Huell Howser, the public television host that passed away earlier this week, took his show “California’s Gold” across the state to highlight different communities. Howser took his camera where no other broadcast television show dared to go and allowed many Californians to see fair representations of themselves on television for the first time.
Howser was born and raised in Tennessee and moved to Los Angeles in 1981. He went on to host several public television programs but he’s most often recognized for hosting the long running television series “California’s Gold.”
Howser took his viewers to parks, museums, libraries, historic landmarks and any other place he found interesting. He would visit these places and conduct informal–but thorough–on the spot interviews. One week you could be watching Howser exploring Frank Sinatra’s house in Palm Springs and the next week he’d be in the Tehachapi Mountains visiting The Cesar Chavez Foundation.
“California’s Gold” ran for 18-seasons and started out the same year that California voters approved Proposition 187, the 1994 anti-immigrant measure introduced in response to the state’s changing demographics.
The show started at a time when the state was divided but “California’s Gold” still went in to a diverse set of communities and highlighted our differences so we could better understand each other and find similar interests.
For example, Howser went to a Low Rider Magazine car convention and showed that brown men with mustaches spoke perfect English, liked vintage cars and that they too were part of California. He also went to other historical monuments and Latino owned business to illustrate Latinos had a rich history in California.
His show wasn’t afraid to highlight the state’s complicated past either.
He visited Angel Island and discussed the detention of Chinese immigrants from 1910-1940. In another episode he explored internment camps that Japanese Americans were forced into during World War II. He visited Camp Pendleton and explored the Vietnamese refugee history there too.
He traveled to the bay area to feature the Oakland Black Cowboy parade and went to South L.A. to visit the Watt’s towers and the African American Firefighter Museum.
Howser even visited affordable housing developments. He traveled to the Signal Hill area in Long Beach to look at Abode Communities’ Las Brisas Community Housing complex.
While this may all sound like it was geared for an older public television audience, the show reached people of all ages, including young people in schools. “California’s Gold” was endorsed by a number of organizations including: the California Teachers Association; the California Federation of Teachers; the California School Boards Association and the California Council for the Social Studies.
In a recent interview with SoCal Connected, producer Phil Noyes recounted a common interaction Howser had with some viewers.
“People would walk up [to Howser] and say ‘you’re not from California, you’re not a Californian, listen to your accent!’,” said Noyes, who worked with Howser for almost 19-years.
“Huell would lean back and say ‘now what’s a Californian accent exactly? Is it the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people that live here? Is it the millions of Hispanic and Latino people that live here?’ and you could see them shrinking back in to their shell and his point was well taken, there’s no such thing as a California accent.”
And with his work, Howser help proved that no matter where you came from you could become a Californian too.
Watch Noyes and Howser’s long time cameraman Luis Fuerte retell this storiy on So Cal connected below.