Of the different versions of the character of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, arguably the most famous is the one from the 1964 Rankin/Bass television special of the same name. Originally voiced by Billie Mae Richards, he made reappearances in several later Rankin/Bass holiday specials, as well as a direct-to-video CGI special produced by Goodtimes Entertainment.
In the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special, just as the song suggests, Rudolph is born with an unusually shiny red nose to Donner and his wife, Mrs. Donner. Donner, ashamed of this unusual trait, covers it up with a fake nose made of dirt. When it falls off and his nose is revealed at the reindeer games, the other bucks laugh at him and call him names, and the coach, Comet, bans him from the games. His girlfriend, Clarice, is the only other reindeer who does not treat him badly.
Feeling ashamed about his nose, Rudolph decides to run away from home. He later befriends Hermey, an elf outcast who wanted to be a dentist, and a miner named Yukon Cornelius. After narrowly avoiding being caught by the Abominable Snowmonster of the North, they arrive at the Island of Misfit Toys, a place where all of the unwanted toys go. While spending the night there, Rudolph decides he does not want his nose to further endanger his friends' lives and runs away.
A few months later, Rudolph, now fully grown, finally decides to return home, despite still being ridiculed by his fellow bucks, and finds out from Santa that his parents and Clarice have been looking for him. He searches for them, eventually finding them being held prisoners in the Abominable Snowmonster's cave. Rudolph rushes in to save them, but is knocked out cold when the monster hits him with a stalactite. Luckily, Hermey and Yukon, having learned about Rudolph's plight from Sam the Snowman, arrive at the cave to help save him and his family. After they return to Santa's workshop, Rudolph learns that Santa's annual Christmas Eve flight will have to be cancelled because of the terrible weather conditions. However, after seeing how bright Rudolph's nose is, Santa asks him to use his nose to light the way and lead his team. Thus, Christmas is saved and Rudolph is praised as a hero instead of a misfit.
Rudolph makes a brief cameo in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, immediately following the introduction of the original eight reindeer. As a continuity nod, S. D. Kluger points out to his audience that Rudolph does not have a role in this story, since his backstory is another one altogether.
Rudolph later returned in a sequel titled Rudolph's Shiny New Year, set almost immediately after the events of the original special. In it, he is told by Father Time that Happy, the Baby New Year, has gone missing because everyone laughed at the sight of his oversized ears. Having put up with similar teasing about his nose in the first special, Rudolph says that he knows how Happy must have felt. Accompanied by Big Ben, he ventures to the Archipelago of Last Years, where Happy has run off to. In his travels, he is eventually joined by One Million B.C., 1023, and 1776. After Happy is captured by a giant vulture named Aeon the Terrible and brought to the Island of No Name, Rudolph finds him and shares his own story with him, encouraging him to overcome his problem.
Rudolph made another cameo appearance at the beginning of Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. As he is shown leading Santa's sleigh into the sky on Christmas Eve, Santa's pet donkey, Speiltoe, points out how Rudolph's story is somewhat similar to that of his ancestor, the titular Nestor, as he begins to tell the main story.
Rudolph's last appearance under Rankin/Bass was the made-for-TV movie Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July. By the time of its events, Rudolph has become great friends with Frosty and his family, so much that Frosty's and Crystal's twin children, Chilly and Milly, look up to him as their adoptive uncle. The film also provides a more detailed backstory for Rudolph's nose, explaining that Lady Boreal made it shine as a defense against the evil Winterbolt, and that its power lasts only as long as Rudolph uses his gift for good.
During the events of the film, Rudolph, along with Frosty and his family (who are wearing amulets that prevent them from melting in the hot weather, provided by Winterbolt pretending to be a nice person), appear as guest stars at the Sea Side Circus at the Beach's Fourth of July show, in order to save it from being shut down. However, Winterbolt employs an evil reindeer named Scratcher to take advantage of Rudolph's kindness and steal the circus' money. Because of this evil act, his nose stops glowing. Upon finding out, Rudolph reluctantly agrees to take the blame after making a deal with Winterbolt to extend the powers of the amulets that Frosty's family is wearing. However, when he manages to retrieve Frosty's magic hat after Winterbolt steals it, his nose regains its glow. In the end, after Winterbolt is vanquished and Jack Frost arrives to save the melted Frosty family, Rudolph decides to temporarily stay with the circus until they've fully gotten out of their debt.
Rudolph later starred in another sequel to the Rankin/Bass special, titled Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys.