What’s Entering the Public Domain in 2024: Enjoy Classic Works by Virginia Woolf, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, D. H. Lawrence, Bertolt Brecht & More

More than thir­ty years after it was first pri­vate­ly pub­lished in 1928, Lady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover became the sub­ject of the most famous obscen­i­ty tri­al in Eng­lish his­to­ry. Though the ulti­mate deci­sion of R v Pen­guin Books Ltd in favor of the pub­lish­er opened a cul­tur­al flood­gate in that coun­try, the nov­el was also sub­ject to bans else­where, includ­ing the Unit­ed States and Japan. Near­ly a cen­tu­ry after D. H. Lawrence wrote Lady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover — and a world apart as regards atti­tudes about pub­lic moral­i­ty — it can be some­what dif­fi­cult to under­stand what all the fuss was about. But now that the book has entered the pub­lic domain in the Unit­ed States, it could poten­tial­ly be made artis­ti­cal­ly and social­ly dan­ger­ous again.

The same could be said of a num­ber of oth­er notable works of lit­er­a­ture, from Vir­ginia Woolf’s sex-switch­ing satire Orlan­do to Bertolt Brecht’s piece of rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­ater Die Dreigroschenop­er (known in trans­la­tion as The Three­pen­ny Opera) to a cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non-spawn­ing sto­ry like J. M. Bar­rie’s Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Would­n’t Grow Up.

These and oth­ers are named on this year’s Pub­lic Domain Day post by Jen­nifer Jenk­ins, direc­tor of the Duke Cen­ter for the Study of the Pub­lic Domain. If not for mul­ti­ple exten­sions of copy­right law, she notes, all of them would have orig­i­nal­ly gone pub­lic domain in 1984, and we would now have almost four decades’ worth of addi­tion­al cre­ations rein­ter­pret­ing, re-imag­in­ing, and re-using them. Still, “bet­ter late than nev­er!”

At this point in his­to­ry, the arti­facts freed for any­one’s use aren’t just writ­ten works, but also films, musi­cal com­po­si­tions, and even actu­al sound record­ings. These include clas­sic Dis­ney car­toons Steam­boat Willie and Plane Crazy, which intro­duced the world to a cer­tain Mick­ey Mouse; live-action movies from major film­mak­ers, like Char­lie Chap­lin’s The Cir­cus and Carl Theodor Drey­er’s The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc; and such songs with broad cul­tur­al foot­prints as “Yes! We Have No Bananas,” “When You’re Smil­ing,” and “Mack the Knife” — or rather “Die Mori­tat von Mack­ie Mess­er,” in the orig­i­nal Ger­man from Die Dreigroschenop­er. Alas, those of us who want to do our own thing with Bob­by Dar­in’s ver­sion will have to wait until Feb­ru­ary of 2067.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ear­ly Ver­sion of Mick­ey Mouse Enters the Pub­lic Domain on Jan­u­ary 1, 2024

What’s Enter­ing the Pub­lic Domain in 2023: Fritz Lang’s Metrop­o­lis, Vir­ginia Woolf’s To the Light­house, Franz Kafka’s Ameri­ka & More

The Dis­ney Car­toon That Intro­duced Mick­ey Mouse & Ani­ma­tion with Sound (1928)

John Waters Reads Steamy Scene from Lady Chatterley’s Lover for Banned Books Week (NSFW)

The British Library Dig­i­tizes Its Col­lec­tion of Obscene Books (1658–1940)

Bertolt Brecht Sings ‘Mack the Knife’ From The Three­pen­ny Opera (1929)

Watch Online: The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Drey­er (1928)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

An Introduction to Vince Guaraldi, the Jazz Composer Who Created the Best Christmas Album Ever, A Charlie Brown Christmas

When A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas first aired 58 years ago, few had any con­fi­dence that it would be a hit. Its sto­ry and ani­ma­tion, bare-bones even by the stan­dards of mid-nine­teen-six­ties tele­vi­sion, made a pos­i­tive impres­sion on nei­ther CBS’ exec­u­tives nor on many of the spe­cial’s own cre­ators. They did­n’t expect that this very sim­plic­i­ty would turn it into a peren­ni­al hol­i­day favorite — nor, pre­sum­ably, that its sound­track by the Vince Guaral­di Trio would become one of the most beloved Christ­mas albums in exis­tence. Now that we’re well into the sea­son when the music from A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas is heard every day in homes, cafés, and shop­ping malls all around the world, why not get an intro­duc­tion to Guaral­di, the man and his music, from pop cul­ture video essay­ist Matt Drap­er?

