Rewind to 1939. The Great Depression was fading, and a manager at Montgomery Ward in Chicago wanted the store to create a children's book for the holidays. He tapped Robert L. May, an advertising writer, to create it, and he came back with a story about an underdog red-nosed reindeer who was at the right place at the right time. "Can't you come up with anything better?" his boss asked, but May believed in the story and got a friend from the art department to draw some sketches. Together they convinced the boss, but months into the project, May's wife died. His boss offered to transfer the reindeer project to someone else, but May refused. "I needed Rudolph now more than ever," he later wrote.
The store distributed more than 2 million copies of the book that year, but May was still living on a copywriter's salary and buried in his wife's medical bills. After WWII, Montgomery Ward's CEO, Sewell Avery, gave May the rights to Rudolph. May's brother-in-law was a songwriter, so May talked him into writing a song about Rudolph. It was picked up by none other than the singing cowboy, Gene Autry, and sold more than 25 million copies. May's family was taken care of financially through the end of his life and beyond, and as for Rudolph? Well, he went down in history.
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