Huell Howser 1945-2013: We Had A Wonderful Time!
SO VERY SAD to learn that Huell Howser has died.
It was pretty clear when he retired abruptly at the end of November that something was wrong.
He was interviewed a few years ago in a local free weekly where he said something like he’d hoped his last show would be him dropping dead on camera and viewers watching matter-of-factly saying, “Well, I guess that’s the end of Huell.”
Reading that was surprising at first. These seemed like the words of a man who didn’t realize just how beloved he was by his viewers. But if you watched Huell regularly and with a careful eye, you saw a man who valued his privacy: His remarks suggest a guarded man who, despite being in practically every shot of every episode of every program he produced, still wasn’t comfortable with the fact that even on public TV, he’d garnered quite a following.
On his shows, where he oohed and ahhed over everything from eggnog to calligraphy to quilts to lawn sprinklers to avocado-eatin’ dogs, he rarely if ever offered any details of his own life. (Another article interviewed a seemingly reluctant Huell at a desert home of his waaay out in Twentynine Palms, located behind a large gate of steel plates.)
Often when he’d be taping a show there’d be those – usually old ladies! – who, upon recognizing him, would stymie his interview style with interjections of “Oh, I love your show” or “We’ve been watching you for years.” Somehow he’d manage to – politely! – deflect and all but disregard any eruptions of unbridled fandom with a quick “thank you” before immediately redirecting the focus back on the fan herself – usually by doing what he’d started to do anyway, which in a restaurant meant grabbing their plate, holding it up to the camera and asking what they were eating.
He was lampooned magnificently on The Simpsons in the 2005 episode “There’s Something About Marrying” as “Howell Huser,” where he literally falls off a turnip truck, and later declares Springfield as “The Worst Town Ever” – a perfect parody of his über-positive road-tripping “California’s Gold” series.
Apparently he was taken by surprise by the episode and seemed almost mildly annoyed by the depiction, wondering to an interviewer why they hadn’t contacted him to provide his own voice. Matt Groening, himself a big fan of Huell, attempted to rectify this by bringing him in for a (frankly much less funny) cameo as himself in a later episode.
KCET intends to continue broadcasting his shows, though they have been careful to not say for how long. I have a feeling by this time next year they’ll be gone from the airwaves. Huell donated much of his work to Chapman University in Orange – everything but the “Visiting…with Huell Howser” episodes which are owned by KCET – so at least some of it will have a permanent home, and will be available online.
Rest in peace, Huell.