Amoeblog

That's not amazing -- California's Gold, Huell Howser, has passed away

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 7, 2013 01:49pm | Post a Comment

Huell in the Antelope Valley amongst California Poppies (source: Cameron Tucker)

I am utterly gutted to hear that Huell Howser has passed away.



I heard the news as I was writing about my exploration of Irvine for this blog, and simultaneously planning on exploring the route of the Expo Line Phase II tomorrow. If it weren’t for Huell, I may not have had the idea of doing either. (When I was approached about working for KCET, one of the names I proposed was California's Fools Gold, a self-deprecating homage -- they went with Block By Block instead). I’m sure he inspired a lot of other people to go on adventures in their back yards too (this page has a map showing the communities he visited). Even though I never had the pleasure of meeting him, I will miss him terribly.


Huell canoeing on Mono Lake (source: Cameron Tucker)

Back in November, Huell announced that he was retiring amid rumors that he was seriously ill. Just last week I was chatting about him with a customer at my shop and the customer expressed his dismay. I too was saddened by his retirement but expressed that he'd earned it and that even his biggest fans have, in most cases, hundreds if not thousands of episodes to catch up on. Still, the customer hoped that someone would soon fill his shoes. I expressed doubt that any single person could.


At the amazing Gourmet Cobbler Factory in Pasadena -- in the San Gabriel Valley (image: KCET)

It's impossible to know how many adventures Huell Howser inspired. I suspect that he's one of John Rabe's biggest heroes. (Check out Rabe’s episode with him here). I loved his earnestness, enthusiasm, unpretentiousness, boundless sense of adventure, energy, and intelligence. Despite the fact that Angelenos are constantly told that we are obsessed with celebrity, glamour, fame and fortune; Howser showed thankfully little interest in any of that. He even seemed to hint at a healthy disgust with politicians and ambivalence for authority.

Instead he championed the everyday, the immigrant, the ignored, the uncelebrated and in doing so showed what really makes California truly special. 


Huell's hometown

Huell Burnley Howser was born 18 October 1945 in Gallatin, Tennessee, a small town in the Upper South near the border with Kentucky. His name was a portmanteau of his parents' names, Harold and Jewell. He received a BA in history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.





After serving in the Marines he began working Nasvhille’s WSM-TV, where he traveled around the central part of the state and Kentucky in a motor home filming what he called "happy features." 

Huell with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn in the 1970s


After spending some time at WCBS in New York where he hosted a show called Real Life! (and later, To Life!). In the age of Candid Camera, The Gong Show, Real People, and That's Incredible, New Yorkers seemed confused by segments on window washers and "turkey mavens." Howser was later told that New Yorkers were uncomfortable being touched. In 1981 Howser moved to hug-friendly Los Angeles where there's no shortage of people happy to be on camera. It was in Los Angeles that he stayed.


Huell Howser with the Del Rubio Triplets in 1987 (source: KCET)

His career in LA began with him reporting for KNXT (now KCBS). He then briefly worked on Entertainment Tonight which is kind of remarkable since when he next moved to KCET (then a PBS affiliate) in 1987 and began producing his Videolog segments, he showed himself to be a one man antidote to ET -- and the other shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Access Hollywood, Extra!, and all the other shows that seem so determined to make Los Angeles look awful.





The first episode I remember seeing was Visiting… With Huell Howser episode #903, in which he visited Iwasaki Images of America in Gardena to learn about how plastic food commonly seen in the display windows of Japanese restaurants is made (something I was and am fascinated by as well). The previous episode had been about visiting Cambodia Town in Long Beach. The following was about Downtown's LA Barber College. The most recent episode I watched was episode 104 of California’s Gold, “Cornish Christmas.” 


Howser with a construction crew underground in L.A. (source: Cameron Tucker)

In an interview with the LA Times’ television critic, Robert Loyd, he expressed “Let's explore our neighborhood, let's look in our own backyard, let's go down to Koreatown and buy some kimchee. We won't do a story on what it's like to spend the night in a $10,000 hotel suite.” I thought he had the best job in the world and the best attitude to boot. Though he once claimed to be a Methodist, he had the soul and outlook of Laozi.


