The Luminous Story Behind TV's Yule Log

iStock
iStock

The Yule Log, a looped video of a wood-burning fireplace set to classic Christmas songs, has been a holiday staple for more than 50 years. But in a TV landscape dominated by angry pundits and Real Housewives, how did the sleepy footage become such cherished Christmastime viewing? 

In 1966, Fred Thrower, the manager of WPIX-TV Channel 11 in New York City, wanted the station to do “something a little different and special” that Christmas Eve. On November 2, he circulated a memo to his station’s staff, proposing that the station cancel all programs and commercials in order to air a WPIX Christmas Card, consisting of a video loop of a holiday-inspired fireplace. Thrower also suggested asking WPIX’s affiliated radio station, WPIX-FM, to provide an accompanying festive soundtrack.

Thrower’s concept came to life on December 24, 1966, when WPIX first aired three hours of a continuous 17-second film loop of an ornate fireplace. WPIX had filmed the fireplace at Gracie Mansion, the home of New York City’s mayor, and paired the film loop with Christmas hits from singers like Percy Faith and Nat King Cole. The Yule Log was a huge ratings success, and turning viewers’ TVs into makeshift fireplaces also turned out to be a win-win: New Yorkers in apartments without fireplaces could feel cozy and warm, and more WPIX employees could spend Christmas at home with their families instead of working at the station.

A few years later, in 1970, realizing the original 16mm film of the Gracie Mansion fireplace was deteriorating, WPIX filmed a similar-looking fireplace in Palo Alto, California. Shot on 35mm film, the new video was seven minutes long, making the fireplace loop footage less jerky than the original. For the next two decades, WPIX aired the Yule Log every Christmas—and won its time slot year after year.

Fred’s son, Mitch Thrower, told Mental Floss that his dad “was the most creative man I have ever known.” Explaining the log's appeal, Mitch says the program came to have “sentimental value for millions of people … The Yule Log allowed us all to gather around the same fireplace, and listen to the same music. There has always been something uniquely comforting in that shared moment.”

FANNING THE FLAMES

In 1990, the Yule Log's fire finally went out after network executives deemed the commercial-free program too expensive to air. But folks who grew up beside the log's glow just couldn't let go. Fast-forward a decade, and fans of the Yule Log created an online petition, appropriately titled “Bring Back The Log.” In December 2001, nostalgia won out, and WPIX resumed airing the Yule Log. Since 2003, WPIX’s parent company, Tribune Broadcasting, has aired the show not just in New York City, but on stations across the country.

In 2009, the Yule Log expanded from a three-hour program to four hours, after Lawrence “Chip” Arcuri produced a new fourth hour of classic Christmas music for the WPIX show.

Over the years, the Yule Log has taken on a life all its own. Besides ambient fireplace copycat videos on YouTube, Netflix, and iOS/Android apps, the Yule Log now has a strong social media presence. Whatever device you watch your Yule Log on, the flames are an annual opportunity to pause and reflect, to be together with family, and to feel the (figurative) warmth of the holiday season.

The Most Expensive Properties in 11 Special Edition Monopoly Games

Amazon
Amazon

The board spaces on the original Monopoly game—which was released on February 6, 1935—were based on locations in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Through the game, the hoity-toitiest spots for property development in there, Boardwalk and Park Place, came to symbolize the uppermost reaches of real estate value.

Since Parker Brothers (and later, Hasbro) began licensing the game for alternate versions, there have been hundreds of Monopoly offshoots, and they all have to pick something to serve as their own Boardwalk and Park Place. If it’s a city, they will usually correspond to the fanciest intersection. If it’s a country, they’ll be the two most powerful cities. But Monopoly special editions cover a whole range of areas beyond simple geography. You want to know what’s considered valuable in a particular area of interest? Look to the Boardwalk and Park Place of its Monopoly edition. Here are the most valuable spaces from 11 special edition Monopoly boards.

1. THE .COM EDITION

Monopoly: The .Com Edition
Amazon

In 2000, just before the end of the dot-com boom, Hasbro published .com Monopoly. Boardwalk was Yahoo! (costing $400 million) and Park Place was Excite@home (costing $350 million). Anyone remember what that was? (Didn't think so.)

2. THE PHINEAS AND FERB EDITION

Monpoly: The Phineas and Ferb Edition
Amazon

Naturally, the most valuable properties are Phineas and Ferb’s backyard and The Tri-State Area.

Find the game on Amazon for $199.

3. ELVIS 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION


Amazon

Of course Graceland is going to be Boardwalk, but what about the number two spot? Viva Las Vegas, baby.

Find the game on Amazon for $109.

4. NATIONAL PARKS EDITION


Amazon

How do you determine the value of a National Park? Yellowstone and Yosemite are the Boardwalk and Park Place of this version of the game. Sure, those are great parks, but there’s something unsettling about developing properties in some of the country's most famous stretches of unspoiled land, and raking in profits!

Find the game on Amazon for $130.

