KCET is celebrating its 50th anniversary year with a series of stories, reflections, and flashbacks, like this throwback below. For more and to participate in our next 50 years, join us at kcet.org/50.
Shortly before Huell Howser died in 2013, he gave his entire life's work to Chapman University. He wanted his show "California's Gold" to have a life after he retired from producing it. And now Chapman has posted the episodes online, for anyone in the world to view. The school celebrated this achievement on Thursday, March 27, with the official opening of the Huell Howser Archive and Exhibit.
The Auto Club of Southern California commissioned "A Golden State of Mind: The Storytelling Genius of Huell Howser," a behind-the-scenes video that celebrated the life of Huell and that was screened at the event. It provided an amazing look at the person who held the microphone all those years. Huell Hower had a unique style of interviewing his subjects, and this movie showed him in action: how he would make people open up to him and where he found the subjects he profiled. (Many times, Huell would simply pass something of interest as he was driving and then just stop in.) Other subjects came from tips they would receive in the mail, or something found in the newspapers or books Huell and his team would be reading. He never knew where his next show was coming from, but he had extreme confidence that something would turn up. He was never wrong. Case in point: he had several shows ready to go when he became too ill to continue to work.
The Chapman University President James L. Doti led us through the evening's events.
He showed us videos of events that took place earlier in the day, like the ribbon-cutting at the exhibit and the unveiling of Chapman's Dodge College Star for Huell Howser. (Think of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and put it at Chapman.) I had forgotten that Huell was given a posthumous honorary doctorate degree from Chapman in 2013, which made him eligible for this honor.
Doti then introduced Bob Bouttier, president of the Auto Club of Southern California, a long-time partner with Huell Howser, especially with his series "Road Trip," which was about day trips close to the Los Angeles area. Huell had also written articles that turned up in Westways, the Auto Club magazine.The club not only funded the movie and the reception, but it also created a wonderful map of the many places that Huell Howser visited while making his almost 2,000 episodes. People who are attending the Saturday screenings of the film (which are all sold out) may receive a copy of the map.
There were around 200 people invited to this reception. On the production end were several former Huell Howser employees, most of whom turned up in the film. There was Ryan Morris, Huell's assistant; Phil Noyes, his producer; Michael Garber, his editor; and of course, Luis "Louie" Fuerte, his cameraman. It was wonderful to see people I had worked with for years, and in some cases for decades. (Huell's Cameraman in the later years, Cameron Tucker, appears in the film but did not attend last night's event.)
When we finally were finished with the screening, we were invited down to the exhibit and archives. We saw his office, memorabilia from many of the subjects of his shows, a very interesting timeline of his life and the shows he produced. The map you see on the floor in the photo, has every location in which Huell produced an episode. The funniest thing (at least, to me) was that they have on display,the shirt that Huell wore in the iconic "poppy field" photo.
It is definitely worth the visit. The exhibit is permanent and you can come see it. Check the hours on the Chapman Website, before you head down. In all, it was a great event and a worthy tribute to a man whose death was a major loss to the people of California. There are so many stories still to be told and maybe through this archive, the adventure will continue for a new generation. That was Huell's hope, and it's mine too.
There is a place in this world for "happy news," as Huell proved over and over again.
This is another in a series of posts where Cathy Bower, KCET's Broadcast Operations Coordinator, looks back at some interesting moments and events during the station's 50 years on the air. Read more entries here.