Secrets From Behind the Scenes of 1964’s ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’

CBS#01252 - Let the reindeer games begin! RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, the longest-running holiday special in television history, celebrates its 40th anniversary broadcast Tuesday Dec. 9 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Since 1964, millions of families have tuned in to watch Rudolph and his friends, Hermey the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, and the Misfit Toys, save Christmas. This classic

You know Buddy the Elf and Frosty the Snowman. But first came Rudolph, the most famous reindeer of all.

The red-nosed furry misfit originally appeared in a 1939 picture book written by Robert L. May for retailer Montgomery Ward. That inspired May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks to write the 1949 Christmas carol, which later became the basis for the 1964 stop-motion special.

In an interview in TV Guide Magazine‘s December 5, 1964, issue ahead of Rudolph’s premiere, Arthur Rankin, creator of the technique known as “Animagic,” took us behind the scenes of what would become the longest-running holiday special in TV history.

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The annual event features original programming and your favorite classics.

The hourlong musical employed a 100-person crew for a full year. According to Rankin, who passed away in 2014, it was quite the hassle to keep its “cast of thousands” in line: “If one elf mouth was out of place, we’d have to reshoot the entire scene,” he said. “That meant a whole week’s work for one droopy mouth.”

Even then, he knew the holiday magic was worth it: “When a film takes a year to make and costs a half-million dollars, you can be sure you won’t see [its equal] on TV every day.”

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Friday, December 20, 6:15/5:15c, Freeform