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A piece of California gold remembered

By Edwin Folven, 1/10/2013

Television host Huell Howser passes away

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Californians are mourning the death of public television host and long-time Hancock Park resident Huell Howser, who died Sunday at age 67.

Television host Huell Howser was a frequent visitor to Pink’s Hot Dogs on La Brea Avenue. He is pictured (from left) with owners Gloria, Richard and Beverly Pink. (photo by Edwin Folven)

Howser was the jovial host of programs such as “California’s Gold” and “Road Trip With Huell Howser”, which aired in Los Angeles on KCET-TV. Those who knew him remembered Howser as always being friendly, and willing to help in any way he could. Fans of his television programs will remember Howser for a never-ending sense of wonder as he explored California landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge or Yosemite National Park, as well as local treasures such as the Hollywood Sign, the Silverlake Reservoir and the Music Center Fountain. Howser was perhaps best known for showcasing the often overlooked corners of the Golden State and Los Angeles. With exclamations like “get a look at this” and “isn’t that amazing?”, he would turn everyday fixtures of the urban environment into must-see destinations.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of Huell’s passing,” Al Jerome, president and chief executive of KCET-TV, said in a statement. “This is a tremendous personal and professional loss to his friends and colleagues as well as his legions of fans. Throughout his more than two decades with KCET, Huell inspired everyone at the station with his enthusiasm and storytelling about this great state in which we live. Huell was able to brilliantly capture the wonder in obscurity. From pastrami sandwiches, and scarves loomed from lint, to the exoticism of cactus gardens and the splendor of Yosemite — he brought us the magic, the humor and poignancy of our region.”

Locally, Howser would often make appearances at places like Pink’s Hot Dogs, and was happy to greet fans and pose for photographs, according to owner Gloria Pink.

“He came by every few weeks and waited in line with everyone else,” Pink said. “The Pink family will all miss Huell very much, and his regular visits to Pink’s. He was a folksy guy from Tennessee who everybody related to. He always made you laugh, and he had a great smile.”

Howser was also a regular at anniversary fundraisers held every five years at Pink’s, where celebrities would serve food to raise money for charity. Approximately 10 years ago, Pink’s named the “Huell Dog” after the personable television host. It has two hotdogs on one bun, with mustard, onion, chili and cheese.

“That was his personal favorite,” Pink added. “We absolutely lost a good one with him. He was just a great guy.”

Howser, originally from the Nashville, Tenn. area, moved to Los Angeles in 1981. He first became a reporter for KCBS-TV, but in 1987, joined KCET-TV and began producing a series of short programs, titled “Videolog”, on people from different walks of life. He later expanded that program into “California Gold”, which he produced through his independent company — Huell Howser Productions — for nearly two decades. That show also led to series such as “Visiting with Huell Howser”, “Road Trip With Huell Howser”, “California’s Golden Parks”, “California’s Green” and “California’s Water”. According to comments Howser made on the website for Huell Howser Productions, the idea was always to keep things simple.

“We operate on the premise that TV isn’t brain surgery. People’s stories are what it’s all about,” he said. “If you have a good story, it doesn’t have to be overproduced. I want our stories to reveal the wonders of the human spirit and the richness of life in California, including its history, people, culture and natural wonders.”

Howser passed away at a home he owned in Palm Springs, but since 1982, he also lived in an apartment in the El Royale building on Rossmore Boulevard, according to property manager Julie McBride. She said the “always friendly” Howser was the longest tenant in the building.

“He was beloved by everyone here,” McBride said. “He was the perfect tenant — a wonderful person. His smile could light up every room he entered. He will be missed by the tenants, staff and administration.”

Howser was also friends with many local leaders, such as Councilman Tom LaBonge, who offered condolences. LaBonge has organized a “Sunset Salute” for Howser on Tuesday, Jan. 15 on the steps of the Griffith Observatory. Participants are asked to gather at 3:30, with remarks beginning at 4, and the salute planned for shortly after 5 p.m.

“Huell Howser was my friend for over three decades, and no one knew this state better. He had a great ability to find fresh faces in old places, and he paid tremendous attention to our incredible California infrastructure,” LaBonge said. “I remember introducing him to Charlie Turner, the honorary mayor of Griffith Park. I remember seeing him at Musso and Frank’s. But I most remember the day in 2001 when Huell swore me in as a new councilmember. No one can replicate that amazing enthusiasm.”

Another friend, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said Howser was a tireless advocate for Los Angeles and California.

“Although he was originally from Tennessee, Huell loved California more than most natives,” Villaraigosa said. “Huell would travel anywhere to show viewers the beauty and variety of the Golden State, from its most famous landmarks to the least known sights.  And his boundless enthusiasm and curiosity was infectious, making us all see these places with the same amazement he did.”

Howser abruptly retired from producing his shows in November. His cause of death was not released. He recently donated all of the tapes for “California’s Gold” to Chapman University in Orange County, which the university plans to digitize for future broadcasts.

 

 

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