When television broadcaster Huell Howser passed away last month, we Southern Californians realized just how far his persona reached. The cliché “larger than life” seems, in this light, almost apt; it describes his famously voluble enthusiasm, larger than the broadly local life he explored on camera. Though followers identify California’s Gold as Howser’s flagship series, he hosted specialized ones as well, such as Downtown, focusing on Los Angeles’ historic core, California’s Missions (subject obvious), and Road Trip, which took him farther afield. Above, you’ll find an episode of California’s Gold shot in Palm Springs. Howser happened to own a home out there, but more to the point, so did Frank Sinatra; it’s the Chairman of the Board’s house that Howser devotes his considerable curiosity to walking through and finding out everything about. Below, you can join him for a look at Vincent Price’s art collection on a Visiting… broadcast that contains an interview Howser recorded with Price back in the eighties.
“I don’t have an agent,” said Howser in a 2009 Los Angeles Times profile. “I don’t have a manager, I don’t have a press agent, I don’t have a wardrobe guy, a makeup guy, a parking space, a dressing room. It’s basically me and a cameraman and an editor and a couple of guys in the office. I can go out between now and noon and do a full 30-minute show just talking to people on the street and have it on the air tonight.” You can watch all these shows on Chapman University’s new Huell Howser Archive; just click on a series title under the “Shows” column, then through to each episode’s individual post. For a public television icon, Howser had a production sensibility ideally suited for the internet, domain of the cheap and cheerful — well, domain of the cheap, anyway. “We have shrugged our way into a world where everyone is supposed to be a critic of everything, all the time,” actor Thomas Lennon wrote in a remembrance titled “Why Huell Howser Was the Opposite of the Internet.” “Huell, on the other hand, would get into his car, drive for hours, and show us things… just so he could tell us how wonderful they were.”
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.