Opera is not necessarily easy entertainment for most Americans. However, famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti did much in his lifetime to help us T-shirt-wearing, sitcom-watching types not only understand the art form but also get excited about it. It's fitting, then, that he once sat down for an interview with Huell Howser, who also tried his hardest to get people to stop and appreciate something they may have overlooked before.
This 1981 interview for the Cable News Network features Huell in his New York days and proves that Anderson Cooper was not the only CNN anchor to look dapper behind the news desk.
If you haven't yet, take a moment to sign Huell's memorial page.
Monday @ 7:30PM -- "Fake Food"
Have you ever spotted some plastic food and been shocked by how realistic it looks? Have you ever wondered how it's made? In this episode, Huell visits Iwasaki Images of America and gets a firsthand look at this fascinating process.
Tuesday @ 7:30PM -- "Koi Farm"
Huell visits a Koi Farm and is amazed to see everything that goes into raising these beautiful fish.
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Fans of British imports "New Tricks" and "Hustle" will be happy to know that KCET will begin airing "new" episodes of both shows on March 4. The first installment of the tenth season of "New Tricks" is "A Death in the Family," which airs Monday, March 4 at 8 p.m. The episode features the departure of a major cast member, with a new character joining the main cast a few episodes into the season.
The eighth season of "Hustle" begins at 9 p.m., with the episode "Gold Finger." The six-episode season also features the reunion of departed cast members in the final installment. "Torchwood" star John Barrowman also guest-stars this season.
Hey, remember "Poltergeist"? Remember Zelda Rubinstein, the actress who played the psychic who helps the haunted family rid their house of ghosts? Well, Huell Howser was a friend of Rubinstein's, and he actually interviewed her in 1981, a full year before she'd rise to prominence with her role in "Poltergeist."
It happened as part of Huell's visit to the Michael Dunn Memorial Repertory Theater Company, a group created by and for little actors, and named after an actor who shunned the traditional, "cutesy" roles that typically went to short-statured performers.
Though Huell recorded this segment early in his California career, it's easy to see the beginnings of the "California's Gold" aesthetic. He was exploring a segment of the L.A. community that a lot of people might not have known about, and he's doing so while giving this group all due respect. In fact, he's treating them exactly the way he'd treat any other interview subject -- famous or not -- and that's exactly what the people in the Michael Dunn Memorial Repertory Theater Company would have wanted. And most importantly, Huell steps aside to let his subjects do the talking.
Monday @ 7:30PM -- "Halal Food"
Huell learns about the Muslim food tradition of halal. First stop is Payless Produce -- a Halal market known for its Halal meats. Then its off to China Islamic, a restaurant, to sample some very tasty food that proves that this ancient Muslim tradition is alive and well here in Southern California and gives us insight into a very rich and important part of everyday life for our large Muslim community.
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Fans of Huell Howser gathered at Chapman University's Memorial Hall today to salute the late TV host and to watch as he was posthumously bestowed with a Doctorate of Arts degree in recognition of his life's work. The event also served as the official launch of the Huell Howser archives at the school, as well as the inaugural presentation of the Califorina's Gold scholarship.
The university drew a sizable crowd despite inclement weather, and Memorial Hall was nearly filled to capacity when president James Doti welcomed the audience. "Today we come to celebrate not Huell Howser, though we want to do that, but believe me -- that's the last thing he would want," Doti told the crowd. "What we are celebrating is the 'California's Gold' show and its impact on our society." Quoting Huell himself, Doti described "California's Gold" as "a good story, not overproduced or overthought but the kind of story that reveals the wonder of the human spirit and the richness of life in California, including its history, people, culture and natural wonders."
Upon officially bestowing the Doctorate of Arts degree, Doti took a moment to explain how it was that Chapman came to receive Huell's archives. To do so, Doti played a video of Huell's last public speech, in which Huell recalled how he had once passed through the city of Orange without stopping to see Chapman. Doti wrote Huell a letter to complain, and the resulting meeting sparked a friendship between Huell and Chapman. "When I first walked on the campus at Chapman, it was a transformational experience," Huell said in the recorded speech. "This is where I want to spend some time. This is where I want to donate shows. This is where I want to start a scholarship fund. This is where I want to donate 1,800 books about California. This will be my legacy... one hundred years from now, when there won't be a person walking on this planet who knows or cares who Huell Howser was [or] who has ever watched 'California's Gold' or who has any idea what that television series was all about."
Those in attendance included names familiar to ardent Huell fans, including lint artist Slater Barron, John Fosselman of Fosselman's Ice Cream, bunny museum proprietress Candace Frazee, whistling diva Carole Anne Kaufman, Aileen Watanabe from Pink's Hot Dogs and John Nese from Galco's Soda Pop Stop, as well as Huell's former assistant Ryan Morris and longtime cameraman Luis Fuerte. Among those introduced for the first time to Huell Howser fans was Mayra Gonzalez, the first Chapman student to benefit from the California's Gold Scholarship Fund. The first in her family to attend college and a native of Mexico who had to learn English at age 12 when she immigrated to the United States, Gonzalez told the crowd how she embraced an idea central to Huell's philosophy: gratitude for small things -- "the things we take for granted because we think we deserve them," in Gonzalez's words.
