Since 1966 Westporters have celebrated Christmas by gathering together, drinking egg nog, and watching a film loop of a fire burning in a fireplace.
This COVID year — 54 years after it began — the “Yule Log” is more important than ever. With family gatherings smaller, and few options for leaving the house, we’ll take comfort in one old tradition that’s easy to enjoy.
And we owe it all to a Westporter of yore: Fred Thrower.
According to Wikipedia — which is usually pretty right, most of the time — Fred was president and CEO of WPIX, Inc.
Inspired by an animated Coca-Cola commercial a year earlier that showed Santa Claus at a fireplace, he envisioned this television program as a televised Christmas gift to those residents of “The Big Apple” who lived in apartments and homes without fireplaces. This also provided time for employees of the TV station to stay home with their families, instead of working for the usual morning news program.
The original film was shot at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of New York City John Lindsay. An estimated US $4,000 of advertising (along with a roller derby telecast that night) was canceled on Christmas Eve for the show’s inaugural airing.
Thrower, and WPIX-FM programming director Charlie Whittaker selected the music, largely based on the easy listening format the radio station had at that time, with the likes of Percy Faith (whose rendition of “Joy to the World” is played at the beginning and the end of the telecast), Nat King Cole, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Mantovani, and the Ray Conniff Singers to name a few.
During the shoot, the producers removed a protective fire grate so that the blaze could be seen to its best advantage. Unfortunately, a stray spark damaged a nearby antique rug valued at $4,000.
The “show” was a ratings success. Two years later a new, less jerky, longer (6 minutes, 3 seconds) version was filmed.
For decades the Yule Log quietly, unassumingly, lovingly thrived.
WPIX is now owned by E.W. Scripps. But the show goes on: tomorrow, Christmas Day, from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.
The coronavirus has taken so much from us. Thankfully, anyone in the tri-state area can still enjoy this quaint, odd tradition, created by a long-ago Westport neighbor.
And if your family can’t gather here the traditional way, don’t worry. Just grab an iPad, and watch together, virtually.
All you need is Zoom. Just “log” on. Ho ho ho!