A Different ‘Rudolph’ Origins Story

Collection of Christmas columns by late AP correspondent Hugh Mulligan includes "Christmas in Tin Pan Alley."

MuligansStewCoverEarly on in Mulligan’s Christmas Stew, a new collection of holiday season columns by late AP special correspondent Hugh Mulligan, there is the Dec. 7, 1959 missive “Christmas in Tin Pan Alley.” For that one, Mulligan interviewed Johnny Marks, composer of the classic 1949 Christmas song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” to frame a look at the annual mad dash of songwriters inspired by Marks’ success.

The generally accepted version of how Marks came to write the song involves brother-in-law Robert L. May, a 1939 Montgomery Ward department store assignment and some fortuitous post-World War II transference of children’s book rights. However, in the aforementioned Mulligan column, Marks tells a different origins story:

Marks was just a struggling songwriter who had written about 750 songs and published about seven when he came across a children’s picture book about Rudolph on a corner newsstand.

“The title hit me immediately,” he recalls. “I wrote it down in the little black book where I keep about 300 titles for prospective songs and got around to it a couple of months later. It took me about a week to write “Rudolph,” plus 20 years of getting prepared to write it.”

Regardless of which Rudolph story you choose to believe, there’s no doubt Mulligan’s Christmas Stew is overall a tonic. A throwback to a simpler and friendlier time.

The November release includes a wonderful prologue and epilogue from Mulligan, four reprinted Christmas quizzes, some fun photos of the reporter getting outfitted as Santa Claus and a full transcript of an oral history conducted with the reporter in June 2005. Mulligan passed away in 2008.

[Jacket cover courtesy: AP]