“Born in San Fran­cis­co in 1928, Guaral­di cred­it­ed his two uncles with spark­ing his inter­est in jazz as a child, with the future musi­cian already learn­ing the piano by age sev­en,” says Drap­er. After serv­ing in the Kore­an War and return­ing home to study music at San Fran­cis­co State Uni­ver­si­ty, Guaral­di began to “pur­sue his love of jazz in local clubs.”

He soon formed his trio, and record­ing their first albums in the mid-nine­teen-fifties, he “expand­ed his use of Latin jazz and bossa nova.” In 1962 Guaral­di scored his first hit with “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” a sin­gle from an album inspired by Mar­cel Camus’ Black Orpheus. It was a radio broad­cast of that song, so the sto­ry goes, that caught the ear of Lee Mendel­son, who would pro­duce A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas, as he crossed the Gold­en Gate Bridge in a taxi­cab.

Mendel­son ini­tial­ly com­mis­sioned Guaral­di to com­pose the music for A Boy Named Char­lie Brown, a tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary that ulti­mate­ly nev­er aired. But its record­ing ses­sions brought forth “Linus and Lucy,” which became Peanuts’ de fac­to theme song, and when Coca-Cola agreed to spon­sor Peanuts Christ­mas spe­cial in 1965 — a scant six months before Christ­mas itself — Guaral­di was called back to score it. “A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas is a rather melan­cholic sto­ry cen­ter­ing on Char­lie’s search for mean­ing and worth in the hol­i­day sea­son,” says Drap­er, “so it’s fit­ting that a large por­tion of Guaraldi’s score is tinged with sad­ness.” Yet “Guaraldi’s melan­choly isn’t over­wrought or forced; rather, it’s minor and sub­tle,” unlike the aver­age film score that tries to “beat its lis­ten­ers over the head with emo­tion.”

The sound­track album, which you can hear (and see accom­pa­nied by a Yule fire­place) on the offi­cial Vince Guaral­di Youtube chan­nel, offers musi­cal vari­ety from the “ton of swing­ing style” in its ver­sion of “O Tanen­baum” to the “waltz brim­ming with ener­gy” of “Skat­ing” to “Christ­mas Is Com­ing,” with its “hints of rock-and-roll.” In the video just above, com­pos­er-Youtu­ber Charles Cor­nell explains what makes it “with­out a doubt, the best Christ­mas album ever” (a title held along with that of the best-sell­ing jazz album in his­to­ry after Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue), not least its being less “in-your-face Christ­mas” than oth­er sim­i­lar­ly themed record­ings. Yet he also acknowl­edges that Guaraldi’s most beau­ti­ful com­po­si­tion for a Peanuts spe­cial isn’t in A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas, but It’s the Great Pump­kin, Char­lie Brown, from 1966. When next fall fall rolls around, do make “Great Pump­kin Waltz” the first song you hear.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Inno­v­a­tive Jazz Pianist Vince Guaral­di Became the Com­pos­er of Beloved Char­lie Brown Music

Stream 22 Hours of Funky, Rock­ing & Swing­ing Christ­mas Albums: From James Brown and John­ny Cash to Christo­pher Lee & The Ven­tures

Enjoy Clas­sic Songs from A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas, Per­formed by Vince Guaral­di Trio Drum­mer Jer­ry Granel­li

Why “White Christ­mas,” “Here Comes San­ta Claus,” “Let It Snow,” and Oth­er Clas­sic Christ­mas Songs Come from the 1940s

Charles Schulz Draws Char­lie Brown in 45 Sec­onds and Exor­cis­es His Demons

The Endur­ing Appeal of Schulz’s Peanuts — Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #116

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

David Bowie Sends a Christmas Greeting in the Voice of Elvis Presley (and Sings “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You”)

After David Bowie died in 2016, we dis­cov­ered that the musi­cian had a knack for doing impres­sions of fel­low celebri­ties. Could he sing a song in the style of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, and Bruce Spring­steen? Turns out, he could. And yes, he could do an Elvis impres­sion too.

