Los Angeles Bids Farewell to Huell Howser at Griffith Observatory

UPDATE: If you missed last year's Huell Howser memorial, there's another being held this year to mark the one-year anniversary of his passing. On Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, fans will gather again at Griffith Park to remember the longtime "California's Gold" host. The event is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

Fans of the late Huell Howser gathered at Griffith Observatory Tuesday afternoon and watched the sun melt into a vibrant sunset -- a poetic literalization of "California's Gold." Organized by Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, this salute to Huell's career drew hundreds out into chilly temperatures to sing "California, Here I Come" once more and to say goodbye to a TV host they considered a friend.

Story Continues Below
Support KCET

The location, overlooking the expanse of L.A. and countless spots that Huell had visited during his long TV career, was especially appropriate, said observatory director Ed Krupp, because it was a place that Huell had visited many times, a place where the public can gather and a place where people can connect with the cosmos. "Huell was not a public official, but he was a tireless promoter of this state, this city, and this observatory," Krupp told the crowd. "He knew the attractions of California better than anyone. And he was not a celebrity, but everybody knew him and, more importantly, liked him. ... Will you forgive me for reminding you of the obvious? I am the city astronomer, and I know a star when I see one, and Huell Howser was one of the first magnitude."

The crowd listened, smiled, clapped, and laughed at speakers' memories of Huell. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET

In his remarks to the crowd, KCET president Al Jerome acknowledged that the event had been organized in spite of Huell's wishes that there be no public memorial: "He wanted his work to stand on its own merits, and we can understand that. The problem was Huell was a very, very private man, and those of us who [worked with him] knew him through his work, and the work and the man were inseparable. While he was so private, he was remarkably self-confident and completely at ease standing in front of people with a camera going, and he could just create something like nobody else." Jerome added that Huell excelled at "getting excited about [people's] everyday stories and their homes and their jobs and their families and most of all, perhaps, their food -- all food, with the sole exception of menudo," referencing a famous episode of "Visiting."

LaBonge explained that the day of the tribute, he'd received a call from actress Jane Lynch. When LaBonge told Lynch about the event, she explained to him, "I got to know California through Huell's eyes." And it was in that sense of Huell as the great educator that LaBonge declared his wish that there one day be a Huell Howser High School in Los Angeles -- "And they should be known not as the Tigers or the Lions or the Bears but as the Historians!"

Pop culture historian Charles Phoenix, who did a spot-on impression of Huell, noted "Today is also a sad day in California, because we have lost our greatest documentarian and our golden boy." Phoenix, who reminded the crowd that Huell's name was a blend of his parent's names, Harold and Jewell, touted Huell as a hero and bemoaned that so many fans never got to tell him how much they appreciated his work. "We all wish, though, that we had the chance to tell him how much we loved him and to say 'Thank you, Huell,' for sharing the stories and the glory of the greatest state in the country, like nobody else before or after him."

From left to right: Lynne Green, who appeared in a 2006 episode of "California's Gold," Gloria Pink of Pink's Hot Dogs, and Mary Cardona, a longtime fan of Howser. | Photos: Zach Behrens

Other speakers included actress Annemarie Johnson, who read a statement that Rep. Janice Hahn had had shared on the house floor. "[Huell] fell in love with his new home, and created his own television show dedicated to life in California. ... His folksy charm was disarming, and his folksy interviews were lighthearted and friendly. He talked to nearly everyone he met and found the most incredible stories, ranging from tragic and touching to pure and wonderful."

Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, praised Huell for informing the public about California's past. "Before there was Facebook, before there was YouTube and even before there was Yahoo, there was Huell Howser. He was the first social media," Dishman said. "Huell caught us all up in his web through his interactions, his sharing and his explorations of the wide world of Los Angeles and all of California."

And public works commissioner Capri Maddox enthused, "He shows us 'California's Gold,' and we're going to continue to enjoy it. We let him into our hearts -- sometimes for 30 minutes at a time, sometimes just for a moment -- and we learned so much about this city. We learned to appreciate the beauty of California... places we'd never seen or places we just drove by and ignored."

