OK, actually, there are no visible red noses on this bit of space debris, but it does seem to have an affinity with persons instrumental in the development and dissemination of an American holiday classic. We all know the tale—a misfit reindeer, rejected by his peers due to an unusually ruddy proboscis, unexpectedly becomes the hero of a particularly bleak and foggy Christmas Eve when his luminous red nose lights the way for Santa’s sleigh, thus saving the holiday.
The story of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” first appeared in 1939, when Robert L. May, a Montgomery Ward copywriter, penned a Christmas poem as text for a coloring book the department store chain was giving away to customers. Rudolph’s genesis was purely economic—Montgomery Ward had been buying coloring books as holiday giveaways for years, and decided that producing their own would be less expensive. So May conceived and wrote the story-poem, which was an instant success; Montgomery Ward gave away 2.4 million copies the first year of publication, and continued to produce the coloring book annually until 1946, with more than six million copies distributed. At that time the copyright was transferred to May, who published it privately and used the extra income to pay for his wife’s medical bills.
A decade after its creation, Johnny Marks, the composer brother-in-law of May, adapted the poem into the Christmas classic we’re familiar with, first popularized by singer Gene Autry in 1949. Autry’s version reached #1 on the charts the week of Christmas 1949, only to fall completely off the hits list the following week, a unique distinction in the music business. Nevertheless, the song sold 2.5 million copies in its first year, and more than 25 million to date. “Rudolph” was later recorded by dozens of artists, including Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and the Jackson 5. Marks, who wrote several other holiday songs, took another crack at the Rudolph theme in 1958 with “Run Rudolph Run,” a rocked-out version first recorded by Chuck Berry.
In 1947 Rudolph hit the wide screen with a cartoon short produced by animation pioneer Max Fleischer, animator of Popeye, Betty Boop and Superman; Rudolph was the last cartoon he produced. DC Comics released a new Rudolph adventure every Christmas from 1950 through 1962, 13 in all, describing the ongoing antics of the ever-popular ruminant.
Rudolph made his TV debut in 1964 with the Rankin/Bass-produced stop-motion animation classic holiday special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, still aired annually. The special is narrated by actor and country performer Burl Ives (in his animated guise as Sam the Snowman), who duly released his own version of the song. In the ‘70s, Rankin-Bass followed up Rudolph’s success with two more specials, “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year” (1975) and (paired with another holiday icon) “Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July” (1979), neither of which achieved the critical acclaim or popularity of the original.
The asteroid Rudolf (#44613) is actually named for a 16th century Habsburg emperor and wasn’t discovered until almost 60 years after May created his reindeer character. But its resonance with the pivotal actors in the other Rudolph’s saga is undeniable.
Rudolph’s status as Santa’s primary sidekick may be discerned in the September 8, 1999 discovery chart, which features asteroid Rudolf at 14 Aries retrograde, in exact biquintile (144 degrees) to asteroid Santa (#1288) at 8 Virgo, celestially linking the two yuletide icons. Rudolf is also trine Venus (ancient ruler of poetry) at 18 Leo, inconjunct a Sun/Mercury (writing) pairing at 15 Virgo, sextile Uranus (ruling flight and abnormalities, deformities, and eccentricities) at 15 Aquarius, and quintile Neptune (modern ruler of poetry) at 1 Aquarius. [For a full profile of asteroid Santa’s impact on the development of yuletide traditions, see the December 2010 “Daykeeper Journal.”]
Rudolph’s creator, Robert L. May, born 27 July 1905, has asteroid Rudolf at 3 Taurus, prominently placed in two major configurations. Rudolf appears in a Grand Trine with Mercury (writing) at 0 Virgo and Uranus (creators, creation) at 0 Capricorn, and a T-Square with the Sun (creativity/self-identity) at 4 Leo and Chiron (wounded or handicapped individuals) at 3 Aquarius. Rudolf is also semisquare to Venus (ancient ruler of poetry) at 19 Gemini.
Rudolf’s commercial destiny was sealed in 1947 when Montgomery Ward transferred the patent to the story, previously a free giveaway with no fiscal-generating potential, back to its creator, and May convinced his brother-in-law, composer Johnny Marks, to convert the story into song.
Johnny Marks (born 10 November 1909) also has a well-connected asteroid Rudolf, which at 4 Gemini forms the apex of a Yod, or Finger of Destiny, with inconjunct aspects to natal Mercury (writing) at 4 Scorpio and Venus (poetry, musical composition) at 3 Capricorn. Rudolf is also on the midpoint of a Saturn (career, public recognition)/Neptune (modern ruler of music and poetry) square from 17 Aries to 19 Cancer, thus lying in semisquare to each.
Marks’ first “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” song in 1949 closely followed May’s original storyline, but almost a decade later he penned a jazzier take on the theme with “Run Rudolph Run” in 1958, scoring a second major hit off the Rudolph character (Marks was apparently on a rock ‘n roll jag at the time, for the same year he wrote “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, a hit for singer Brenda Lee). To top off his involvement with Rudolph, Marks wrote all the songs for the 1964 TV special, some of which became popular holiday tunes in their own right, such as “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Silver and Gold.”
“The Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry was the first to record “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” after the property had been turned down by such American musical icons as Bing Crosby (who later got on the Rudolph bandwagon and recorded his own version) and Dinah Shore, and it became his biggest hit.
Born 29 September 1907, Gene Autry’s natal asteroid Rudolf at 23 Libra conjoins Mercury (the voice, records and recordings) at 22 Libra, as well as being exactly inconjunct Saturn (career) at 23 Pisces. Rudolf also aspects natal Mars at 22 Capricorn by square, and natal Pluto at 24 Gemini by trine.
Marks’ second Rudolph-themed hit was “Run Rudolph Run”, first recorded by rock ‘n roll pioneer Chuck Berry in 1958. Born 18 October 1926, Berry’s natal asteroid Rudolf at 13 Scorpio is an exact match for his Mercury, repeating the Gene Autry pattern, and is similarly aspected to both Mars at 16 Taurus (by opposition) and Pluto at 15 Cancer (by trine), as well as squared Jupiter at 17 Aquarius.
Burl Ives is perhaps best remembered today for his role as narrator Sam the Snowman in the 1964 TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” for which Johnny Marks wrote the score. Ives later recorded and released the title song, as well as “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Silver and Gold”, still popular today. Born 14 June 1909, Burl Ives’ natal asteroid Rudolf at 6 Taurus is the least well-connected of the group, but may conjoin his Moon (exact birth time unknown, he has a Moon in early Taurus). Rudolf forms a semisquare to an exact Sun/Mercury pairing at 23 Gemini, Mercury ruling the voice and narration, and is also sextile Venus (singers) at 5 Cancer and trine Jupiter (renown, reputation) at 7 Virgo.
Canadian voice actress Billie Mae Richards voiced Rudolph in the TV special; it is the role for which she is best known. Born 21 November 1921, Richards’ natal Rudolf at 28 Leo is tightly squared the Sun (self identity) at 29 Scorpio, and exactly trine Mercury (voice talents) at 10 Scorpio, paired with Venus (acting) at 9 Scorpio. Rudolf is also semisquare Jupiter (renown, reputation) at 11 Libra.
From the creator of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to the writers, singers, composers and actors who made the character famous and disseminated it to the world, asteroid Rudolf weaves its magic holiday spell, making its ruddy-beaked namesake truly “the most famous reindeer of all.”