The clip above aired back in 2013 on “This Is Radio Clash,” a radio show host­ed by the Clash’s Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Top­per Head­on. “Hel­lo every­body,” this is David Bowie mak­ing a tele­phone call from the US of A. At this time of the year I can’t help but remem­ber my British-ness and all the jol­ly British folk, so here’s to you and have your­selves a Mer­ry lit­tle Christ­mas and a Hap­py New Year. Thank you very much.”

It’s maybe not as mem­o­rable as his 1977 Christ­mas duet with Bing Cros­by, but, hey, it’s still a fun lit­tle way to get the hol­i­day sea­son in swing.

Bonus: Below hear Bowie sing Pres­ley’s clas­sic “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” I had­n’t heard it before, and it’s a treat.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie Sings Impres­sions of Bruce Spring­steen, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits & More In Stu­dio Out­takes (1985)

Watch Bing Crosby’s Final Christ­mas Spe­cial, Fea­tur­ing a Famous Duet with Bowie, and Bowie Intro­duc­ing His New Song, “Heroes” (1977)

Pro­duc­er Tony Vis­con­ti Breaks Down the Mak­ing of David Bowie’s Clas­sic “Heroes,” Track by Track


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The Story of The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” the Boozy Ballad That Became a Beloved Christmas Song

Note: With the recent pass­ing of Shane Mac­gowan, we’re bring­ing back a post from 2018 and revis­it­ing The Pogues’ song “Fairy­tale of New York.” The off­beat Christ­mas clas­sic is cur­rent­ly #5 on the Bill­board Sin­gles Chart in the UK.

Drug­store Cow­boy, Barfly, Leav­ing Las Vegas, even Bon­nie and Clyde… we love a good sto­ry about doomed, down-and-out lovers. What­ev­er emo­tion­al reser­voir they tap into, when writ­ten well and hon­est­ly, such sto­ries have broad cul­tur­al appeal. Which in part explains the over­whelm­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of The Pogues’ 1987 clas­sic “Fairy­tale of New York,” the kind of “anti-Christ­mas song,” writes Dori­an Lyn­sky at The Guardian, “that end­ed up being, for a gen­er­a­tion, the Christ­mas song.”

Many hol­i­day sto­ries cyn­i­cal­ly trade on the fact that, for a great many peo­ple, the hol­i­days are filled with pain and loss. But “Fairy­tale of New York” doesn’t play this for laughs, nor does it pull the old trick of cheap last-minute redemp­tion.

Sung as a duet by Shane Mac­Gowan and Kirsty Mac­Coll to the boozy tune of an Irish folk bal­lad, the song “is loved because it feels more emo­tion­al­ly ‘real’ than the home­sick sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty of ‘White Christ­mas.’ ” Even if we can’t iden­ti­fy with the plight of a burned-out Irish dream­er spend­ing Christ­mas in a New York drunk tank, we can feel the ache of bro­ken dreams set in high relief against hol­i­day lights.

The song’s his­to­ry itself makes for a com­pelling tale, whether we believe the ori­gin sto­ry in accor­dion play­er James Fearnley’s mem­oir Here Comes Every­body: The Sto­ry of the Pogues or that told by Mac­Gowan, who main­tains that Elvis Costel­lo, the band’s pro­duc­er, bet the singer that he couldn’t write a Christ­mas duet. (Fearn­ley writes that they were try­ing to top The Band’s 1977 “Christ­mas Must Be Tonight.”)

Either way, a Christ­mas song was a good idea. “For a band like the Pogues, very strong­ly root­ed in all kinds of tra­di­tions rather than the present, it was a no-brain­er,” says ban­jo-play­er and co-writer Jem Fin­er. Not to men­tion the fact that Mac­Gowan was born on Christ­mas Day 1957.

