Behind the Scenes with Huell: Your Questions Answered (Part II)

You asked the questions and Huell’s production team responded! This is Part Two of a three-part series of questions and answers from Ryan Morris (RM), producer; Phil Noyes (PN), producer; and Michael Garber (MB), editor. See Part One here.

Rick D, Sacramento
Is there some sort of list or book with where Huell has been, in case the fans would like to find a place close to go for a day trip? Thanks a lot for the great show.      

PN: Either the AAA California’s Gold Guide Map or try the KCET webpage.

MG: Here’s the link to KCET’s map.

RM: Some abridged Huell maps have been made but the problem is – he visited thousands of locations.  Maps also miss a big facet of Huell’s journey – Huell was more of a “people” person than a “place” person.  He’d just go somewhere boring and start turning over stones.

Huell Howser Archives (HHA): The California’s Gold Guide Map can be obtained from your local Automobile Club, or here at the exhibit. This website also features an interactive web map here.

Scherryl Y, Lawndale      
Wondering where the waterfalls are up behind Marysville and how to get there?  We saw a show but can’t remember name or location other than Marysville, hope you can help.

PN: I believe you are talking about the Waterwheel Falls.

HHA: The Waterwheel Falls were featured on California’s Gold #411 Hard to Get to.

Leticia, Lindsay
How did Huell and his crew pick the cities and places he would do an episode?  How much investigation would Huell do in these places before they were selected?

MG: My understanding is that Phil, Harry, and Ryan would spec out places. In addition, Huell would also just find places through recommendations and also through his own travels. His production team would research locations and schedule the event for him.

PN: We all made suggestions, but ultimately it was Huell’s decision. He never wanted to know too much before he went to a location. His interest and enthusiasm was genuine.

Jennifer, Fresno
Was anyone ever rude on camera to Huell or even cross? I can’t imagine it but you never know with people.           

PN: Maybe slightly annoyed when he would interrupt a meal, but it was pretty rare!

MG:  And they likely didn’t end up on screen. He hated when people would ruin the shot by waving at the camera in the background. We always cut around those moments as much as possible.

RM:  How about in the “Stockton” Road Trip #142? A row of guys in the distance actually mooned the camera during Huell’s river cruise.  We didn’t notice until it aired and a fan wrote us an e-mail, so we edited it out for the repeats. But if anyone recorded the premiere…look closely! Or don’t.

MG:  Thanks for reminding me of that, Ryan! Have scientists come up with a way to erase selective memories, yet? No? Oh well.

RM:  Some things you can’t un-remember.

How did you get involved working with Huell Howser?  

PN: We met while I was tending bar and had a very long conversation about California and at the end of the night, I told him that I would love a chance to work with him.  He said, “give your two week notice!” and I was with him for 19 years.

MG: I was working at KCET as a freelance editor on Newshour with Jim Lehrer (now PBS Newshour). I knew that Huell worked out of KCET and there was a possibility that he was looking for a new editor. However, one day I was on Craigslist looking at job postings and noticed that Harry Pallenberg posted a job looking for Huell’s new editor. I figured I had an easier chance of getting an interview since I was only a few feet away! I met with Phil, Harry, and Huell on separate occasions. When I met with Huell, I showed him how I could color correct his face and make it a different color from the background and play it back in real time (he had never worked on a non-linear editor before). The potential for working faster and more efficiently excited him and I got the gig.

RM: I was working on another show at KCET on Sunset Blvd. in the Los Feliz section of L.A. I first met Huell in an elevator; he cornered me in his overbearing way. We chatted about the few of his shows I had seen. He said he’d remember me but forget my name. A year later Phil Noyes recruited me for a part-time staff job. I interviewed with Huell alone in a big boardroom. He kept the lights off so it felt like a noir film but he probably just didn’t know how to turn them on. But he did remember me from the elevator. The interview went something like this: “If you’re good, I’ll keep you on.  If not, I’ll fire you.” A relationship was born.

What is something about Huell Howser that most people wouldn’t know not having worked for him?    

PN: Not as fun in the office as you might think!

MG: He could have a very dark sense of humor, which I really appreciated. It was a rare occasion when that side of him would come out, but when I did, I always had a really good laugh.

