Thursday, January 7, 2016

"California Gold" Host Huell Howser Dies in Palm Springs 2013

Huell Burnley Howser (October 18, 1945 – January 7, 2013) was an American television personality, actor, and voice artist best known for hosting California's Gold, his human interest show produced by KCET in Los Angeles for California PBS stations. The archive of his video chronicles offers an enhanced understanding of the history, culture, and people of California.

Early life

Howser was born Huell Burnley Howser in Gallatin, Tennessee on October 18, 1945 to Harold Chamberlain and Jewell Havens (Burnley) Howser.[1] Howser's first name is a portmanteau of his parents' names, Harold and Jewell, as Howser explained in the California's Gold episode "Smartsville." He received a B.A. in history from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he also served as student body president. 


After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and on the staff of U.S. Senator Howard Baker, Howser began his television career at WSMV-TV in Nashville, Tennessee, where he produced television series focused on human interest stories, such as Happy Features[2] and The Happy World of Huell Howser.[3] Howser was also a television personality working for the University of Tennessee.[4]

After working in New York as the host of WCBS-TV's "Real Life" show,[5] Howser moved to Los Angeles, California in 1981 to work as a reporter for KCBS-TV. During 1982 and 1983, he served as weekend host and correspondent for Entertainment Tonight. In 1985 he joined Los Angeles television station KCET, then a PBS affiliate, as a producer of Videolog, a series covering short topics including lint artist Slater Barron[6] among other topics relevant to Los Angeles and adjacent communities.

California's Gold

Howser's television show California's Gold highlights small towns, landmarks, events, or places of interest throughout California that are not well known to the general public. Howser conducted informal, often impromptu interviews with locals involved with the sites he visits. He also produced the shows California's Communities, California's Golden Fairs, Downtown, California's Water, California's Green, California's Golden Coast, California's Golden Parks, Road Trip, Visiting... with Huell Howser, California Missions, Palm Springs, Our Neighborhoods, The Bench, and various specials.

Other work

Articles written by Howser have appeared in Westways, the magazine of the Automobile Club of Southern California.[7]

In 1997, Howser featured prominently as himself alongside Tracey Ullman in character as Ruby Romaine in the Tracey Takes On... episode, "Hollywood."

Howser spearheaded an unsuccessful effort to stop the demolition of buildings designed by African-American architect Paul Williams at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard.[8]

He appeared in the film Who Killed the Electric Car? in his capacity as a reporter, witnessing the demolition and shredding of a Honda EV Plus.[9] In 2011, Howser voiced the Backson in the post-credits scene of Walt Disney Animation Studios's 2011 feature film Winnie the Pooh."

Personal life

Howser lived in the historic El Royale apartments in Los Angeles, California and also had homes in Palm Springs and Twentynine Palms.[10]

Howser mentioned that he was a Methodist during his episode covering the Nevada County Fair on California's Golden Fairs.

Volcano House

Howser purchased the 1,800-square-foot (170 m2) Volcano House, situated on a volcanic cinder cone just outside of Barstow, along with 60 acres (24 ha) of desert and a man-made lake, in 2003.[11] In 2010, Howser put his unusual Newberry Springs, California, residence (the "Volcano House,") on the market for $750,000.[12] In June 2012, The Panther, a student-run newspaper for Chapman University announced that Howser had donated the Volcano House to the school.[13]

Retirement and death

On November 27, 2012, The Sacramento Bee reported that Howser was retiring from making new shows, amid speculation in the television community that he was seriously ill.[14]

On January 7, 2013, Howser died at the age of 67 at his Palm Springs home. He had been battling cancer for several years and his death certificate listed metastatic prostate cancer as the cause of death. Howser's body was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea off the coast of Los Angeles County.[15]

On January 15, 2013, a memorial was held for Howser, who said before his death that he did not want a funeral.[16]


Howser donated his videotaped collection of California's Gold episodes, as well as those of his other series, to Chapman University in 2011. He also donated his personal papers, and a large collection of books on California history to the university.[17] The school established the Huell Howser Archive, which, when completed, will offer the public free access to the entire digitized collection of his life's work. The archive can be accessed at Chapman University as well as on the internet. He also gave his extensive art collection, which consists mostly of "found-object" art collected during his travels, to the university, and endowed the California's Gold Scholarship Fund. Upon his death he bequeathed his remaining two homes to the university, the proceeds from the sale of which will be added to the scholarship fund.[18]

Testimonials to Howser's unique contribution to the celebration of California history and culture immediately were acknowledged in numerous media sources upon word of his death. Gustavo Arellano, OC Weekly editor, called Howser "the greatest Californian since Hiram Johnson,"[19] noting that for Howser, "California was the ultimate temple of the American dream."[20] Such an assessment reflects the high regard in which many Californians hold Howser's achievement of a very media savvy and unabashedly enthusiastic promotion of their state's heritage.

