Excerpt: 'Let's Bring Back,' by Lesley Blume

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One of the few forms of electric light that can be as flattering and evocative as candlelight.

The Yule Log

In the 1960s, television programming was occasionally suspended for a few hours on Christmas Eve; then some genius came up with the idea of replacing a static-filled or black screen with an image of a burning yule log. As a result, viewers who tuned to New York's WPIX on December 24, 1966, were treated to three hours of looped footage of yule logs flaming cheerily away in a fireplace, accompanied by Christmas music.

Time magazine has called the WPIX Yule Log "a surrealist's joke, a postmodernist's dream—the television, literally, as the family hearth—and an immediate success." Many other stations picked up WPIX's footage or shot their own—but television executives extinguished the flame in 1989, preferring to use the slot for revenue-producing programming instead.

Z

Zeppelins

The chicest way to travel, aside from the old Orient Express.

The Ziegfeld Follies

These lavish, wildly creative Broadway revue productions—which ran from 1907 through 1931—are likely most remembered today for the beautiful chorus girls, nicknamed the "Ziegfeld girls"; yet every aspect of the Ziegfeld productions was a feat of imagination and engineering. Founded by showman Florenz Ziegfeld—who sought to "glorify the American Girl"—the legendary Follies has long embodied Broadway at its most glamorous.

Many films have devoted themselves to recreating the Follies and portraying the lives of its stars and creator; The Great Ziegfeld (1936) contains one astonishing scene that captures the extravagance of the original shows: an eight-minute number called "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody," one of the most famous musical performances ever filmed. Shot in a single take, the scene centered around a tall, elaborate, revolving set shaped like a wedding cake; on the tops of the spiraling layers danced nearly two hundred elaborately costumed performers in various historical scenarios, including a Viennese ball and an eighteenth-century French court. Elsewhere a "Japanese" princess sings an aria from Madama Butterfly, women dressed as masked bats swoop up and down the stairs, along with others dressed as eagle-headed valkyries. In one section of the set, the "floor" is composed of the tops of a dozen or so white pianos, onto which the bat ladies descend and dance.

'Let's Bring Back,' by Lesley Blume

The total effect of all of this plumage and fanfare is nearly indescribable—but it came at a price: according to one source, the set and shot cost "more than the entire Follies would have set back Ziggie himself in the grand days."

Ziggurats

Popular among the Assyrians and Babylonians, these ancient pyramid temples were very chic. Their distinguishing feature: they were usually terraced, making it easy to stop and have a restorative lemonade while climbing to the top in the hot sun.

While largely forgotten by most people, modern architects still occasionally reference the design; for example, the famous Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York was conceived by architect Frank Lloyd Wright as an "inverted ziggurat."

Zinc Bars

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