Huell Howser in his former residence in Midtown's Hancock Park neighborhood (source: Kevin Hively)


Though outgoing, friendly, and on TV all the time, Huell was guarded about his private life – which I really respected. He was one of the few people on TV who didn’t seem interested in promoting himself as a celebrity, even though he was one. He never bothered to go out of his way to deflate tired, cynical stereotypes of California, he just ignored them. Likewise, he understood that Californians come in all shapes, colors and accents and in a culture where southern accents are almost always equated with stupidity and/or bigotry, he was not only proudly southern, but unprejudiced, and intelligent. 




He was often parodied albeit more-often-than-not, lovingly. I'd bet that all of his self-professed fans have an imitation of him. He turned up on The Simpsons twice, the Beverly Hills, 90120 episode "Jobbed," as well as Thoughts of Suicide on an Otherwise Lovely Day and Who Killed the Electric Car? He leant his voice to Winnie the Pooh, and was mentioned on Weeds. He has a hot dog named after him at Pinks, a honey ham & pineapple cheeseburger at Peggy Sue's 50s Diner (in Yermo), and his face on a bottle of milk from Broguiere's Farm Fresh Dairy (in the Southeast LA County city of Montebello).


He passed away at his Palm Springs home on 7 January 2013, aged just 67. We should all honor him by undertaking adventures at the next opportunity and keep our eyes open the what's amazing all around us. In 2000, Huell said "I have this theory that when I die, my tombstone will say, 'Huell Howser: he did the pig story,'" -- a reference to a profile he did of a 500-pound pet pig named Porky who then lived in a Powderly, Kentucky. In a 2003 story in Los Angeles Magazine he was quoted saying, "Seriously, what I want to do is to be saying 'Good night' and fall over dead in a sand dune and have the credits with the sand blowing over my body and the people at home just going, 'Well, I guess that's Huell's last show.' That is the way I would like to die." RIP Huell!

Click on this link to share your memories on KCET's page

*****

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Altadena, The Community of the Deodars

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 17, 2012 11:18pm | Post a Comment
INTRODUCTION TO ALTADENA


When people hear the disyllabic sounds, “alta” and “dena,” I would wager that most of them think of the well-known City of Industry-based Alta Dena Dairy, which was started by the three, Missouri-born Stueve Brothers in Monrovia, California in 1945. Oddly, more than five minutes of internet research haven’t helped me figure out why they named their dairy after a fellow San Gabriel Mountains community located some miles west of their hometown. Nonetheless, I based my map's "typeface" on their logo.



For a community that's never bothered incorporating, Altadena seems to have a very strong sense of pride, place and community. The first time I think I visited Altadena involved walking there from my workplace in Pasadena. Although my journey involved little more than crossing a freeway, once I arrived I felt as if, proverbially speaking, I was no longer in Kansas.


CHARACTER AND CHARACTERIZATION OF ALTADENA

Undoubtedly part of Altadena's unique vibe is owed to its particular racial and ethnic demographics. The population of roughly 43,000 people is 40% white (mostly English and Lebanese), 27% Latino (mostly Mexican), 24% black, 6% Asian – making it noticably less Asian, and much more black than most of the San Gabriel Valley. Indeed, it feels very different from most of LA. Within the community the vibe varies greatly too. Laidback, working class West Altadena feeling worlds rather than miles away from wealthy, woodsy East Altadena, which convincingly enough (for some) stood in for Beverly Hills on the series Beverly Hills, 90210. The foothill neighborhoods swing between eye-searingly dull suburbs and rustic, bohemian and slightly creepy enclaves. 

Continue reading...

