This week I’ve gone on a Huell Howser kick. Howser is a California celebrity but probably little-known outside the state. A transplant from Tennessee, Howser has hosted over the years a number of shows about his adopted home state. “California’s Gold” is a great way to learn about the Golden State. Huell travels to state parks, visits with fascinating California residents, explores old towns, and shows us quirky things. I’ve learned about cool places to visit in the Coachella Valley by downloading podcasts (old episodes of various Howser programs).
When I first moved to California in 1998, Howser fascinated me as he introduced me to the Golden State through his programs, shown on the local PBS affiliate. He covered the opening of California’s first Krispy Kreme donut shop (Howser was familiar with them from his days in Tennessee). I learned about a man who dug a passageway through a mountain with the help of just two mules. I saw him interview the one living half of Frick and Frack–did you know that Frick and Frack were two men who were amazing ice skaters? Did you even know that there were really people named Frick and Frack? Thanks to Huell Howser, I know this and more.
While residents love the stories Howser uncovers, he is just as well known for his interview style. He has an incredible enthusiasm for every topic and approaches it with child-like wonder. Over the years, his personality has gotten bigger. He’s even been parodied on The Simpsons. At first, I hated his manner but tolerated it because the stories were so compelling. But after more than a decade, I’ve come to love Howser’s energetic and at times annoying delivery. Ask any Californian about him, and they’ll likely have their own silly Howser impression.
“So what yer sayin’ is…”
Huell Howser’s programs have become a teaching tool for state schools. Perhaps that’s why he repeats things and paraphrases so much–to reinforce the information for students. When a guest shares some fun fact, Howser will emphatically ask a question that repeats what the guest has just said. For example, in one episode Howser stood by a pit in Los Angeles where an art deco landmark had been demolished. The guest spoke about the missing building, noting that it was built a number of years ago. Howser countered (often cutting off his guest) with question like, “So if we were standing in this very spot X years ago, we’d be seeing a beautiful art deco building, not a pit?!” The guest looked a bit confused, nodded, and said yes. It’s become his signature style, and any fan will tell you it’s part of the appeal of his show.
When I moved to Northern California, I was excited to finally show M a Huell Howser show. Even after all my hype, he was not disappointed. This week, we decided to have a Huell Howser viewing night. We ate pizza and watched a few episodes. We learned about Whitewater Preserve, saw some antique electric cars, and explored a local (to us) trailer park built by Bing Crosby. It was a fun night, and I think we’ll do it again soon. It sent me on a Huell Howser kick, and I watched three episodes the next day. I also started reading about Howser himself, and I learned that he has a role in the new Winnie the Pooh animated feature. Now I want to see that film! Keane in the soundtrack, Huell Howser as the Backson…even though I prefer the Milne books to the Disney version, I’m intrigued by this new movie.