Pride of the Southland

Tennessean-turned-Californian Huell Howser died early Monday morning after a long illness. When the beloved host of “California’s Gold” announced his retirement in November, there was speculation that he was sick. In 2011, he donated his archives to Chapman University, which has begun digitizing and posting his old shows.

I didn’t just like Huell Howser. I wanted to be Huell Howser. He was already an established presence on KCET when I moved to Los Angeles. At first glance, his delightful travelogues seemed mock-able but that ridicule gave way to respect the more I watched. KCET aired a half-hour tribute last night. The show is already available online.

A 2008 interview with Huell impressed me with his attitude about greeting viewers. He was asked how he could always be in a good mood wherever he went. Huell explained that if he was ever in a bad mood, he stayed home. He understood that he was “on” every time he left the house.

In 2010, I was inspired to write a blog post about Huell. A good chunk of it bears repeating here:

Two people called me last week to tell me about Huell Howser. My wife was in Missouri, visiting with relatives who had recently traveled to California. They were trying to describe a TV host with an unusual accent and unbridled enthusiasm for his subject matter. My wife knew instantly that they were talking about Huell and called me to confirm his name.

A few days later I got a call from a friend who works as a production assistant on a network series that is currently on hiatus. He told me that he sent an email to Huell Howser Productions offering to do some volunteering during his off-time. He got back a form letter, which said that Huell can’t answer all his mail personally. He thought that was the end of it until his phone rang at 9 o’clock one morning. It was Huell himself, calling to say thanks for the kind offer and to explain that his show has only a two-man crew.

Like a lot of viewers, I would flip past KCET and find myself unable to turn off whichever of Huell’s programs was on at the time. There are at least five different series but they are all just the “Huell Howser Show” to me. The basic gist of them is the same. Huell and his cameraman go someplace mundane and make an interesting story out of it by talking with the locals. One of my favorite episodes was shot at a tuna cannery. I learned that the fish goes in raw and gets cooked during the canning process.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Huell is from Tennessee. It’s no wonder I like him. He was born in Gallatin and broke into TV in Nashville. Not only did he graduate from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, he served as student body president while he was here. However, I doubt he’s coming back. He told the Pasadena Weekly that he wants his ashes to be placed in twenty different locations around California.

One episode of Huell’s show motivated me to get in the car and drive from Burbank to Montebello to buy some egg nog in a glass bottle. My son and I also bought some chocolate milk at Broguiere’s Farm Fresh Dairy.

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2 Responses to Pride of the Southland

  1. Charles Pannunzio says:

    Hi Frank! I did not know about Huell until I moved out here to Torrance in May, but it was just like you said, he took a subject and threw his all behind it. My favorite was the first show I saw, where he went to Stan’s Donuts in Westwood and looked at all the work that goes into making the treats. They made a chocolate and peanut butter doughnut that they named after Huell and I said I’ve got to try one of those. We were going to a UCLA baseball game the next week and stopped in for a doughnut. I’m sure they will keep selling them as a tribute to Huell. Hope everything is great in Tennessee.

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