RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER Guides Santa’s Sleigh on CBS
It’s that time of year again, and soon Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, my favorite Christmas special, will be leading Santa’s sleigh once more. After doing a bit of research on this classic heartwarming Christmas story, I found Corinne Conley, the voice of Rudolph’s mother, Mrs. Donder.
Conley, who graciously granted an interview, recalls her role in Rudolph very fondly, considering it the favorite credit of her acting career. To this day, she gets “the nicest reaction” from people the world over when they realize she was one of the voices in the Rudolph project. Oddly, over the years, she’s also been given credit for the voice of Dolly, the ragdoll on the Island of Misfit Toys. She says, “All the actors doubled and played different parts. I know I was Rudolph’s mother, and, to this day, I can hear my voice in that character. Many people send me pictures of the characters, and they always ask me to sign for the doll. I’m told that I played the doll, but I don’t recognize my voice in the doll character, nor do I remember reading the part. Anyway, I always try to sign by any grown reindeer in pictures sent to me. But, I do get the most responses from people for playing the doll. And when I tell them I was Rudolph’s mother, they fall to pieces. People have such an emotional pull to that show.”
Conley, as well as the other actors who read voices in Rudolph (with the exception of Burl Ives) all came to television from radio. Conley says, “1964 was the time of radio. Television was just beginning. We had all come out of radio, which was still great in Canada. People from coast to coast listened to radio dramas and radio series. That was what people did for so many years. Most of the other actors were born in Canada, and I was working in Canada at that time. Everybody also got their training at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) doing all the radio work, so all the actors in Rudolph were wonderful actors. That’s why the producers chose to come to Toronto to do their Rudolph special. (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was originally a promotional project created in Chicago by advertising copywriter Robert L. Mays for Montgomery Ward and Company’s 1939 Christmas season. Rudolph is still prominently featured in Chicago’s History Museum).
The Rudolph actors voiced their respective characters in Toronto’s only studio. Conley says, “When we did Rudolph, we were all in a big room, which is something you don’t do in animation anymore. Now, you do your part in the studio all by yourself. But, we had a wonderful time playing with one another and listening to the music. They were all great friends of mine, and I had worked with several of them on previous projects. We were all very chummy. Burl Ives, though, was not part of the group in the studio. He was the narrator, and he was working in L.A., so he did his part separately from us.
It was quite thrilling to see the final cut. It was a beautiful show. I don’t think any of us had any idea it would become the classic it is today.”
Shortly after she voiced the Mrs. Donder character, Conley moved to L.A. where she played Phyllis Anderson Curtis on Days of our Lives for many years. Her projects of late include an appearance in Saving Hope. She loves to tell a little story about her work on the TV series. “I played a woman who’s been married 70 years. I thought she must be at least about 90. So, when I went into hair and makeup, I was curious to know what they were gonna do with me. When I asked them, they just said, ‘You’re perfect. We’re not gonna do anything.’ That was a bit of a shock to me,” she laughs, “but, I think it’s a wonderful show, and I’m grateful to have been invited to be on it.”
Conley’s other recent work include feature films horror/comedy Wolfcop and the Canadian project Cas & Dylan. “With Wolfcop, we filmed in Moose Jaw, and there was a blizzard on the first shoot day. They had me dressed with silk underwear, then thermal underclothes over that. Then, on top of that, I was wearing the outfit for my character. It was quite an experience, very cold. I just loved going there.” The Jason Priestly-directed Cas & Dylan stars Richard Dreyfus and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black).
As for Rudolph, the Christmas classic remains Conley’s greatest acting memory. “Of course it has be Christmastime when you tell people about Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” she adds.
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer airs Tuesday, December 9, at 8 P.M. on CBS.