“Sam the snowman tells us the story of a young red-nosed reindeer who, after being ousted from the reindeer games because of his beaming nose––after befriending a lovely doe named Clarice––teams up with Hermey, an elf who wants to be a dentist, and Yukon Cornelius, a prospector. They run into the Abominable Snowman and find a whole island of misfit toys. Rudoph vows to see if he can get Santa to help the toys, and he goes back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Santa’s sleigh is fogged in, but when Santa looks over Rudolph, he gets a very bright idea.
The TV special, with the teleplay by Romeo Muller, introduced several new characters inspired by the song’s lyrics. Muller told an interviewer shortly before his death that he would have preferred to base the teleplay on May’s original book, but could not find a copy. Other than Burl Ives, all characters were portrayed by Canadian actors recorded at RCA studios in Toronto under the supervision of Bernard Cowan. The Japanese company that handled animation made several copies of each puppet, since they didn’t last long under the constant handling of stop-motion posing.
Since those involved with the production had no idea of the value of the figures used in the production, they were not preserved. Santa and Rudolph were given to a secretary, who gave them to family members. Kevin Kriess bought Santa and Rudolph in 2005 and, because they were in such bad condition, had them restored by Screen Novelties International. The figures have been shown at conventions since then.
Unlike other specials that also air on several cable channels (including ABC Family), Rudolph only airs on CBS. It has been telecast every year since 1964, making it the longest running Christmas TV special in history. 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the television special and a series of postage stamps featuring Rudolph was issued by the United States Postal Service in November.
In the original TV version of the show, Rudolph, Hermey the elf and Yukon Cornelius visit the Island of Misfit Toys and promise to help them, but the Misfits are never mentioned again. After it was shown, the producers were inundated with letters from children complaining that nothing had been done to help the Misfit Toys. In response, Rankin-Bass produced a new short scene at the end of the show in which Santa and his reindeer, led by Rudolph, land on the Island and pick up all the toys to find homes for them, which has ever since been the standard version of the show run during the holidays.
When Yukon Cornelius throws his pick axe into the ground and takes it out and licks it, he’s checking neither for gold nor silver. The original concept for the special stated that Yukon was in fact searching for the elusive peppermint mine.
When the film was first released, in 1964, the technology of using an articulated metal armature inside the figures was considered so amazing that TV Guide devoted four pages to the story. They failed to mention that the “new” technology had been pioneered 31 years before, most prominently inside the gorilla King Kong (1933).”