Have A Holly Jolly Johnny Marks Christmas

The list of famous Westporters is vast and well-known. Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Rodney Dangerfield, Bette Davis, Michael Douglas, Rod Serling, Martha Stewart, Harvey Weinstein, Michael Bolton, Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, Robert Ludlum, Jim Nantz, Harry Reasoner, Meat Loaf, Nile Rodgers, Neil Sedaka, Frank Deford, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Lindbergh, Fiorello La Guardia, James Comey — and those are only a few.

So why do we never mention Johnny Marks?

This Christmas, it’s appropriate to remember the man who for many years had a home on Green Acre Lane, off South Compo.

He died in 1985 from complications of diabetes. His son still lives here.

Johnny Marks

Marks wrote “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” — the classic tune that, since its first release by Gene Autry in 1949, has sold nearly 200 million records.

That was just the start. Marks formed his own publishing company — St. Nicholas Music — and churned out a slew of other Christmas classics: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Run, Rudolph, Run” and “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” among them.

Not bad for a Jewish kid from Mount Vernon, New York.

I’ve tried to find some information on Marks’ life in Westport. It’s hard to come by.

If you remember him, click “Comments” below.

If you’ve got stories of how his songs impacted your life, you can add those too.

Let’s not forget Johnny Marks. He’ll go down in history!

22 responses to “Have A Holly Jolly Johnny Marks Christmas

  1. Charles Taylor

    In 1949 I was in 1st grade in Mayfield, KY. Gene Autry was a cowboy favorite at the Legion Theatre for a 12 cent double feature on Saturdays. I remember that ‘49 Christmas when Gene and the song hit our little diddly watt radio station. “Rudolph” was a Smash! I had no idea that 8 years later our family would move to Westport.

  2. Robert Lewis May wrote the story of Rudolph & his granddaughter, Margie May, was my classmate at Saugatuck Elementary School back in the 50’s.

    • Thanks, Sally! According to Wikipedia: “In 1939, Marks’ brother-in-law, Robert L. May, created the character Rudolph as an assignment for Montgomery Ward and Marks decided to adapt the story of Rudolph into a song.” Eight years later, it was a hit!

    • Cathy Smith Barnett

      Thanks Sally, I remember Margy May from our class from Saugatuck El, BJHS and Staples ’66. Her sis Cathy and my sis Stephanie were both Staples 63. My in-laws were very close friends of the Mays. My husband and I went sailing with the Mays. Never knew about the Rudolph connection!

  3. Dan. Johnny Marks was a daily Compo Beach guy. He sat in the same spot with the same group of people. I worked at Compo from 1972 until 1977 and got to know him just to say hello. Fast forward a couple of years and I was working in New York. Having lunch one day in Washington Square Johnny was playing Speed Chess. He saw me but my hair was short and I was in a suit and tie. He came over and asked how he knew me. I simply replied Compo Beach. He laughed and we had a nice conversation about westport and Compo. I never saw him again but a few years later it was in The NY Times he Bruce Springsteen and Neil Diamond wee inducted into the Song Writers Hall of Fame. Crazy the people you meet in Westport!!!

  4. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70 BA MA JDE

    Noise pollution

  5. Herb Rothschild

    My son Rich Zeldes lives in Westport and has always forwarded your interesting and timely commentary. This one was no exception. Gives me a chance to say “thanks” and to wish you and yours Happy Holidays.

  6. Mr. Marks was a charming man.I met when I was GM at the White Barn…so long ago. He invited me to lunch one day in NYC. I met him at his offices in The Brill Bldg….I cannot help but think about him every Holiday season…his music is everywhere…BTW…his brother in law wrote the original Rudolph poem for Montgomery Ward ( anyone remember?) in the 30’s. He set it to music in the 40’s.
    Have a Holly Jolly Christmas!

  7. We met Mr Marks at several Westprt parties, he and is son were always charming,and fun to be with. I think of him every Christmas when his songs play often.

  8. Charles Lindbergh once lived in Westport? He was a Darien resident for many years.

    • From what I was told, Lindbergh lived on Long Lots just past Bulkley Ave, but before the Fairfield town line. I think it was near that huge rock that’s at the foot of Sturgess Highway where it meets Long Lots Road. Can anyone confirm this?

