Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011
Huell Burnley Howser
(October 18, 1945 – January 7, 2013)
Joan and I worked with Huell Howser on the third hour of the Ken and Barkley Saturday Morning Show on KABC. This was soon after Huell arrived in Los Angeles. Hour three, considered the lifestyle segment, featured Huell who introduced us to places in our own backyard that many of us weren’t familiar with; Chuck Walsh reviewed the latest movies and Joan and I featured restaurants by bringing in food from the establishments being discussed. Somehow Ken Minyard held the whole thing together with his fun banter with Roger Barkley. It was a fast, fun-filled hour (pre-taped on Wednesday mornings) which hit the airwaves at 9am. Huell was the first one to notice that when we were plying them with mouthfuls of food, it made it possible for us to get a word in edgewise.
Around this time, Huell had just taped the first segments of California’s Gold, his travel show, based in Los Angeles at KCET for California PBS stations. The series was a video chronicle and celebration of the history, culture and people of California. This was to become a tradition on television for the next 20 years.
Huell was born in Gallatin, Tennessee. He received a Bachelors degree in history from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he also served as student body president. After serving in the United States Marines and later on the staff of Senator Howard Baker, Huell began his television career at WSM-TV in Nashville with a series of “human interest” stories.
Huell worked in New York as the host of WCBS-TV’s “Real Life” show and then moved to Los Angeles in 1981 as a reporter for KCBS-TV and as weekend host on Entertainment Tonight. In 1985 he joined Los Angeles television station KCET, then a PBS affiliate.
Huell was always excited about everything. California’s Gold highlighted small towns, landmarks, events or places of interest throughout California which are not well known to the general public, with Huell conducting informal interviews with the locals. He also produced derived shows including California’s Golden Parks, California’s Water, Visiting… with Huell Howser, Our Neighborhoods, The Bench, Road Trip, California’s Golden Fairs, and various specials.
Huell was a generous man donating his entire videotaped collection of California’s Gold to Chapman University. He also donated his personal papers, and a large collection of books on California history to the university. The school established the Huell Howser Archive, which, when completed, will offer the public free access to the entire digitized collection of episodes of California’s Gold. He also gave his extensive art collection to the university and endowed the California’s Gold Scholarship Fund.
The last time we met up with Huell he was standing behind the host stand at El Coyote restaurant on Beverly Boulevard speaking with one of the owners. I was there with my visiting London nephew and giving him my full attention when I heard Huell’s smooth, southern accented voice, “Mr. Engoron, will that be a table for four?” We laughed and talked for about an hour about his series, our futures and Huell wanted to know all about Choclatique. We promised to get together soon at the Chocolate Studio but Huell was not able to visit because of his progressing illness.
Huell Howser’s death made us very sad, but then we can just tune to an old episode of California’s Gold and see him still very much alive and feel happy when watching his show. Goodbye Huell—rest in peace.