For Ozoners Only -- On this day, in 1933, the first drive-in theater opened

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 6, 2012 11:22am | Post a Comment
THE FIRST DRIVE-IN


An advertisement for the first Drive-In 

The first drive-in theater opened on 6 June, 1933 at 2901 Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey. It was the invention of Richard M. Hollingshead Jr, who'd began screening films outdoors at his home with a 1928 Kodak projector sat on the roof of his car. He applied for a patent for his "invention" on 16 May, 1933. The feature film shown at his theater was the British comedy, Wives Beware.


The world's first Drive-In Theater

Before long, drive-ins, or automobile movie theaters, were opening in other states. California's first drive-in was the Pico Drive-In at 10850 W. Pico Boulevard, which opened  West Los Angeles in September, 1934. It was demolished in 1947 and was replaced by the Picwood Theatre in 1948. The Picwood closed in 1985, was demolished and replaced with the Westside Pavilion -- which includes the Landmark Theatre.


The Pico Drive-In

DRIVE-INS' PEAK


Although Hollingshead's pioneering theater closed in 1936 after only three years of operation -- a victim of a battle with Paramount Pictures -- the idea was popular although blasting sound outdoors necessitated the theaters being placed in less-developed areas.A major drive-in innovation occurred in 1941, when RCA introduced in-car speakers. Popularity exploded and by 1948 there were nearly 1,000 drive-ins. By the end of the 1950s, drive-ins accounted for 40% of theater grosses. In California, the number of drive-ins peaked in the 1960s, reaching 220.

THE RISE OF HOME VIDEO AND DRIVE-INS' DECLINE

(In which we return from where our roots are rooted.)

Posted by Job O Brother, January 3, 2012 11:59am | Post a Comment


Home is where the hearth is. Downtown Nevada City, California.


The boyfriend and I have recently returned from frolicsome fun in my hometown of Nevada City, California. This year my most shiny of celebrations was neither Christmas nor New Years, but my sister Jacquie’s 50th birthday (for which I provided the cake, subsequently learning that Christmas day is a lousy time to buy baked goods).

Some highlights of the trip were…

Teaching my mother how to prepare absinthe. Who doesn’t love this quintessential Christmas pastime*? Equipped with a curvaceous reservoir glass and ornate, slotted spoon I enthusiastically gave a demonstration on how to prepare absinthe in both the traditional French method and the more dramatic (and efficient) Bohemian method. Both methods were merely informative, not practical, as my Mammy and me prefer our green fairy sans sucre.


My Mom, enjoying her beverage
(artist's depiction)

Armed with our booze and one clove cigarette each, we sat in her English garden and contentedly sinned with some of Satan’s most pleasingly perfumed indulgences. Once we felt sweetly weak-in-the-knees it was time to make some pie. (Drinking and driving is a bad idea, but drinking and pie making is a sign of advanced evolution in a species. Word.)

Mom has a recipe for Oregon Chess Pie – an heirloom handed down for generations which I’d never had the pleasure to consume. With the help of one of my best friends, Carrie, and her toddler daughter, Major, we set about to baking six slices of history. Here’s the recipe:

Join Amoeba For Coastal Clean-Up Day: 9/17

Posted by Amoebite, August 31, 2011 04:02pm | Post a Comment
Coastal Cleanup DayJoin Amoeba and the Santa Monica Baykeeper for Coastal Clean-Up Day at Dockweiler Beach on Saturday, September 17 from 9:00am to noon.

Coastal Cleanup Day is the largest volunteer day on the planet! Thousands of volunteers around the world will come together to help pick up trash along our coasts.

California's coast and waterways have historically been collecting spots for annual accumulations of trash and debris. This debris, if not removed, can be harmful and even fatal to all manners of marine wildlife, can damage the state's economy, and can even become a human health hazard. Coastal Cleanup Day is a great way for families, students, service groups, and neighbors to join together, take care of our fragile marine environment, show community support for our shared natural resources, learn about the impacts of marine debris and how we can prevent them, and to have fun!

To sign-up to volunteer in the clean-up, visit http://ccd2011.eventbrite.com, email [email protected], or call 310.305.9645, ext. 105.

coastal clean-up day dockweiler beach santa monica baykeeper
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