Johnny Marks

Johnny Marks

1909 - 1985



John David Marks (November 10, 1909 – September 3, 1985) was an American songwriter. He specialized in Christmas songs (although he himself was Jewish and did not celebrate Christmas) and wrote many holiday standards, including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (a hit for Gene Autry and others), "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" (a hit for Brenda Lee), "A Holly Jolly Christmas" (recorded by the Quinto Sisters and later by Burl Ives), "Silver and Gold" (for Burl Ives), and "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" (introduced by Bing Crosby). He is also credited with writing "Run Rudolph Run" (recorded by Chuck Berry) but this is due to his trademark of the Rudolph character, rather than any input in the writing of the song.

Marks was born in Mount Vernon, New York. A graduate of McBurney School in New York, NY, and Colgate University and Columbia University, Marks later studied in Paris. He earned a Bronze Star and four Battle Stars as an Army Captain in the 26th Special Service Company during World War II. Marks had three children: Michael, Laura (d.2008) and David (d.2009). Marks, who was Jewish, was the great-uncle of economist Steven Levitt.

Marks was the nephew of Marcus M. Marks (1858–1934), a business figure who served as Borough President of Manhattan. Johnny Marks's father, Louis B. Marks, was a lighting engineer. His wife, Margaret May Marks, was the sister of Robert L. May who wrote the original story of Rudolph.

He lived on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City. He died on September 3, 1985, of complications from diabetes.

Among Marks' many works is "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer", which was based on a poem of the same name, written by Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May, Rudolph's creator. A television film based on the story and song first aired in 1964, with Marks composing the score.

In addition to his songwriting, he founded St. Nicholas Music in 1949, and served as director of ASCAP from 1957 to 1961. In 1981, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Marks appeared as an imposter on the December 11, 1961 episode of the game show To Tell The Truth. Impersonating the owner of a herd of reindeer, he did receive two of the four votes. After the true contestant was revealed, Marks identified himself as the composer of "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer."