Huell Howser

Huell Howser, 67, recently announced that he is retiring after a long career covering California. ( Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times / November 28, 2012)

Hearing the news that Huell Howser, whose public TV shows included Visiting and California’s Gold, is retiring for unknown reasons (possibly illness) is a sad day for Angelenos.  His programs — whether they were hour-long specials or five-minute vignettes — spotlighted the best in people and places.

When I was a kid, Ralph Story was the TV historian of Los Angeles on Channel 2 News, providing stories of the region of things that I either knew nothing about or very little.  Then Huell Howser came long on the same station.

With a folksy, honest “good to meet ‘cha” attitude, Huell (Mr. Howser seems too formal) could go anywhere with a microphone and a camera and speak to strangers.  In fact, one of his shows was called "The Bench," where he literally sat on a bench and spoke to anyone who walked by.

There is a lot of stuff to love about California. I’ve lived here all my life and haven’t seen even half of the sights it has to offer. Through Huell, I’ve vacationed vicariously, to the northernmost and southernmost points of the state, to all 21 California missions, to the lady who made art out of lint from her dryer, to the animal trainer saying a last goodbye to his old elephant friend.

And who could not relate to his love of food? From See’s Candy to Stan’s Donuts, he tasted and savored these delicious goodies for us all.

His wide-eyed reaction to all small and large things of marvel was a joy to watch. Even when some would make fun of his wholesome enthusiasm, it was done with much love and respect. In a way, we all wish we could be like Huell Howser and not so cynical and grumpy.

He made his work look so easy, meaning it really wasn’t. 

I remember his reaction to the 1992 riots and how dejected he felt that regular folks would loot their neighborhood stores.

I remember him advocating for the protection of Los Angeles landmarks, fighting to save the Farmer’s Market.

He showcased our past as a way for us to remember that those of us living today have a legacy to leave behind.  He brought all kinds of people together like no politician ever could.

It is up to us now to never forget Huell Howser.

BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools and The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at brian-crosby.com