CBS' annual airing of the beloved holiday special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer airs tonight at 8 p.m. EST. So drop everything. Cancel all of your plans. Santa Claus is coming to town, and he's bringing Rudolph with him.
This year is extra-special for Rudolph because it's the 50th anniversary of the Christmas classic, which first aired on Dec. 6, 1964. In its 50-year history, I'm sure you've seen Rudolph loads of times, but in case your life has been deprived of this gem, here's the basic premise. Rudolph has a shiny, red nose, which makes him the black sheep of his family and an outcast among the other reindeer. That is, until Santa needs help navigating during one particularly foggy Christmas Eve. Rudolph's crazy-bright nose comes in handy then, and he saves the day. Truly heartwarming, I know.
Even though Rudolph has become an essential part of our holiday traditions, it might not be as familiar as you think. Rudolph actually has a pretty storied history that might surprise you. Here's 12 things you probably didn't know about this beloved Christmas special.
1. It's the longest-running holiday special ever
Though there are plenty of other iconic holiday specials, from A Charlie Brown Christmas to Frosty the Snowman to Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph was one of the first of its kind when it premiered on Dec. 6, 1964, and it has delighted the young and the young at heart ever since.
2. The story originated as a department store promotion
Though Rudolph originally premiered in 1964, its origins actually date back to 1939 when copywriter Robert L. May wrote the story for Montgomery Ward's annual Christmas book. The then-department store chain gave out 2.5 million copies of the book that year.
3. Rudolph was almost named Reginald
May originally named the reindeer protagonist Reginald. Reggie the Red-Nosed Reindeer just doesn't have the same ring to it.
4. Gene Autry turned Rudolph into a hit song
Once Montgomery Ward gave the rights to Rudolph back to May, he enlisted his brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, to pen a tune about the character. After a list of singers, such as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, passed on the song, it eventually found its way to Gene Autry, who turned it into a No.1 hit and the second biggest-selling Christmas song of all time behind "White Christmas."
5. GE helped make Rudolph a holiday tradition
The idea for a Rudolph TV special actually came from GE, who was looking for a way to promote its products around the holidays, according to The Orange County Register. The company approached Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Saul Bass, who were partners in a production company called Videocraft International. Rankin was actually next-door neighbors with Marks, who he convinced to turn Rudolph into a TV special. With a corporate backing from GE, Rudolph was heavily promoted, which helped it become a hit with viewers then and remain a hit now.
6. It was an international production
Though Rudolph is an American classic, it actually took people all over the world to make it that way. Rankin and Bass operated in New York, the majority of the voice actors were from Canada and the creation of the puppets and the stop-motion animation happened in Japan, according to The Orange County Register.
7. The narration could have sounded like it came from Brooklyn
Though Ives' downhome voice as Sam the Snowman is iconic today, the narrator of the story originally had a Brooklyn accent. Before Ives joined the production, Larry Mann, who provided the voice of Yukon Cornelius, originally narrated the special with a "Brooklyn-like accent." Silver and gold? Fuhgeddaboudit.
8. The misfit toy Dolly has depression
Over the years, many viewers have wondered what's the deal with Dolly, a seemingly normal-looking doll who is still relegated to the Island of Misfit Toys. It turns out Dolly's issue is actually an internal one. According to Rankin, Dolly suffers from depression after being abandoned by her owner, Mashable reports.
9. Hermey is basically Spider-Man
Canadian actor Paul Soles, who played Hermy the elf hoping to become a dentist in Rudolph, would later lend his voice to Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the superhero's late 1960s cartoon. Bet you didn't see that one coming.
10. The puppets appeared on Antiques Roadshow
The puppets used in Rudolph were not meant to withstand the test of time, so they were basically given away after production ended. A Rankin-Bass employee brought the original Rudolph and Santa puppets home to her children, who played with them as any child would. In 2005, the nephew of this employee found the puppets in the family's attic and brought them on PBS' appraisal show Antiques Roadshow. With Rudolph's glowing red nose and Santa's white eyebrows gone, the puppets were valued at $8,000 to $10,000 for the pair, a considerable price decrease considering they had been built for $5,000 each in 1964.
11. Pop culture loves to parody Rudolph
Like I said, everyone loves Rudolph, and that also means it's ripe to be poked fun at. Rudolph parodies have popped up everywhere from the movie Elf to MADtv to Saturday Night Live at various levels of family-friendliness.
12. You can send a letter to Santa with a Rudolph stamp
In honor of its 50th anniversary, Rudolph got its very own set of stamps from the U.S. Postal Service in November. Now that's when you know you've made it.