Growing up on the East Coast, I had never heard of Huell Howser. It wasn’t until I began school at Chapman that I became familiar with his extensive amount of work. I remember the first day I arrived and I was walking around the library with my first-year roommate and our families. He had grown up just outside of LA and when we explored the basement of the library, they were amazed at the California’s Gold Exhibit. At the time, I found it interesting but not to the level of my roommate’s family. I didn’t understand the incredible life of Huell Howser until I actually walked around the museum and read about everything that Huell Howser did and stood for.
Huell Howser was a TV personality who highlighted the many aspects of California through his numerous television shows. Growing up in Tennessee, Huell’s television career began in 1970 in Nashville while he was still in college. He appeared on the local TV station to discuss his student group. After the interview, he was offered a job to work on the station’s documentary productions. That paved the way for his eventual move to LA in 1985 where he began his first show, Videolog, a series featuring 10 minutes long stories that aired on the local television channels.
What put Huell Howser on the map was his TV program called California’s Gold. During the show’s 21-year run, Huell Howser would travel around California, highlighting interesting stories about the state’s history, cultural diversity, natural wonders, landmarks, the people, and off-the-map destinations. California’s Gold ran for 443 episodes, exploring nearly every inch of California. The show’s crew consisted mainly of Huell and whichever cameraman he was working with at the time. The most notable of these cameramen was Luis Fuerte. By 2012, Huell had produced nearly 1,500 programs exploring the places and people of California.
Along with his two decades of California’s Gold, Huell produced countless other programs. His first spin-off was called California Missions, which was a ten-part miniseries where Huell visits the various missions of California. He also produced a show called Road Trip that ran for ten years. Huell would take a trip on a California highway or byway and see where the road would take him. During these episodes, he would discover small towns, interesting historic locales, and many sights that are off the beaten path. I only wanted to name a few but Huell has so many more, such as his series where he explored the state parks in California’s Golden Parks and Downtown with Huell Howser, where he showed that downtown Los Angeles is more than just office buildings.
The thing that fascinates me so much about Huell Howser is his curiosity for California. He was born and raised in Tennessee but never lost his passion for exploring all that California has to offer. As an outsider to California, I too have felt this overwhelming love for the state. I can only assume that he felt the same thing I felt when I first moved here; this state feels like home.
“All you have to do is open your eyes and have a sense of adventure and go out and find them for yourself. I’m convinced that if you put a spotlight on any person or any subject and you’re genuinely interested in it, you can make it something people enjoy watching.” – Huell Howser
The perspective Huell Howser took on life is something to admire. The world around him was never dull and there was always something interesting surrounding him. Genuine curiosity is rare to find and that is what made Huell Howser such a captivating and engaging individual. I watched an episode of Huell Howser while I was discovering the Huell Howser Archives and the California’s Gold Exhibit and the way he made the subjects feel like the most important people in the world was something to behold. He was such a charming individual.
Before he died in 2013, Huell created an archive of all his work at the Leatherby Libraries. Huell fell in love with Chapman University years ago when he was creating a segment for one of his shows about Old Towne Orange. Ironically, the episode never mentioned Chapman once. The current president, Jim Doti, contacted Huell and invited him to campus to show him what he left out. From then on, Huell frequently visited campus and became lifelong friends with the university. Now, a permanent exhibit sits on the lower level of the library.
The exhibit holds hundreds of artifacts from Huell’s time exploring California. One of the video cameras used by Huell and his cameramen sits on display, alongside the furniture from Huell’s personal office. Surrounding the walls is artwork that he collected over the years. In giant glass shelves, there are gifts that Huell was given on his many journeys. The entire scope of the exhibit is breathtaking. It truly shows how much love and passion Huell had into what he was doing. His life was dedicated to educating the world on all the beautiful things California has to offer and the California’s Gold Exhibit and Huell Howser Archive continues his legacy.