We've been posting these "Retro Huell" posts for weeks now. They've been a great reminder for us -- and maybe you too -- that though Huell Howser was a journalist, a historian and an ambassador to all sorts of cool information, he was also a really quirky guy. He clearly liked veering off the beaten path, turning over rocks to see what unusual treasures might be beneath them. This, combined with this eternally sunny disposition, made him the great TV host that he was.
There's maybe no better example of how quirky Huell could be than the video posted above: a pilot episode that he produced at Nashville's WSM back in 1977. It's a fast-paced montage of Huell's work in Nashville, and as it skips from one thing to the other, you too may be struck with how wonderfully weird it can get.
A "skip ahead" guide for those of you too busy to enjoy all 20 minutes of the clip:
0:11 -- I hope it's okay if the opening text makes me think of "Star Wars." For what it's worth, it's pretty epic: "What you are about to see is a new concept in television. Not even the names have been changed to protect the innocent. There will be no flashing lights, no electronic gimmicks, no scripted lines. Just one camera and one reporter who listened."
0:45 -- That said, Huell rocking a page boy haircut and suspenders is also pretty epic.
3:17 -- This exchange makes me incredibly happy: "Is that really an outhouse door?" "Yes, it is. I stole it off an old outhouse outside some stores in Newburn, and when I jerked it off the hinges, the rest of it fell in."
3:42 -- Hank Aaron! And Loretta Lynn! It's quite charming to see them acting like two peas in a pod.
4:31 -- The vast majority of people reading this post will have never heard the word "waterwitch" spoken as often as you will in the section featuring Les Cushenberry.
7:03 -- Similarly, there's the potato lady. Technically, the clip is Safe For Work, but you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
7:28 -- Paul McCartney! With Chet Atkins! And Linda doing an Southern accent!
8:10 -- I can't remember the last time I was so worried about the welfare of a dog than I was during this segment, which focuses on a dog who rides on car roof.
9:16 -- It's Porky the Pet House pig. If this segment isn't enough for you, you can watch the full clip in this previous Retro Huell post. Fair warning: It's really, really weird.
10:17 -- A chaw-spitting contest supplemented with cartoon sound effects and a marching band soundtrack. That's enough, but it's even more remarkable when you see that it segues directly into...
11:15 -- A segment on the United Nations visiting Nashville. It's called range, people.
12:55 -- I honestly don't know what to make of the tomato lady, who claims that juggling tomatoes makes her "happy all the time." She does seem pretty stoked, you have to admit.
15:07 -- And then there's "Uncle Pete," an elderly gentlemen who has two teeth and plays a musical instrument that Huell terms a "mouth bow."
17:46 -- And finally there's Huell's plea. Set to stirring music, the monologue is Huell's last bid to get his dream show made. Here's what he says: "We're not proposing news features by newsmen. What we're talking about is the people themselves talking in their own television show -- a show that will bring to life each week the warmth, the goodness, the aliveness of a whole region of the country. It's real. It's basic. It's simple. And it works." I'm actually not sure what show Huell did immediately after the pilot, nor if this particular pilot pitch landed him a new series. But it's interesting to read these words and then look back on the series run of "California's Gold" and see that in the end, Huell Howser got to do the show he always wanted to do.