Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Huell Howser (1945-2013)

Huell Howser with Modjeska statue at Pearson Park, Anaheim.
If you haven't yet heard the sad and shocking news of Huell Howser's death, then you must be living under a rock. He passed away Sunday night after being in very poor health. He was only 67. I'm not going to tell you his life story, since every media outlet in California is already doing that. Instead, I thought I'd share a few observations about the man's work, and some links to a few of his Orange County adventures.

Huell was not a historian. But he gave innumerable local historians time on television to explain the stories of their communities.

The dialog in his programs was laden with repetition and predictable Huell-Speak. ("Oh, boy! This has to be the most (adjective) (noun) we've seen all day!") Yet he managed to be more engaging that the vast majority of TV programming.

He rose to fame with simple, low-budget, lightly-edited shows at a time when popular wisdom dictated quick cuts, splashy effects and sound-bites tailored for America's ever-shortening attention spans.

Huell was not a native Californian. But he introduced us to corners and facets of our state that even we natives never knew existed.
Huell Howser with Phil Brigandi at the Plaza Fountain in Downtown Orange.
In short, Huell did not, on paper, seem to be the right guy for the job -- But it was his very fish-out-of-water, folksy approach that made the show work. Make no mistake: The man knew what he was doing. He knew what he wanted out of each show, and he knew how to get it -- All while making it appear as though he had just fallen off the turnip truck. He was hardly the inadvertantly "AMAZED" tourist he pretended to be. He wanted us to fill that role. And often, we did.
Ilse Byrnes prepares to lock Huell Howser in the old San Juan Capistrano jail cell.
The following are links to a sampling of the many Orange County programs that were part of Howser's TV series:

Anaheim with Cynthia Ward
Mission San Juan Capistrano with Don Tryon (promo clip only)
Orange with Phil Brigandi 
Garden Grove
San Juan Capistrano with the Rios family and Ilse Byrnes
Newport Beach's historic boats
Laguna Beach
Knott's Berry Farm with Marion and Virginia Knott
MCAS Tustin
Starr Ranch Conservancy (promo clip only)
Irvine Ranch Land Reserve
Cynthia Ward and Huell Howser with Joe Public on the streets of Anaheim.
Huell Howser is, and will remain, very much a part of "California's Gold."


Anonymous said...

I remember when Huell visited the Irvine Ranch Land Reserve to do a piece. I was not among the docents escorting him but remember speaking to those that did. All enjoyed his down to earth personality.

My wife and I always enjoyed watching his programs. He will be missed.


Anonymous said...

Another classic was his visit to Mdme. Modjeska's home, guided by Ellen Lee.

OCkid said...

Another classic was his visit to Modjeska's "Forest of Arden" guided by the late Ellen Lee.

Major Pepperidge said...

Huell's passing makes me sad... he seemed like such a nice man, and BOY did he love California. Maybe it was his "outsider's view" that made him appreciate what we all take for granted.

Watching his show always made me wish I had the money and time to just explore every facet of this great State.

He was one of a kind!

Chris Jepsen said...

I'm sort of sad and surprised that I never got to meet Huell. It seems about half my friends have been in episodes of his shows, and others have met him at Chapman, while shopping, etc. I just somehow assumed our paths would cross one day.

BTW, I notice that the Chapman online archive of Huell's shows is still missing many episodes. There are a number of particularly good ones I can remember that haven't been posted yet.

retrocounty said...

I don't know where they moved that jail cell to. Ive been in it a couple of times...for the fun of it. R.I.P. Huell Howser, you took a piece of California with you.

Anonymous said...

Chapman University celebrating CALIFORNIA GOLD on Feb 8th in the Piazza. Lots of festivities and food.