The reindeer still reigns: ‘Rudolph’ gets annual CBS showcase

Fanning Out

‘Hermey’ talks (really) about the beloved holiday classic

After more than 50 years, you still could even say it glows.

Since its first telecast in 1964, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has endured as one of the most beloved of all holiday specials. Boasting the “Animagic” stop-motion animation style that was used often by producers Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, the ever-charming program inspired by Johnny Marks’ song and Robert L. May’s story has the first of its annual CBS telecasts Tuesday, Nov. 27. (It also will air there Saturday, Dec. 8.)

As narrator Sam the Snowman, Oscar and Grammy winner Burl Ives arguably was the show’s most famous voice talent, but many other performers — who largely were based in Canada — also are strongly associated with their “Rudolph” roles. One is Paul Soles, who spoke the words of Hermey, the elf with a much stronger interest in learning dentistry than in making toys at Santa’s workshop.

“It has given me huge numbers of memories,” Soles told us several years ago, “including standing beside double apple boxes with Billie Mae Richards (the voice of Rudolph) standing on top of them, so she could reach the microphone so we could do our two songs. And a free trip to New York? That was pretty exciting for someone who was 34 or so and just starting out. We’ve all had those ‘Wow!’ moments.”

Soles doesn’t deny there may have been a touch of nepotism to his being hired to voice Hermey: His cousin, Bernard “Bunny” Cowan, was a renowned Canadian announcer who had much to do with assembling the bulk of the “Rudolph” voice cast. Among others in that group were Larry D. Mann (who played Yukon Cornelius), Stan Francis (Santa Claus and King Moonracer), Peg Dixon (Mrs. Claus) and Alfie Scopp (Charlie-in-the-Box, one of the Misfit Toys, and several of the other reindeer including Fireball).

“The fact of the matter is that I was lucky to be a part of this enterprise when it was done,” reflects Soles, who also voiced Spider-Man in an animated 1960s series. “We had as great a pool of English-speaking actors in Toronto as had ever been assembled … and we also were willing to work for 35 cents a day. That’s why the jobs came here.”

For its first eight years, “Rudolph” was broadcast by NBC, then CBS acquired the rights in 1972, premiered a color-corrected print in 1998 and introduced a digitally remastered version in 2005.

Soles believes that whenever he’s recognized and celebrated for his work as Hermey, “What people are responding to is that I was part of a formative moment in their early development that they remember fondly, and with delight. How many people have that place in others’ hearts and lives? That’s both to be respected and thrilled by.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

jbobbin has 1935 posts and counting.See all posts by jbobbin

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