The annual animated Christmas special Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer first premiered in 1964 –the same year The Beatles conquered America on The Ed Sullivan Show.

This week both Rudolph and The Beatles return to television. More on the Fab Four’s “Get Back” docuseries premiering Thursday later this week. Tonight, Monday, at 8 p.m., CBS gets the jump on Christmas by trotting out their Red-nosed Reindeer special tonight at 8 p.m. — before US Thanksgiving!

Since Rudolph last aired, two of the Toronto-based players who did the memorable voice work on the special have passed away: Alfie Scopp died in July having reached the great age of 101. He voiced various elves as well as Charlie-in-the-Box. Paul Soles, who died last May at 90, spoke for tooth-yanking hero elf Hermey.

Among the new TV shows premiering that fall of ’64 were Bewitched, The Addams Family and Gilligan’s Island. The Beverly Hillbillies was the most-watched series in North America. It was a good time to be seven.

The original, fully restored, Santa and Rudolph dolls from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (2007 photo)

I spoke with Soles about the Rankin-Bass special in 2014 on the 50th anniversary.

“What did Rudolph do?” Soles asked me at that time. “He saved capitalism! Kids got their presents. Can you imagine? The very idea that we won’t get our loot, our gifts, and there’ll be no Black Fridays—O my God!”


Soles has a long career in Canadian television on shows such as Take 30, Flashback and other CBC radio and TV productions. He says he grew up with CBC Radio drama, which he called Canada’s theatre. Soles went on to play the law breaker on CBC TV’s This is the Law and continues to act, appearing in everything from Less Than Kind to Rookie Blue. In between, he even worked several seasons on stage at the Stafford Festival.

“My idols were all these great CBC radio actors,” he says, singling out John Drainie as “a Titanic figure in radio.”

New York-based producers Arthur Rankin, Jr., and Jules Bass had heard about this fine pool of English-speaking radio actors in Toronto. “My cousin Bunny Cowan was an announcer at CBC, the announcer on Front Pager Challenge,” says Soles. “He was quite a figure in the city and put together this pool of actors for Bass and Rankin, and I was lucky beyond my worth to be included in that group.”

The actors formed a company of players Soles says were as highly regarded as Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre radio players of the ’30s. “In fact, Orson Welles knew about us,” says Soles.

The voice cast for Rudolph at RCA Victor Studios in Toronto in 1964 (l-r): Bernard Cowan (recording supervisor and miscellaneous voices), Arthur Rankin, Jr. (producer), Paul Kligman (Donner), Paul Soles (Hermey), Corinne Conley (Mrs. Claus), Alfie Scopp (Charlie-in-the-box), Larry D. Mann (Yukon Cornelius), Billie Mae Richards (Rudolph)

He singles out Billie Mae Richards, who passed away in 2010. Richards did the voice of Rudolph. “She was a veteran of Navy shows during World War Two,” says Soles. “She stood, as we used to say, well over four feet tall. She played arguably the best little boy voice in the world.”

Soles did the voice of Hermey, the elf who really wanted to be a dentist. The voice actors were shown storyboards to help them conjure up voices for the cast of characters. The stop-motion puppet animation took place later in Japan.

Soles looked at the drawing of the little elf with the blond kiss curl and blue eyes. “I was anticipating the arrival at that time of my only child,” says Soles. You infer what a little elf would be like. It wasn’t hard to get that innocence, the shortness – I was never too tall for my age. All of that came out in the Hermey voice.

Paul Soles voiced the role of Hermey the elf on Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

Soles modestly insists he was “never as clever as Marty Short who has created original characters of their own,” suggesting all the inspiration he neede for Rudolph was right in the script. “All the SCTV people were maybe as good as anybody, ever.”

Still, 57 years later, Soles work on Rudolph is still charming new audiences in network TV broadcasts. He went on to perform dozens of other voices, most notably for the Spider-man cartoon series on Saturday morning television in the late-’60s.

“Stan Lee came under a lot of fire,” recalls Soles. “What–a superhero who’s a teenager and can’t get it on with girls? Has zits? Are you kidding??”

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer will also air Monday, Dec. 2 on CBC.

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