Did a Typo Accidentally Make Rudolph’s TV Special Public Domain?

TV URBAN LEGEND: A typo accidentally made Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV Special public domain.

Everyone knows the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV Special that has been airing yearly on CBS for over FIFTY years now…

The story of Rudolph, mocked for his shiny red nose, who heads off with a depressed elf named Hermey (who wants to be a dentist instead of work for Santa Claus) and end up on an island of Misfit Toys before everything works out for everyone involved, is a total classic.

However, did you ever notice that there is a major error in the opening of the special?

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Did Montgomery Ward Give the Rights to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Back to the Story’s Author for Free?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the music urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: The CEO of Montgomery Ward returned the rights to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to his creator for free.

There is a dispute over just how Robert May, a copywriter for Montgomery Ward, came up with the story that became Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The difference between the two stories is not particularly vast. In one, May is assigned a job by his boss as Montgomery Ward to come up with a story that could be used for a promotional giveaway book for the 1939 Christmas season. In the second, May came up with the story first and then was paid $300 for the rights to the story for use in a giveaway book for the 1939 Christmas season. May himself told the former version of the story in a series of articles over the years (May passed away in 1976). The latter version of the story originated with writer Ace Collins’ Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas. Collins claims that he was given access to documents from Montgomery Ward (before they went out of business in 2001) that verified his story, and that May was just going along with the story Montgomery Ward wanted (that he created the character as a work-for-hire for Montgomery Ward as opposed to Montgomery Ward buying the character’s rights from May). I could see either story being true, but for the sake of this legend, it does not really matter how we got to the point of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer being owned by Montgomery Ward so much as we got to the point where Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was, indeed, owned by Montgomery Ward.

The department store chain produced over 2 million copies of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer story as a giveaway in 1939.

It continued to be a popular giveaway until World War II began and the ceased producing the giveaway during the war (for a number of reasons, including the “German-sounding” name of Rudolph and paper raitoning concerns). When the war ended, they started making them again. They had produced 6 million copies by 1946.

Then something amazing happened.
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