Fin­er began the song as a tale about a sailor miss­ing his wife on Christ­mas, but after the ban­jo play­er’s wife called it “corny” he took her sug­ges­tion to adapt the “true sto­ry of some mutu­al friends liv­ing in New York.” Mac­Gowan took the title from J.P. Donleavy’s 1973 nov­el A Fairy Tale of New York, which hap­pened to be lying around the record­ing stu­dio. After a promis­ing start, the song then went through two years of revi­sions and re-record­ings before the band final­ly set­tled on the ver­sion mil­lions know and love, pro­duced by Steve Lil­ly­white and released on the 1988 album If I Should Fall From Grace with God.

Orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed as a duet between Mac­Gowan and bass play­er Cait O’Riordan, a ver­sion record­ed with her was “not quite there,” gui­tarist Philip Chevron has said. Soon after, O’Riordan left the band, and Mac­Gowan record­ed the song again at Abbey Road in 1987, singing both the male and female vocal parts him­self. Even­tu­al­ly Lil­ly­white took the track home to have his wife, Eng­lish singer Kirsty Mac­Coll, record a tem­po­rary guide vocal for the female parts. When Mac­Gowan heard it, he knew he had found the right foil for the char­ac­ter he plays in the song.

“Kirsty knew exact­ly the right mea­sure of vicious­ness and fem­i­nin­i­ty and romance to put into it and she had a very strong char­ac­ter and it came across in a big way,” Mac­Gowan lat­er remarked in an inter­view. “In operas, if you have a dou­ble aria, it’s what the woman does that real­ly mat­ters. the man lies, the woman tells the truth.” As part of her character’s “vicious­ness”, she hurls the slur “f*ggot” at Mac­Gowan, who calls her a “slut.” The offen­sive words have been cen­sored on radio sta­tions, then uncen­sored, and good cas­es have been made for bleep­ing them out (most recent­ly by Irish DJ Eoghan McDer­mott on Twit­ter).

Mac­Gowan him­self has issued a state­ment defend­ing the lyrics as in keep­ing with the char­ac­ters. “Some­times char­ac­ters in songs and sto­ries have to be evil or nasty in order to tell the sto­ry effec­tive­ly,” he writes, adding, “If peo­ple don’t under­stand that I was try­ing to accu­rate­ly por­tray the char­ac­ter as authen­ti­cal­ly as pos­si­ble then I am absolute­ly fine with them bleep­ing the word but I don’t want to get into an argu­ment.” What­ev­er posi­tion one takes on this, it’s hard to deny that Mac­Gowan, co-writer Fin­er, and Mac­Coll total­ly hit the mark when it comes to authen­tic­i­ty.

The gen­uine emo­tions “Fairy­tale of New York” taps into has made it the most beloved Christ­mas song of all time in TV, radio, and mag­a­zine polls in the UK and Ire­land. It has become “far big­ger than the peo­ple who made it,” writes Lynskey. Or, as Fearn­ley puts it, “It’s like ‘Fairy­tale of New York’ went off and inhab­it­ed its own plan­et.” An artist can’t ask for more. See mak­ing-of videos by the BBC and Poly­phon­ic at the top. Watch the band slop­pi­ly mime the song with Mac­Coll on Top of the Pops fur­ther up (Mac­Gowan can­not actu­al­ly play the piano). And just above, see the offi­cial video, star­ring Drug­store Cow­boy’s Matt Dillon—filmed inside a real police sta­tion on the Low­er East Side dur­ing a freez­ing Thanks­giv­ing week in 1987, for max­i­mum hol­i­day vérité.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Glen Hansard & Lisa O’Neill Per­form a Stir­ring Ver­sion of “Fairy­tale of New York” at Shane MacGowan’s Funer­al: Watch Their Send-Off

David Bowie & Bing Cros­by Sing “The Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy”: A Won­der­ful Christ­mas Chest­nut from 1977

Shane Mac­Gowan & Sinéad O’Connor Duet Togeth­er, Per­form­ing a Mov­ing Ren­di­tion of “Haunt­ed” (RIP)

An Old-Time Radio Yule­tide: Hear 20+ Hours of Vin­tage Christ­mas Radio Shows (1938–1956)

Hear Paul McCartney’s Exper­i­men­tal Christ­mas Mix­tape: A Rare & For­got­ten Record­ing from 1965

