Behind the Scenes with Huell, Part I

Observations from Ryan Morris, Huell’s assistant

Huell’s best ideas were serendipitous. When Huell wasn’t scouring newspapers and magazines, he was leafing through letters and emails from viewers, not just looking for show ideas but for hidden gems. A hidden gem could only come from uncharted territory, preferably out of left field, but it couldn’t feel esoteric. In his later years, Huell avoided difficult shoots that might encroach on his weekends by the pool in Palm Springs.

The turnaround time between concepts, filming, editing and airing was about one month. It’s as though ideas have an expiration date, so story files sitting on his desk too long would be abandoned like stale meat. The intake of footage was swift. For a half-hour program, he would try to use on or two 32-minute Beta tapes and he wouldn’t dare waste one. After all, those tapes run for about $15 each and “that costs me a Bloody Mary at Musso’s!” he once said.

Imagine files and tapes everywhere. Tapes would pile up into blue towers around my desk. He wanted everything quick and the assignments were rapid-fire. You always had to be on your toes with Huell, so much so that I eventually ditched my chair and ordered one of those standing desks.

The morning after a premiere date, he would phone those he interviewed and announce, “You’re a star!” This seemed to be the payoff for Huell. He was always delighted by the reactions of non-celebs getting their time on TV. Benoit Lesure, the waiter and owner at [now closed]¬†The French Garden, was always beside himself when Huell called, and Huell called often.

The French Garden on East 7th Street near the Greyhound Bus Station was one of Huell’s favorite eating spots in L.A., and the subject of two episodes¬†(He also frequented Musso & Frank, Philippe’s French Dip, and the Police Academy’s Cafe in Elysian Park). Huell loved taking guests to the The French Garden and always made a special presentation out of the dingy alleyway that opened up into a lively bistro full of downtowners on lunch hour. You might notice, he didn’t touch the bread. Huell was always sampling food on camera, but I’d rarely see him eat outside of special occasions. And he considered food in the office, even snacks, to be unprofessional.

It was not like Huell to just sit in a restaurant. Whenever we’d go to restaurants, he was always making the rounds, starting conversations with complete strangers whether they knew who he was or not…

to be continued…