RM: That’s a big question. He seemed to like people not knowing much about him. But I can list a few things: He didn’t have an agent or a manager. He’d often show up to his meager office at dawn, the first one in the building. He drank Bloody Mary’s but never on the job. Before he died he gave me a dusty old garbage bag containing no fewer than 100 pairs of sunglasses. He liked Mike Wallace and Charles Kuralt and David Lynch’s weather reports. He was hilariously bad with names so he’d invent more hilarious nicknames. He had a vast collection of scrap metal art. He knew everything about politics but hated it. He once told me he found his own voice annoying. He was hopeless with a computer and handwrote his letters, often asking me how to spell simple words. He didn’t know how to draw the letter Q. The thought of vacationing without a camera bored him. He knew Andy Warhol from Studio 54. He didn’t recognize any holidays or birthdays, especially not his own. And yet the only thing I thought was odd or unusual about him was that he kept rubber ducks in his bathrooms and horseshoes over his doorways.  He also painted a little and he read fast and a lot, mostly historical nonfiction.

MG:  Oh and he was a great photographer, too. He had an exceptional eye for composition and natural lighting.

Tom W, Carlsbad
I’ve often wondered, who made the particular version of “California’s Here I Come” in Huell’s Episode, especially in tail end part of his episode, Anza Borrego (Road Trip #148). It’s a very beautiful rendition of the song, and I would like to purchase it.

RM: The most frequently asked questions over the years have been about the show’s music. Call us lousy bookkeepers but we never kept track of those songs. Maybe we should have just released a “California’s Gold” soundtrack album and retired early.

Steven B, Orange
How come no “Blooper” outtake clips of Huell have ever aired? I am sure there were some gems over the years captured by Louie or Cameron. It always appeared that Huell’s interviews were a natural and organic process without scripting or multiple takes…Can you please shed some light on his approach to interviewing guests?

PN: I think his greatest ability was to ask a question and get out of the way.  Most reporters are more interested in how they look instead of how their subject sounds.

RM: The people at Dick Clark Productions would sometimes contact us for blooper material.

MG: But Huell hated bloopers. He always felt that they took away from the power and purpose of the episodes. And his bloopers were never that interesting anyway as he was a consummate pro on camera.

RM:  He was old-fashioned in his notion that no one should see the man behind the curtain. Even the word “blooper” annoyed him. I could hear it in his tone.

Brittany, Culver City
Is there going to be a new host to carry on the tradition of California’s Gold?

RM: Within minutes of Huell’s death, my email box was flooded with those emails that start off like “Nobody can replace Huell, but…” You wouldn’t believe how many people offered their TV hosting services. It’s not as easy as it looks. But Huell did hope, by donating his legacy to Chapman University, that one or two students might carry on his storytelling tradition and do so in their own unique style.

Dan, Hemet
What do you think was Huell’s favorite show(s)? I liked almost all of them but really enjoyed a few where he looked a bit ill at ease (dropping fish into Sierra lakes, on top of large windmill, etc).

MG: I don’t know about Huell’s favorite, but mine is a tie between Big Fish (Visiting #1411), Bunny Museum (Visiting #1501), and Springtime in Death Valley (California’s Gold #125).

RM: He seemed proud of Golden Gate Bridge (California’s Gold #407), See’s Candy (California’s Gold #908),” the Elephant Man (Videolog/Visiting), and Lint Lady (Videolog/Visiting). He maintained a good friendship with the Lint Lady (Slater Barron) for 25+ years. He also liked Big Fish (Visiting #1411), The Two Anns (Visiting #1717), and Chiriaco Summit (California’s Gold #11013), all stories with a great deal of heart, maybe a little out of step with mainstream television, but then again Huell enjoyed being just a tad out of step.

How many shows did Huell shoot in a typical week?

RM:  During his peak, he would load up his schedule with flights and book rental cars and somehow go to 5 places but come back with 8 shows.  He could really exhaust himself in a way that seemed manic.

MG:  And we would edit between 4 and 6 shows in a 3-4 day period.

Alexandra, Montclair      
I love Huell Howser! My dad introduced me to him last year when he was on TV so excited about the making of calligraphy! And I’m 21, I don’t think many people around my age know who he is.. And I grew up in the Palm Springs area… Can’t believe I never saw him around!

RM: I can’t believe you never saw him around either. The only place Huell could wind down was Palm Springs. Once in awhile he’d stop at Tyler’s Burgers or have a malt at Ruby’s on East Palm Canyon.  He also liked the Smoke Tree Ranch.

MG: Huell always felt that people would forget his show after he passed away. I hope that you’ll tell all your friends about California’s Gold and share his legacy with your friends.

If Huell Howser was still alive to this day…Would he have still be documenting more different/interesting places in California? And would he have expanded documenting in other states in the U.S?

MG: I think Huell would have stuck to covering California with the occasional trip outside, like when he went to Australia and Cuba. He always felt that there was a never-ending supply of stories in California.

RM: His least favorite question was, “Do you ever run out of show ideas?” because the surplus of show ideas was like his bane. But he wasn’t into expanding. He believed in finding a specialty and doing your best.