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Hear the Haunting Aztec “Death Whistle,” the Instrument That Made Sounds Resembling a Human Scream

The received image of the Aztecs, with their sav­age bat­tles and fre­quent acts of human sac­ri­fice, tends to imply a vio­lence-sat­u­rat­ed, death-obsessed cul­ture. Giv­en that, it will hard­ly come as a sur­prise to learn of an Aztec musi­cal instru­ment dis­cov­ered in the hands of a sac­ri­ficed human body, or that the instru­ment has come to be known as the “death whis­tle.” Not that it was an espe­cial­ly recent find: the exca­va­tion in ques­tion hap­pened in Mex­i­co City in the late nine­teen-nineties. But only over the past decade, with the cre­ation of repli­cas like the one played by the late Xavier Qui­jas Yxay­otl in the clip above, have lis­ten­ers around the world been able to hear the death whis­tle for them­selves.

“The sound of the death whis­tle is the most fright­en­ing thing we’ve ever heard,” writes Reuben West­maas at Discovery.com. “It lit­er­al­ly sounds like a screech­ing zom­bie. We can only imag­ine what it would be like to hear hun­dreds of whis­tles from an Aztec army on the march. We’re not entire­ly cer­tain what the whis­tles were used for, how­ev­er.”

What­ev­er its appli­ca­tion, the dis­tinc­tive sound of the death whis­tle is cre­at­ed by blown air inter­act­ing “with a well or ‘spring’ of air inside a round­ed inter­nal cham­ber, cre­at­ing dis­tor­tions,” as Dave Roos writes at How Stuff Works. In his analy­sis of the death whistle’s inner work­ings, mechan­i­cal engi­neer Rober­to Velázquez Cabr­era gives that com­po­nent the evoca­tive name “chaos cham­ber.”

That the death whis­tle would be used in war and human sac­ri­fice cer­tain­ly aligns with the rep­u­ta­tion of the Aztecs, but the instru­ment has also inspired oth­er his­tor­i­cal­ly informed spec­u­la­tions. In the video from Giz­mo­do just above, pro­fes­sor of Mesoamer­i­can and Lati­no stud­ies Jaime Arredon­do even sug­gests that it could have had its ther­a­peu­tic uses, as a tool to cre­ate a “hyp­not­ic, sort of sooth­ing atmos­phere.” It could well have been designed to imi­tate the sound of the wind, giv­en that the sac­ri­fi­cial vic­tim had been buried at the tem­ple of the wind god Ehe­catl. And though the death whis­tle may seem the least like­ly tool of relax­ation imag­in­able, put your mind to it and just hear it as sound­ing less like the screech of a zom­bie than like the fif­teenth-cen­tu­ry equiv­a­lent of a white-noise machine.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed con­tent:

Dis­cov­er the Appre­hen­sion Engine: Bri­an Eno Called It “the Most Ter­ri­fy­ing Musi­cal Instru­ment of All Time”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Origin Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: How a 1939 Marketing Gimmick Launched a Beloved Christmas Character

It’s time to for­get near­ly every­thing you know about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein­deer…at least as estab­lished by the 1964 Rankin/Bass stop motion ani­mat­ed tele­vi­sion spe­cial.

You can hang onto the source of Rudolph’s shame and even­tu­al tri­umph — the glow­ing red nose that got him bounced from his play­mates’ rein­deer games before sav­ing Christ­mas.

Lose all those oth­er now-icon­ic ele­ments —  the Island of Mis­fit Toys, long-lashed love inter­est Clarice, the Abom­inable Snow Mon­ster of the North, Yukon Cor­nelius, Sam the Snow­man, and Her­mey the aspi­rant den­tist elf.

As orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived, Rudolph (run­ner up names: Rol­lo, Rod­ney, Roland, Rod­er­ick and Regi­nald) wasn’t even a res­i­dent of the North Pole.

He lived with a bunch of oth­er rein­deer in an unre­mark­able house some­where along San­ta’s deliv­ery route.

San­ta treat­ed Rudolph’s house­hold as if it were a human address, com­ing down the chim­ney with presents while the occu­pants were asleep in their beds.