5. BASS FISHING EDITION


Amazon

If you know bass fishing, you know it’s gotta be Lake Fork and Lake Champlain.

Find the game on Amazon for $90.

6. SEINFELD EDITION

Monopoly 'Seinfeld' edition
Amazon

A show about nothing still needs to take place somewhere. Jerry’s Apartment and Monk’s Restaurant are the center of this world.

Find the game on Amazon for $100.

7. MY LITTLE PONY EDITION


Amazon

Friendship is magic, but it won’t pay the rent. Stake your claim early on Canterlot and Crystal Empire.

Find the game on Amazon for $80.

8. SOUTH PARK EDITION


Amazon

Cartmanland and Imaginationland, where else?

Find the game on Amazon for $350.

9. A CHRISTMAS STORY EDITION


Amazon

The properties in this version are important objects from the movie, like a frozen flagpole, a bar of soap, and a pink bunny suit. But in this world, BB Gun and Leg Lamp get top position.

Find the game on Amazon for $76.

10. KISS-OPOLY


Amazon

What is true value? A KISS Platinum Gold Box Set and a Japanese Vinyl Box Set.

Find the game on Amazon for $190.

11. MONOPOLY HERE & NOW: THE WORLD EDITION


Amazon

If you’re going to make a World Edition of Monopoly, you’ve got to be diplomatic about how you decide what the two most valuable places in the world should be. Hasbro decided to let the world decide for itself, holding an international vote in 2008 to determine which cities would be included on the board. That’s how it came about that Montreal, Canada, and Riga, Latvia—the two cities with the most votes—became the Boardwalk and Park Place of the world.

Find the game on Amazon for $85.

The 8 Most Anticipated Horror Movies of 2019

Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Michele K. Short, Universal Pictures

Between Hereditary, A Quiet Place, and Halloween, 2018 was a killer year for horror moviesand 2019 is shaping up to be just as impressive. While remakes seem to be dominating the schedule in the coming months, there are plenty of sequels, adaptations, and even a few promising original titles coming out as well. Here are some of the scary movies we're most looking forward to seeing this year.

1. Us

In 2017, Jordan Peele revolutionized the horror genre with Get Out. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker plans to do the same again with Us, which features a predominantly black cast—a rarity for a horror movie. "I dedicated a lot of myself to creating a new horror mythology and a new monster," Peele said of the film. "I think that monsters and stories about monsters are our best ways of getting at deeper truths and facing our fears as a society ... It’s also important to note that this movie, unlike Get Out, is not about race. It is instead about something I feel has become an undeniable truth. That is the simple fact that we are our own worst enemies." Us, which stars Elisabeth Moss and Lupita Nyong'o, arrives in theaters on March 22, 2019.

2. IT: Chapter 2

Stephen King fans were thrilled with 2017's IT, the second adaptation of the horror master's beloved 1986 novel. Andy Muschietti is sitting in the director's chair again for the second chapter, which will follow the Losers Club as they return to Derry, Maine in their adult years. While Bill Skarsgård will reprise his role as Pennywise, impressive new additions to the cast include Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, and James McAvoy. The film debuts on September 6, 2019.

3. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If you’ve been a horror fiend since childhood, you’ll no doubt remember Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series. The books included memorable illustrations by Stephen Gammell, some of which no doubt haunted many children’s nightmares. The film adaptation will be released on August 9, 2019.

4. Zombieland 2

Venom director Ruben Fleischer's feature debut, 2009's Zombieland, was an instant hit with both horror and comedy fans. And they've been waiting 10 years for a sequel. Finally, we’ll be getting a second film this year with Fleischer directing and Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and even Bill Murray all confirmed to return. Zombieland 2 is set to hit theaters on October 11, 2019.

5. Happy Death Day 2U

The hilariously bad-but-fun Happy Death Day (2017) surprised audiences with how flat-out entertaining it was, so much so that fans were thrilled to hear there were plans for a sequel. Much like the original movie, the second film will follow protagonist Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) as she’s killed every single day. But this time, the killer is coming for her friends, too. Happy Death Day 2U premieres on February 14, 2019.

6. Pet Sematary

Though Mary Lambert's original Pet Sematary (1989) was not met with much critical acclaim, fans of the Stephen King novel were pleased with the adaptation, and are excited to see the story come to life again. The remake, which is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and stars John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, debuts on April 5, 2019.

7. Child’s Play

When rumors began swirling that there was going to be another Chucky movie, and that it would be a remake of the original Child’s Play at that, people—including the original series creator Don Mancini—didn't initially seem too excited.

But as more details—including a cast list that includes Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry—were made public, interest in the project seemed to grow. Child’s Play hits theaters June 21, 2019.

8. The Prodigy

Creepy kids will never fail to make terrifying horror movie villains. In The Prodigy, Taylor Schilling’s character discovers something supernatural might be happening to her son when he starts acting as if he’s possessed. (Spoiler alert: He probably is). The film will be released on February 8, 2019.

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