In popular culture

Howser's distinctive enthusiastic style as host of his various travel shows led to him being impersonated and lampooned by many different comedians and radio personalities, such as Adam Carolla,[21] Dana Gould, Ralph Garman, and James Adomian.

Matt Groening has stated he is a fan of Howser,[22] and he featured Howser in two episodes of The Simpsons: "There's Something About Marrying," in which a character named Howell Huser falls off a turnip truck, and "O Brother, Where Bart Thou?," in which the real Howser presents a program similar to Marc Summers' Unwrapped television program. Howser received a voice credit for the episode. The Simpsons episode "A Test Before Trying" commemorated his death with a quick cartoon memorial shot at the end of the episode, stating: "In Memory of Huell Howser, Friend of the Simpsons and a friend of California."


Year Title Role

2011 Winnie the Pooh Backson Voice[23]


1. Braxton, Greg (January 7, 2013). "Huell Howser dies at 67; TV host profiled California people and places." Los Angeles Times 
2. Dorman, Lee (2009). Images of America: Nashville Broadcasting. Arcadia Publishing. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-7385-6829-4. 
3. William-Ross, Lindsay (15 January 2013). "Vintage Video: 1973's 'The Happy World of Huell Howser'." LAist. Episode aired February 23, 1973 
4. Howser travels to Hawaii with U. of Tennessee football team 
5. Hevesi, Dennis (11 January 2013). "Huell Howser, Folksy Public TV Host, Is Dead at 67." The New York Times. 
6. Sources: 
"Videolog Classics #2." 
Rabe, John (July 6, 2011). "Huell Howser's retiring: An Off-Ramp remembrance." KPCC – Southern California Public Radio. 
"Classic Huell: Farmers' Market." 
7. Road Trip with Huell Howser articles in Westways Magazine 
8. Williams, Amy (July 7, 1998). "Long Beach Naval Station Falls: Court throws-out celebrity appeal." The Daily Republican. 
9. Chris Paine (2006). "Who Killed the Electric Car?" Plinyminor / Sony Pictures Classics. 
10. Sources: 
"This is Amazing!" Los Angeles magazine. November 2003.  
Fessier, Bruce (January 8, 2013). "Huell Howser of 'California's Gold' at home in Palm Springs." The Desert Sun. 
11. McNatt, C. (November 9, 2013). "Out of this world." Orange County Register. pp. Home and Garden 1, 3. 
12. "The Volcano House – 50451 Silver Valley Rd., Newberry Springs, CA 92365 – Listing # 09-401249". 2010-04-01. 
13. Oliver, Elizabeth (May 7, 2012). "The Panther – Huell Howser donates volcano house to Chapman." The Panther.  
14. Sources: 
Lindelof, Bill (November 27, 2012). "Huell Howser, maker of PBS shows about California, retiring." Sacramento Bee. 
Collins, Scott. "Huell Howser quietly retires from public TV's 'California's Gold'." Los Angeles Times. 
15. Sources: 
Goolsby, Denise. "TV host Huell Howser spent final days at Palm Springs refuge." The Desert Sun. 
Rokos, Brian; Johnson, Nikie (January 17, 2013). "HUELL HOWSER: Prostate cancer was cause of death." The Press-Enterprise. 
Braxton, Greg (January 7, 2013). "Huell Howser dies at 67; TV host profiled California people and places." Los Angeles Times. 
"Howser Didn't Want Memorial, Died of Cancer." 
Romero, Dennis. "Huell Howser Dead." LA Weekly. 
16. Mackie, Drew (January 15, 2013). "Los Angeles Bids Farewell to Huell Howser at Griffith Observatory." (KCET). 
17. Day, Patrick Kevin (January 7, 2013). "Huell Howser: Highlights from 'California's Gold' online." The Los Angeles Times. 
18. Sources: 
"Chapman University, Huell Howser Archive." 
"Chapman University Remembers Huell Howser".  
Doti, James L. "Huell Howser's vault of 'Gold'." The Orange County Register. 
19. Arellano, Gustavo (January 7, 2013). "Remembering Huell Howser, Fan of OC Weekly, Lover of OC, Antagonist of OC Republicans." 
20. "Remembering Huell, California's great adventurer." Los Angeles Times. 
21. "April 2, 2008 - Mark Walberg and Artie Lange call into the studio; Dana Gould is in the studio." Adam Carolla. April 2, 2008. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. 
22. Lloyd, Robert (26 July 2009). "The wonder and awe that make up Huell Howser." Los Angeles Times. 
23. " Winnie the Pooh." Disney Movies. 

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