To get to Rudolph’s ori­gin sto­ry we must trav­el back in time to Jan­u­ary 1939, when a Mont­gomery Ward depart­ment head was already look­ing for a nation­wide hol­i­day pro­mo­tion to draw cus­tomers to its stores dur­ing the Decem­ber hol­i­days.

He set­tled on a book to be pro­duced in house and giv­en away free of charge to any child accom­pa­ny­ing their par­ent to the store.

Copy­writer Robert L. May was charged with com­ing up with a hol­i­day nar­ra­tive star­ring an ani­mal sim­i­lar to Fer­di­nand the Bull.

After giv­ing the mat­ter some thought, May tapped Den­ver Gillen, a pal in Mont­gomery Ward’s art depart­ment, to draw his under­dog hero, an appeal­ing-look­ing young deer with a red nose big enough to guide a sleigh through thick fog.

(That schnozz is not with­out con­tro­ver­sy. Pri­or to Caitlin Flana­gan’s 2020 essay in the Atlantic chaf­ing at the tele­vi­sion spe­cial’s explic­it­ly cru­el depic­tions of oth­er­ing the odd­ball, Mont­gomery Ward fret­ted that cus­tomers would inter­pret a red nose as drunk­en­ness. In May’s telling, San­ta is so uncom­fort­able bring­ing up the true nature of the deer’s abnor­mal­i­ty, he pre­tends that Rudolph’s “won­der­ful fore­head” is the nec­es­sary head­lamp for his sleigh…)

On the strength of Gillen’s sketch­es, May was giv­en the go-ahead to write the text.

His rhyming cou­plets weren’t exact­ly the stuff of great children’s lit­er­a­ture. A sam­pling:

Twas the day before Christ­mas, and all through the hills, 

The rein­deer were play­ing, enjoy­ing the spills.

Of skat­ing and coast­ing, and climb­ing the wil­lows,

And hop­scotch and leapfrog, pro­tect­ed by pil­lows.


And San­ta was right (as he usu­al­ly is)
The fog was as thick as a soda’s white fizz


The room he came down in was black­er than ink

He went for a chair and then found it a sink!

No mat­ter.

May’s employ­er wasn’t much con­cerned with the art­ful­ness of the tale. It was far more inter­est­ed in its poten­tial as a mar­ket­ing tool.

“We believe that an exclu­sive sto­ry like this aggres­sive­ly adver­tised in our news­pa­per ads and circulars…can bring every store an incal­cu­la­ble amount of pub­lic­i­ty, and, far more impor­tant, a tremen­dous amount of Christ­mas traf­fic,” read the announce­ment that the Retail Sales Depart­ment sent to all Mont­gomery Ward retail store man­agers on Sep­tem­ber 1, 1939.

Over 800 stores opt­ed in, order­ing 2,365,016 copies at 1½¢ per unit.

Pro­mo­tion­al posters tout­ed the 32-page free­bie as “the rol­lickingest, rip-roaringest, riot-pro­vokingest,  Christ­mas give-away your town has ever seen!”

The adver­tis­ing man­ag­er of Iowa’s Clin­ton Her­ald for­mal­ly apol­o­gized for the paper’s fail­ure to cov­er the Rudolph phe­nom­e­non  — its local Mont­gomery Ward branch had opt­ed out of the pro­mo­tion and there was a sense that any sto­ry it ran might indeed cre­ate a riot on the sales floor.

His let­ter is just but one piece of Rudolph-relat­ed ephemera pre­served in a 54-page scrap­book that is now part of the Robert Lewis May Col­lec­tion at Dart­mouth, May’s alma mater.

Anoth­er page boasts a let­ter from a boy named Robert Rosen­baum, who wrote to thank Mont­gomery Ward for his copy:

I enjoyed the book very much. My sis­ter could not read it so I read it to her. The man that wrote it done bet­ter than I could in all my born days, and that’s nine years.

The mag­ic ingre­di­ent that trans­formed a mar­ket­ing scheme into an ever­green if not uni­ver­sal­ly beloved Christ­mas tra­di­tion is a song …with an unex­pect­ed side order of cor­po­rate gen­eros­i­ty.

