Big news for fans of rediscoveries of archival materials thought lost forever: Footage from the very first televised Yule Log, circa 1966, has been found after decades in a New Jersey basement.
The tradition has gotten a boost in recent years from streaming TV services like Netflix and the internet’s love of mining every last bit out of a good joke, but the concept of the yule log is an old one, originally meaning a chunk of wood specially selected to burn on Christmas and then evolving into a cake. The idea made the jump to TV in 1966 at New York City’s WPIX, of the lovely Facebook archive.
Rolando Pujol, the station’s digital director and archivist, found the tape and appeared on a TV segment to announce its rediscovery. He explained that it was originally the brainchild of Fred Thrower, who was station manager at the time. Time wrote back in 2008 that they had basically zilch to air on Christmas Eve, besides a nighttime roller derby game. So they shot some footage of a crackling fireplace at the mayor’s residence, Gracie Mansion, dubbed over some carols, and looped it for three hours.
It was a hit!
The New York Times called it “the television industry’s first experiment in nonprogramming.” It was a surrealist’s joke, a postmodernist’s dream — the television, literally, as the family hearth — and an immediate success. The Yule Log became a TV mainstay in New York that regularly won its time slot; dozens of other U.S. cities either picked up the WPIX footage or shot their own.
But the original clip only lasted three years—they reshot the footage in 1970 at a similar fireplace in California, as they’d apparently singed a rug at Gracie Mansion and weren’t allowed back. The new film became a mainstay, airing on WPIX for twenty years. It was brought back again in 2001, as a sort of post-9/11 comfort object.
Meanwhile, according to Parade, the original hasn’t been seen on TV since 1969. It was thought lost:
Fortunately, a station executive had taken it home to New Jersey, where it would quietly reside until his widow’s death in 2014. When the family invited WPIX to take whatever it wanted from his collection, the film can, along with two vanloads of other memorabilia, made their way back to the station. There it apparently sat unnoticed for another two years.
That is, until Pujol found it, just in time for the fiftieth anniversary. His response: “cautious euphoria.” PIX 11 will air the footage here in New York City on Christmas Eve from 11pm to midnight and again on Christmas morning from 7 to 8.
Best part is that, according to Parade, Pujol spotted the tape while combing through the archives for old clips of Donald Trump. Maybe our luck as a nation is starting to turn.