Rob DaGasta, center, talks about his project. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCETAttendees agreed with the sentiments. La Mirada resident Constance Leong said she learned to love Huell by watching his shows with her family. "We'd be flipping through channels, and we'd always end up watching Huell." Pasadena resident Carrie Bass said Huell's shows were mandatory entertainment for her and her grandchildren. "I've admired Huell for many years. I think he was the ultimate storyteller." Steve and Kris Jenkins, also of Pasadena, said they even go "Huelling" -- that is, taking daytrips inspired by their favorite Huell Howser outings.

Foremost among the fans gathered, perhaps, was Rob DaGasta, a Burbank resident who had taken it upon himself to distribute forms to locations Huell had visited -- among them, Pink's Hot Dogs, The Donut Man, Philippe's, and Galco's -- so that staff and clientele could write messages to Huell. DaGasta, who has also transformed his Facebook page into a live-updating memorial, displayed the autographed sheets on picnic tables at the observatory parking lot, and said this style of remembrance seemed appropriate to honor Huell. "It's low-key, low-tech and it's not slick," DaGasta said, noting that put it in line with Huell's signature style. "I've been out here [in California] 18 years, and this the most fulfilling thing I've done since I came out here."

Watching the sunset. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET
Saluting the sunset for Huell. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET

About the Author

Drew Mackie, associate producer of new media, liked shows about old British people before it became fashionable. He also says silly things on Twitter.
RSS icon

Previous

This Week on 'Visiting' -- Happy Wanderers, Champion Whistlers, and the Biggest Neon Sign in the World

Next

Reading Huell Howser [Updated]

LEAVE A COMMENT Leave Comment  

user-pic

Thank you for posting this, I was unable to attend as it is just to far for me to drive. It was wonderful to see all the people that he touched through his beautiful stories of California. Last night it was the Hollywood Ladies. Such beauty in his way he handled everything. Being so kind yet funny and helping the Star-Line Lady down and up the stairs. He was a true Gold. We will miss his spirit in his T.V. shows. God Bless you Huell you are a real jewel of California's Gold.

user-pic

I'm so glad there was a good turnout. Huell probably wouldn't have really minded. He was a dear, dear man.

user-pic

God Bless Tom LaBonge for putting the memorial together. It meant so much for people like me to have a place to go to connect with others that felt the same way......that we have lost a real friend. I will miss Huell for the rest of my life but thank God his shows will live on forever.

user-pic

This Huellogy comes in the form of 2 Odes (sung to familiar tunes):

(To the tune of "Davy Crockett") -

RAY'sd with an AKsent out of TEN-a-SEE
NICE green STATE but not SO a-may-ZEEN
GOT him a JOB where he WORK'd on tee-VEE
be-CAME our FAY'vrit HOST on kay-cee-ee-TEE
HU-ELL, HU-ELL HOWSER
KING of CAL-i-FOR'nyas GOLD

(To the tune of "The Marine Corps Anthem") -

from the CLIFFS a-LONG the NORthern COAST
to the FLATS at SAUL-ton SEA
he has BROUGHT us CAL-ih-FOR'nyas GOLD
in its RICH dye-VER-si-TEE
WITH a SENSE of WON-der-MENT and AWE
ALL-ways CHEER-full, KIND and CLEAN
we'll ree-MEM-er that HUELL HOWSER saw
"OH MY GOSH!" in EV'ry-THING

- Mike Coppi, 1/18/2013, mjcoppi@att.net

user-pic

What a great memorial to Huell. He was our window to the wonders (big and small) of California when we lived in Hemet. His down-home view of the state's vast wonders have definitely become a television classic and I only wish we could have him on TV back here in Delaware. All those California's Gold episodes would go over very well in the mid-atlantic since most people here have never been to California.

user-pic

A month today since we lost our favorite traveling companion. Won't EVER forget you dear Huell.