Remembering Huell Howser, Fan of OC Weekly, Lover of OC, Antagonist of OC Republicans

I'm still in shock over the news that Huell Howser, the greatest Californian since Hiram Johnson, has left us. He passed away last night of natural causes, leaving behind a legacy of Cali love that my alma mater, Chapman University, will guard forever.

All the pundits of the Golden State will weigh in on who Huell was, what Huell meant, blah blah blah. All I can offer are personal anecdotes that just shows what a generous, wonderful man the Tennessee native truly was, anecdotes involving two of my favorite things: the OC Weekly, and pissing off OC Republicans.

In 2008, Anaheim activist Cynthia Ward contacted me to ask if perhaps I wanted to sit down with Huell for an interview previewing his show on Anaheim? Hell ya--but why us? Turns out Huell was a fan of this infernal rag and wanted to give us the exclusive over the Orange County Register, a paper he didn't like AT ALL for reasons he wouldn't disclose. As I noted in the story that followed, my interview was jumbled because we did it in public--what was supposed to be 15 minutes at El Pollo Fino with Huell turned into two hours of Huell greeting fans: judges, cops, cholos, Honduran immigrants, everyone. And Huell was genuinely enthusiastic meeting everyone--not once did he tire, not once did he ask to move the interview somewhere else.

Photo by Matt Otto
Huell, giving Madame Modjeska a high-five

During that interview, we talked about his love of OC--at that point, he had done at least 20 of them, on subjects ranging from the cottages at Crystal Cove to the blimp hangars in Tustin. And I made sure to ask Huell about my all-time favorite moment involving him: when he called into KPCC-FM 89.3's AirTalk with Larry Mantle while some idiot OC Republican was whining about how the California Coastal Commission would not approve the 241 Toll Road Extension through Trestles, a place Huell had profiled in his show. He called in and schooled the pendejo, saying Trestles "wasn't set aside for a park until something better came along; it was set aside FOREVER."

Now I remember the idiot Republican: former Mission Viejo councilmember Lance Maclean. He called Huell's comments "alarmist." As I wrote then:

Saying Huell Howser is an alarmist when it comes to California state parks is like saying Vin Scully overreacts during Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasts, that John Wooden cheers too much whenever the UCLA Bruins play at Pauley. Lance: You don't question Huell when it comes to California treasures; you shut up, learn, and hope you can ever have an ATOM of the respect Howser commands amongst Californians.

That brouhaha enraged the 241's advocates, and the Transportation Corridor Authority (the pendejos who run OC's toll roads) subsequently tried to paint Huell as unethical and even went as far as to try and get his show on San Onofre State Beach delayed unless they got their side of the story in his show. HA! Ol' Huell loved that he antagonized those idiots so.

"I don't get involved in politics, but San Onofre State Beach is a park," he told me then. "As far as I'm concerned, it's sacred land. When you start chipping away at parks, the concept of state parks falls apart."

After I interviewed him, I remarked off-hand that I was having a book signing for my latest book at the time: Orange County: A Personal History. He said he'd go, and lo and behold, he did. When I asked if I could introduce him, he declined. "This is your night; I'll be at the back of the room," he said. And he did. He even went to the after-party, which he stayed long into the night, greeting his legions.

We kept in touch over the subsequent years, mostly him sending me nice notes on stories he liked in the Weekly. I last saw him in person in 2010 at the Hollywood Farmer's Market. He sat down in a booth my chica and I were at, hanging out and taking questions from adoring fans--and always keeping that wonderful enthusiasm.

Rest in peace, Huell. May you show St. Peter the gold of heaven he takes for granted...

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Huell made television history by focusing on California history, its many cultures and its many natural wonders. Huell will be missed and his shows will live on, like "I Love Lucy", for future generations to discover and enjoy. One of the best aspects of Huell's work was that he made all his interviewees feel comfortable in sharing and telling their own personal narrative, that their own unique story was important; regardless of race, creed, or national heritage. 

Huell must have done a program on almost every cultural community of California except one, the LGBT Community. By omitting California's LGBT Community from his reporting, Huell missed a GOLDEN opportunity to help bring about more tolerance and understanding in California. The rumors about Huell's own sexual identity have swirled around for decades, with claimed sighting of him at Gay watering-holes in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. His huge biceps were hard to miss, as he always used to wear his signature polo shirts before moving to the more relaxed Guayabera shirt. 

I mourn for our loss of Huell, his friendly smile, and the seemingly never-ending facets of California's diversity he would uncovered for his viewers. Maybe there are some "lost" episodes that may yet see the light of day when his archive is digitized and uploaded by Chapman University for the world to enjoy. It would have been fun to have seen Huell cover one of the major Pride Festivals around the State and having a grand time. I could just hear him exclaim his trademark expression as he interviewed a bejeweled drag queen, "That's AMAZING!"

RIP Huell Hauser ♥


Way to use a good man's name for your own polical agenda, Douchebag

Mitchell_Young topcommenter

Really? Do you have to politicize everything?

And the fact that Howser wanted to 'Save Trestles' -- a sentiment I totally agree with -- is 180º opposite from the continued mass immigration (legal and illegal), continued growth philosophy that you guys endorse.

In fact, Howser was a relic of the days when Americans from other states actually came and settled in California -- like a latter-day Okie. Nowadays native-born Americans actually leave the state because it has been Mexicanified. Just recently I watched an early episode of videolog where he went out to where they dig the clay for Johnny Cat. Amazing, all the workers at the factory were 'anglos' except one guy. Just a reminder we didn't need Mexicans to have a good economy in the state.


Well said & written Gustavo. I am in total shock. It's like I just lost my good neighbor.

Bill Gurney
Bill Gurney

I loved when Huell would read a sign. "This sign says " WATCH YOUR HEAD"". then Huell would say, "We better watch our heads". RIP Mr Howser, you will be missed.


Thank you much for this, Gustavo! Your personal testament to the type of person Huell Howser was gives weight to the fact that he was the "real deal".


gorgeous article, Gus...just like double-H.

BobLoblawsLawBlog topcommenter

Huell Howser was always fun to watch, he approached his subjects with the enthusiasm of a 5 year-old at Disneyland. My favorite was when he went to Springfield and absolutely hated the place.


Thanks for sharing your personal stories about Huell. That was really nice. He seemed like such an amazing person and so down to earth. RIP sweet soul.


Nice write up Gus, we lost a true California icon...

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