May’s wife died of can­cer when he was work­ing on Rudolph, leav­ing him a sin­gle par­ent with a pile of med­ical bills. After Mont­gomery Ward repeat­ed the Rudolph pro­mo­tion in 1946, dis­trib­ut­ing an addi­tion­al 3,600,000 copies, its Board of Direc­tors vot­ed to ease his bur­den by grant­i­ng him the copy­right to his cre­ation.

Once he held the reins to the “most famous rein­deer of all”, May enlist­ed his song­writer broth­er-in-law, John­ny Marks, to adapt Rudolph’s sto­ry.

The sim­ple lyrics, made famous by singing cow­boy Gene Autry’s 1949 hit record­ing, pro­vid­ed May with a rev­enue stream and Rankin/Bass with a skele­tal out­line for its 1964 stop-ani­ma­tion spe­cial.

Screen­writer Romeo Muller, the dri­ving force behind the Island of Mis­fit Toys, Sam the Snow­man, Clarice, et al revealed that he would have based his tele­play on May’s orig­i­nal book, had he been able to find a copy.

Read a close-to-final draft of Robert L. May’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein­deer, illus­trat­ed by Den­ver Gillen here.

Bonus con­tent: Max Fleischer’s ani­mat­ed Rudolph The Red-Nosed Rein­deer from 1948, which pre­serves some of May’s orig­i­nal text.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Hear Neil Gaiman Read A Christ­mas Car­ol Just Like Charles Dick­ens Read It

Hear the Christ­mas Car­ols Made by Alan Turing’s Com­put­er: Cut­ting-Edge Ver­sions of “Jin­gle Bells” and “Good King Wences­las” (1951)

Hear Paul McCartney’s Exper­i­men­tal Christ­mas Mix­tape: A Rare & For­got­ten Record­ing from 1965

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


The Beatles Versus the Stones: An Animated Battle of the Bands


The Bea­t­les or the Stones? We’ve been debat­ing that ques­tion for the past 60 years. Above, the Lon­don-based com­pa­ny Dog & Rab­bit con­tin­ues the con­ver­sa­tion with a clever video that ani­mates Bea­t­les and Stones album cov­ers. From there, all kinds of high jinks ensue.

The “Bea­t­les vs The Stones” ani­ma­tion has won awards at var­i­ous fes­ti­vals. Recent­ly made avail­able online, you can watch it above.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Bea­t­les Release Their Final Song, “Now and Then”: Hear the Song & Watch the Music Video Direct­ed by Peter Jack­son

Watch Clas­si­cal Music Come to Life in Art­ful­ly Ani­mat­ed Scores: Stravin­sky, Debussy, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart & More

Watch Ani­mat­ed Scores to Music by Radio­head, Talk­ing Heads, LCD Soundsys­tem, Photek & Oth­er Elec­tron­ic/­Post-Punk/A­vant-Garde Musi­cians

Ani­mat­ed Series Drawn & Record­ed Tells “Untold Sto­ries” from Music His­to­ry: Nir­vana, Leonard Cohen, Blind Willie John­son & More

Glen Hansard & Lisa O’Neill Perform a Stirring Version of “Fairytale of New York” at Shane MacGowan’s Funeral: Watch Their Send-Off

On Fri­day, Glen Hansard & Lisa O’Neill per­formed “Fairy­tale of New York” at Shane Mac­Gowan’s funer­al, giv­ing the Pogues’ front­man quite the send-off. The mov­ing per­for­mance took place before a packed church in Nenagh, a coun­try town in Ire­land. And it all ends, per­haps fit­ting­ly, with mourn­ers danc­ing in the aisles. Below, you can also watch Nick Cave per­form a Pogues song from 1986, “A Rainy Night in Soho.”

Relat­ed Con­tent

The Sto­ry of The Pogues’ “Fairy­tale of New York,” the Boozy Bal­lad That Has Become One of the Most Beloved Christ­mas Songs of All Time

Shane Mac­Gowan & Sinéad O’Connor Duet Togeth­er, Per­form­ing a Mov­ing Ren­di­tion of “Haunt­ed”

RIP Shane Mac­Gowan: Watch the Celtic Punk Rock­er Per­form with Nick Cave, Kirsty Mac­Coll & the Dublin­ers

The Won­drous Night When Glen Hansard Met Van Mor­ri­son

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