Following the addresses, the crowd dispersed to tour exhibits of "California's Gold" memorabilia, a re-creation of Huell's office and "found" art objects that Huell kept in his home. Additionally, the campus gym, which was filed with SoCal residents whose businesses and hobbies had been profiled on "California's Gold." The line for Pink's Hot Dogs snaked throughout the room and afforded those waiting a look at many of Huell's interview subjects.
Slater Barron, the "Lint Lady," said being interviewed by Huell meant more than just what viewers saw onscreen. "It made me happy that more people knew about my work, but also Huell became a friend," she said. "He came to one of the artist parties that I throw in my garden every year, and he'd call me on my birthday sometimes. I always felt like he was in my life. I still have some of his phone calls on the message machine on my telephone, so I can listen every once in a while. ... I just breaks my heart because now I can't invite him to lunch."
Galco's owner John Nese had similarly fond recollections about Huell. "He did so much for everybody," Nese began, "and I said 'What can I do for you?' And he just said 'Nothing.' And I said 'But I want to.' And he said 'I don't want anything. But maybe every once in a while, maybe I'll stop by and try a new flavor of soda pop.' And I said, 'Boy, Huell, whatever you want.'" Nese, who said he still gets recognized on the street from his two appearances on "California's Gold," praised Huell's way with ordinary people. In particular, he recalled how his mother, during the 2000 taping of the first Galco's episode, was making a sandwich and feeling so nervous that she was shaking. She told Huell, "I'm really nervous, and I wasn't this nervous on my wedding night." "[Huell] put his arm around her and gave her a big hug, and she calmed right down," Nese said.
Nese continued on to say something rather profound about the effect that Huell and his show had upon people. "Huell is the embodiment of what everyone wants to be," Nese said. "We live in a cut-throat world. There was a time, fifty, sixty years ago, where everyone was helping everyone else. And that's changed, and that's really disappointing. But I think Huell was that person who went out and showed people what America can be." Nese then motioned to the many people gathered in the Chapman gym. "Look at the people out here. It's raining. You're in Southern California on a Friday and it's raining. And yet all these people showed up."
Monday @ 7:30PM -- "Donuts"
For almost 40 years, Stan's Corner Doughnut Shop of Westwood, California, has baked the world's most gourmet donuts, from a Cinnamon Chocolate Cheese Danish, to an Apple Fritter, to a Reese's Peanut Butter Pocket with fresh banana. Stan's offers donuts you will find nowhere else in the world. Huell spends the morning doing "research" at this Los Angeles landmark.
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Tuesday @ 7:30PM -- "Diorama"
Huell visits the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to discover the history of its famous animal dioramas. There, he visits with Robert Reid, who has been the resident artist for 20 years at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum and the man responsible for creating all of the beautiful dioramas. From deserts to beaches, Reid captures the natural beauty with his paint brushes. Robert works closely with Tim Bovard, the taxidermist responsible for making the animals look so lifelike. Together, they make a unique team.
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It's no secret that Huell Howser met a great many people during his time in front of the camera. But while he clearly delighted in talking to normal, un-famous people, he had a way with celebrities too. In the above clip, watch Huell interviewing comedy great George Burns at the 1980 Country Music Awards. Why was George Burns, of all people, attending the 1980 CMAs? Well, you probably have forgotten about Burns' country-twinged 1980 novelty hit, "I Wish I Was Eighteen Again."
In the short clip, Huell actually calls back to Dolly Parton, whom he interviewed in the previous clip we posted here on KCET. Huell asks Burns if there's any truth to the rumor that George Burns would work with Dolly Parton. Burns' three-word response reminds you how great he was at thinking on his feet: "The three of us?"
Monday @ 7:30 p.m. -- "Sauerkraut"
In 1896, the Kruegermann family started making pickles in Germany. The family immigrated to California in 1965 along with their secret family recipes for not only pickles but sauerkraut as well. In this episode, Huell spends the day with this wonderful family at their 25,000-foot facility, where he learns all about the art of sauerkraut!
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Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. -- "Culver City"
Huell travels to the small city with a big history. Did you know that all the little people who portrayed the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz stayed at the Culver Hotel? Huell visits the Culver City Historical Society Archives and Resource Center, which boast two MGM costume cases. We'll also get a special tour of an historic "tower" that is something to see!
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Believe it or not, Huell Howser had a life before he arrived in California. For fans of his public TV work in this state, that can be a hard concept to wrap your head around -- kind of like the childhood realization that your parents had a life before they had you. Recently, Howser's assistant and producer, Ryan Morris, began uploading videos of this early work to the Huell Howser Youtube account. For Huell fans or for anyone in love with pop culture, it's a kick to watch these. We'll be posting them here on TV Talk.
In this first video -- a segment titled "Country People," filmed for a New York CBS station back in 1980 -- Huell tours the New York penthouse of Dolly Parton. The intro also mentions joining John Ritter on a visit to the Grand Ole Opry and chatting with some regular folks, too, and while those segments don't appear in the clip, you can see the beginnings of the career that made him a star in California.
Of course, you have to stop and appreciate Huell's brilliant head of dark hair. And yes, at one point Dolly Parton does threaten that she will "get that gun of mine, and I'm going to change you from a rooster to a hen, and don't think I can't do it." That is a thing that actually happened.
Check back at TV Talk for more write-ups of Huell's pre-KCET adventures, and get more Huell Howser content at kcet.org/huell.
And if you haven't yet checked out the Huell Howser memorial page, have a look at what your fellow Huell fans had to say.