AN contributor Guy Horton remembers California icon Huell Howser, who passed away on January 7.
I once emailed Huell Howser about an idea I had for an episode of “California’s Gold,” his much-loved public television show that for nineteen years took him and viewers all over the state. He even did fifteen shows devoted to Downtown LA, its communities, history, and architecture. I knew he would get it.
I wanted him to come take a look at a crazy robot a friend of mine was running in a warehouse down in Westminster. After all, I thought, he liked the Zamboni so much, plus other curious things like kelp, old western towns, and the Sacramento Delta.
A couple weeks later, there was a message in my inbox. I assumed it would be a curt rejection from one of his people, but it turned out to be directly from him. How do I know? Because it was written the way he talked to the TV audience about California: with genuine, non-ironic enthusiasm. He thanked me for sharing and said he would look into it. He signed off, “The adventure continues.” That was the last I heard from him. I didn’t write back. I had made contact with Huell!
Back when I still had TV, “California’s Gold” was my extremely un-edgy guilty pleasure. When it came to the Web, the adventure indeed continued. I had moved to California in 1976 and always considered myself somewhat of a permanent tourist, unable to proudly (and pompously) display one of those “Native” bumper stickers as I sit in traffic.
I related to Huell’s point of view. He came from Tennessee. I came from another state with double letters: Massachusetts. We both had accents…sort of. Apparently, I wasn’t the only viewer who identified with Huell’s sense of adventure and curiosity.
Huell took us outside and showed us the communities that reside on, and sometimes off, the grid of the Golden State. When you walk through the built environment with Huell in this way you are reminded ever so gently of the importance of creating true places.
To see the first-ever episode of California’s Gold (1977), click here. To contribute to Chapman University’s California’s Gold scholarship click here.