“Rudolph The Red”

Hundreds of festive folks, many having donned gay apparel, gathered again this year in Oakhurst to greet the arrival of Santa Claus in his North Pole Fire Department truck and witness the lighting of an impressive community Christmas tree next to that now internationally famous Talking Bear thanks to Facebook. There was magic in the air with the Winter Solstice set to mark the Sun’s sharpest turn away from us only days distant.

In such a setting, personal memories from many a Christmas Past instantaneously spring forth, flooding our minds and imaginations without further summons — surging in a powerful torrent of cherished recollections joyously unleashed by sparkling ornaments, jingling bells, and seasonal songs snugly nestled in our minds since early childhood.

It was Christmas of 1949 when the legendary Gene Autry recorded a quaint little Christmas offering based on a character established a decade earlier by Robert L. May in a Montgomery Ward coloring book. The original story was presented as a poem in the same meter as the classic “It Was a Night Before Christmas” with song lyrics written for Mr. Autry by May’s brother-in-law, radio producer Johnny Marks. Want a quick Holiday bar bet? “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” was released on November 25, 1949 and shot to the top of the charts, becoming the first #1 Hit of the 1950’s. In its first year, “Rudolph” sold two and a half million copies nationwide and made Laurence A. Johnson crazy.

Mr. Johnson was the owner of four major supermarkets in Syracuse, New York. I was a nine year-old fourth grader in Syracuse attending Madison Elementary School, where my mother was President of the Parent-Teacher Association, more commonly known as the “PTA.” Laurence Johnson was unabashedly conservative in thought, word and deed – considering himself a super patriot and signing on as a major supporter of Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy after a speech the Senator gave in Wheeling, West VIrginia.

On Lincoln Day, February 9, 1950, a mere month after “Rudolph” guided Santa’s sleigh to unparalleled heights, Senator McCarthy dramatically announced: “I have here in my hand a list of 205 names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department”, recklessly playing fast and loose with the truth as was his style. From that point onward, McCarthy continued to exploit a rabid fear of Communism, gaining him a powerful national following, including Mr. Johnson in Syracuse.

After ruining the lives and crushing the careers of thousands of innocent Americans “blacklisted” by unproved accusation and secret allegations, McCarthy was finally revealed as the monster he was by Edward R. Murrow of CBS on “See It Now” in March of 1954 before a stunned audience of millions. Officially condemned by the U.S. Senate on December 2, 1954 in a bipartisan vote of 67 to 22, McCarthy died of acute alcoholism on May 2, 1957 at the age of 48, going down in history as a scurrilous scar on our common past, but not before influencing Laurence A. Johnson to launch a savage attack against Syracuse radio stations during the 1950 Christmas Season for playing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” due to the chromatic hue of Rudolph’s proboscis — that is — his COMMIE RED NOSE!

To those of Johnson’s fanatical ilk, RED represented “Godless Communism.” It was the RED Army that defeated General Anatoly Pepelayev and his WHITE Russian Army in 1923, bringing Trotsky, Lenin, Marx and Stalin to power. It was the REDS and their RED Chinese allies we faced in warfare against North Korea in June of 1950. ”Better DEAD than RED!” screamed Syracuse billboards.

Rudolph’s nose was RED for a REASON — “RECRUITMENT OF AMERICAN YOUTH!

Mrs. Cavanaugh of the PTA was not inclined to suffer fools. Widowed with two young sons and working full-time as a Medical Secretary with additional freelance writing on the side for spare change, she drafted letters to the Syracuse Post-Standard and Herald Journal which were published and endorsed by the Editorial Boards of both papers. Her position was clearly stated without ambiguity or qualification. Laurence A. Johnson was wrong. His assault on “Rudolph The Red- Nosed Reindeer” was simply silly — a bold, unwarranted intrusion into private lives and innocent childhood — flying in the face of common sense and basic decency — utter nonsense by any measure. And she wasn’t shopping at Johnson’s Fine Foods one more second, thank you.

Greeted by overwhelming ridicule reaching universal proportion, Johnson dropped his Anti-Rudolph efforts without further controversy or comment, although continuing wild flag-waving efforts as a major contributor to the John Birch Society in subsequent times.

But as I saw our Oakhurst Community Tree burst into brilliant Christmas colors December 3rd and heard the strains of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” echoing through the local crowd, I thought of Mrs. Cavanaugh — and trust she is pleased.

I might even say she glows!

2 Responses to ““Rudolph The Red””

  1. Charles Walker Says:

    There was once a great czar in Russia named Rudolph the Red.
    He stood looking out the windows of is palace one day while his
    wife, the Czarina Katerina, sat nearby knitting. He turned to her
    and said, “Look my dear, it has begun to rain!” Without even
    looking up from her knitting she replied, “It’s too cold to rain. It
    must be sleeting.” The Czar shook his head and said, “I am the
    Czar of all the Russias, and Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear!”

  2. Don Richards Says:

    Peter C. — “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

    As a five-year old, I remember playing with my toys in the living room as my mother watched the Army-McCarthy hearings on TV. I couldn’t understand what interest the Army could possibly have in Edgar Bergen’s dummy, Charlie McCarthy, but then again these were adults and many of their habits seemed strange to kids.

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