  9. Do you know if our JV soccer teammate was related to him?

    Also, thanks to that Westport Country Playhouse show last summer, we learned of Irving Berlin’s connection to Westport. The one remaining question I suppose: is there any kind of Adam Sandler Westport connection?

  10. I believe J.D. Salinger was in residence in Westport for a time, as well as these other illustrious folk that were mentioned here…
    Loved that song, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer!”

  11. In the later 70’s, Andy Rothman and I played nine holes of golf with a much older man that we were teamed up with by the starter. The gentleman was very patient with us as Andy and I hacked our way around Longshore then he continued on when we stopped at the Halfway House. The woman running the snack shack informed us who he was which was, of course, exciting to a couple of teenagers. Oh, the inane questions we could have asked! I imagine that Mr Marks was equally excited to not have us fawn all over him.
    This is one of my “Brush With Greatness” stories that I keep on file along with others such as shaking Joe Dimaggio’s hand against his will, selling popcorn to Norman Jewison’s chauffeur, drying a bathtub with Albert Finney and having my bubble burst by Paul Newman on the set of Road to Perdition. I got a million of them. But that’s Westport!

  12. Dan — some of your “famous Westporters” only spent a few months here, such as Liz Taylor, Charles Lindbergh and F. Scott Fitzgerald. One notable Westporter you neglected to mention was Peter DeVries who wrote some hilarious books and screenplays, such as “Reuben, Reuben” and “Tunnel of Love.”

    PS — I’ll never understand why Westport makes such a big deal out of
    F. Scott, who spent three drunken months here in 1920.

    • I was very good friends around 1958 with the DeVries family. I remember when Peter DeVries died, I went to the tribute to him. I think Jan, his daughter, that was a few years older than me, passed away.

    • YES! Peter DeVries and his wife, Katinka Loeser, were amazing writers who not only lived in Westport, but wrote ABOUT the Westport of their day — 50s – 70s — in DeVries’ case, typically disguised with fictional names like Avalon (“The Mackerel Plaza”) and Woodsmoke (“Reuben, Reuben.”)

      If you’re really in the know you’ll recognize places, too. In “The Mackerel Plaza,” for example, “Peoples Liberal – the first split-level church in America,” — whose minister was tempted into an affair with a congregant — was patterned after Temple Israel, wracked by an adultery scandal involving one its early rabbis.

      Max Shulman (“Rally Round the Flag, Boys” and “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”) is another Westport humorist who was very big in the same era. I believe Dan has profiled him in the past; I’m not sure if he ever did a piece of DeVries and Loeser.

  13. I do have a lovely memory of Johnny Marks. It was decades ago. I was drinking at a local bar with the man I loved. We were chatting with a handsome older gentleman about everything from Schopenhauer to antique cars. When the bartender announced that he was closing up, the old gent invited us over to his house.
    We followed him in Philip’s old Jaguar. It was December and the roads were icy and black, but we managed to get to his house and struggle up the icy stone walk. He said to get some champagne out of the fridge. That was all there was in the fridge. Six bottle of Dom Perignon lying on their sides. I got one and we followed him into the living room.
    The room was huge with very little furniture and a grand piano. The parquet floors were polished to a high gloss; the moon and the piano reflected in the wood. We could see snow falling out the large windows
    Of course I asked the old gent if he played, and of course he said he did. He played us everything from Beethoven to old show tunes and then, around dawn, with a wink at me, he said, “Let me play you a little something I wrote.”
    And he played “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

    That night has stayed with me for nearly 40 years. That man I loved was Philip Hehmeyer, the young president of the New York Cotton Exchange, who committed suicide in 1982. Three years after Philip killed himself, I read the old gent’s obituary in the Wall Street Journal. It was the first time I knew the old man’s name. This magical night is the first few paragraphs of HIGH COTTON, the book I wrote about Philip.

  14. Rosemary Milligan

    Jack – not sure Charles Lindbergh lived where you describe but know that his wife Ann Morrow Lindbergh did for many years.

  15. Robert Groglio

    Sounds like an amazing life!