoir.
Writing your own past can get sticky in many ways. Worrying about what is true can stop that memoir cold. But truth in memoir is how the writer remembers it, so there’s not that much to worry about! Take the example of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Author Bob May wrote the metered poem as a book for the department store chain Montgomery Ward to distribute Christmastime of 1939. Rudolph went on to be a popular book with many spin-offs, including a Christmas hit for cowboy singer Gene Autry. Bob first told how he created the story to a journalist for The Gettysburg Times in 1975. In this account, borne out by interviews with daughter Barbara and other family members, he finished the story before Evelyn died in January of 1939.
But a quarter of a century later a slightly different and more sentimental version of the creation was released. The later Urban Legend, often passed around in e-mails, says that Rudolph was written to comfort their young daughter Barbara during the time of her mother’s illness and death. It was based on Bob’s own life which included being the target of bullies.
Tell me, does this little factual difference matter? We remember the story of Rudolph as a beautiful tale of how the least of our gifts can be used to benefit others. When you write your stories, write them as best you remember them. Don’t alter facts on purpose; but don’t allow fact-searching to destroy the heart of your story. Just remember, “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in history!”
If you want to know more about the story behind the story, you may link to Urban Legends.
My own memoir will contain an account of how I performed a burlesque version of the song while in seventh grade, for the Stockbridge Junior High School Christmas Program!