This year, the beloved television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer celebrated its 50th anniversary, airing for the first time on December 6, 1964. Among the special’s beloved characters is Hermey the Elf, who aspired to being a dentist. Although he loved doing the special, actor Paul Soles recently confessed that he has not had a good experience with dentists.
A Revolution in TV Specials
Although Rudolph wasn’t the first dedicated TV Christmas special–that honor goes to Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol–it was the one that changed the way TV approached holidays. It was produced by Rankin & Bass for a relative fortune at the time, costing about $500,000, and in addition to its marvelous stop motion animation, it features the recognizable Burl Ives as the narrator and singer of several tunes.
But it turns out that the investment was well worth it. Rudolph debuted on a Sunday night, against NFL football in many markets, and scored a 55 share–55% of all US televisions were tuned to the program, according to Nielsen. That obscene ratings share made everyone pay attention, and suddenly everyone wanted to make their own Christmas special. The following year, A Charlie Brown Christmas aired, and the year after that came How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Rankin & Bass also sought to follow up their success with a whole series of Christmas themed specials, many of which are still classics today, including Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Comin to Town, The Year without a Santa, and The Little Drummer Boy.
But the new phenomenon wasn’t confined to Christmas. Soon execs were making specials for every holiday, such as Easter, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Even as regular network viewership has declined, the trend persists, with holiday related content cycling on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.
The Voice of Hermey Reflects
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the special’s debut, Time caught up with voice actor Paul Soles and talked to him about the role of Hermey, the misfit elf who wanted to become a dentist. Hermey becomes Rudolph’s first true friend and his tooth extraction skills came in handy for subduing the Abominable Snowman. Soles compares the role to his day job as an anchor on a current affairs show in Canada, “It was a playground. An after school play in the park. It was not unlike ice cream on pie after a good meal.”
Soles also says that with the exception of Hermey, he hasn’t had too good of luck with dentists. “I’ve had one of the most horrible careers with dentists over my lifetime. I just hated it,” he says. “Up until about ’07 I had to go to the dentist once a year to have a tooth out. And I got so upset, I went to a dentist in Toronto and said, ‘Take them all out! All the ten or 12 that are left!’” Now, unlike old Bumble, he wears dentures.
If you’re looking for Hermey, you can find him on TV again this year. But, if you’re looking for a Rockland County dentist, please call 845-627-7645 for an appointment at B & D Dental Excellence in West Nyack.