A wonderful, local tradition began in 1966 with a Yule Log film that was broadcast at Christmastime by New York City television station WPIX, Channel 11.
WPIX President, Fred M. Thrower created the film as a gift to NYC residents. Few had fireplaces. And of the few that did, even fewer had functional fireplaces. The original WPIX Yule Log was filmed at Gracie Mansion, home—at the time—to NYC's 103rd Mayor, John V. Lindsey.
The station's 16mm film crew removed the protective fireplace grate to get a clear shot of the logs and a spark jumped out of the fire. It burned a hole in a $4,000 rug. (That's $27,000 in todays' money.) The original print of the film, as broadcast, was a 17 second loop and was not visually stable. It looked terribly wobbly about four times per minute. (Still, it was a wonder and loved by all then and it has fans today.) The original Yule Log film was first broadcast on WPIX December 24th, 1966 at 9:30PM.
By 1970 the original 16mm print was becoming worn and WPIX decided to re-shoot their Yule Log presentation in 35mm to match their newer broadcast capabilities. The folks at Gracie Mansion were less than enthusiastic when the station asked to return with a film crew. The new 35mm version (Yule Log 2.0?) was filmed on a hot August day at a private home in California.
From the new 35mm footage, the WPIX crew developed a seamless 6 minute loop and created—what was at the time—the perfect never-ending holiday fire.
NYC fell in love with the crackling fire that, some years, was broadcast without commercial interruption for 4 1/2 hours at a time. The crackling fire was backed with music picked from the easy listening library of WPIX FM and featured artists like Nat King Cole, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Mantovani, and the Ray Conniff Singers. The broadcast began and ended with Percy Faith's Joy to the World from his album, Music of Christmas.
1970 held two firsts for me: Watching the WPIX Yule Log and watching it from my first NYC apartment at 304 W. 75th Street, in 1970. The video looked spectacular on my brand new Magnavox TV from Macy's Herald Square. That year, I had a little Christmas open house—I couldn't afford cash tips—for the elevator operators, doormen, custodians, delivery guys, and the building super. I scheduled my open house for them so the Yule Log would be playing when they came up for a couple of adult drinks and a bite of turkey and dressing.
In 2006, to commemorate the Yule Log program's 40th anniversary, WPIX produced a one-hour television special about its history entitled "A Log's Life." (The title is a play on an early Jackie Gleason Honeymooners episode titled "A Dog's Life." The Honeymooner's film was in the same archive box as the Yule Log footage.) Here's a preview of that special featuring Fred M. Thrower's son, Mitch...
Today there are some pretty wonderful Yule Log and fireplace videos on YouTube but none are quite as quaint, charming, and kitschy as the original. The original Yule Log films take me back to an era of shiny-silver-foil Christmas Trees, color wheels, bubble lights, and giant Santas and Sleighs painted on plywood and planted in snowy front lawns across the mid-west. It was all an illusion and I enjoyed it.
This Christmas Season in Baltimore you can watch a variety of Yule Log videos on Comcast if you have On Demand. (Go to On Demand, to Top Picks and look for Yule Log.)
They have Yule Log HD, Yule Log 3D, Psychedelic Yule Log, and some of the more traditional ones. Last week we had a party and I had the HD version looping on the big screen in my office. It was a universal memory maker and great conversation starter.
And, on Amazon.Com Yule logs come in nearly 80 different flavors. I've cataloged them all for you, from Yule Log Christmas in Blu-Ray to the Elvis Christmas Yule Log. If it available it's right here: Yule Log Videos for 21201
By the way, I'll be adding additional Yule Log video links shortly. Check back. And if you know of any that should be on the list, send them my direction. And tell your friends...
You must know someone that would be thrilled to find John Denver's Rocky Mountain Christmas Yule Log DVD in their Christmas Stocking. It's here: Rocky Mountain Christmas (The Yule Log DVD)
The WPIX Yule Log even has it's own listing on IMDB.
Clever Parody from Almost Entertainment
The WPIX open from 1986