Writing in verse as a series of rhyming couplets, May tested the story as he went along on his 4 year old daughter Barbara, who loved the storySadly, Robert Mays wife died around the time he was creating Rudolph, leaving Mays deeply in debt due to medical bills. However, he was able to persuade Sewell Avery, Montgomery Wards corporate president, to turn the copyright over to him in January 1947, thus ensuring Mays financial security.
Mays story Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was printed commercially in 1947 and in 1948 a nine minute cartoon of the story was shown in theaters. When Mays brother in law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the lyrics and melody for the song Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, the Rudolph phenomenon was born. Turned down by many musical artists afraid to contend with the legend of Santa Claus, the song was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 at the urging of Autrys wife. The song sold two million copies that year, going on to become one of the best selling songs of all time, second only to Bing Crosbys White Christmas. The 1964 television special about Rudolph, narrated by Burl Ives, remains a holiday favorite to this day and Rudolph himself has become a much loved Christmas icon.