Local California communities lost a great ambassador on Monday when Huell Howser, the adventurous, longtime host of ‘California Gold’ died just six weeks after announcing his retirement. For 19 years, Howser had travelled throughout the state showcasing California’s natural, cultural, and unique features that make our state the home of wonders and beauty.
Often exclaiming “That’s Amazing!” and “Oh My Gosh!” Howser’s unbridled enthusiasm for everyday California adventures captivated audiences – a feat for any Public Broadcasting production. And throughout all of his broadcasts, Howser would either directly or indirectly feature another California local community.
Many of the towns and cities featured on ‘California Gold’ receive little statewide attention. But for a few brief moments, Howser would put them in the center of the limelight, breathing new life into traditions and history that even some of the local residents take for granted.
Howser’s longtime PBS station, KCET, released a statement that summarized the simplistic joy that ‘California Gold’ brought:
Huell elevated the simple joys and undiscovered nuggets of living in our great state. He made the magnificence and power of nature seem accessible by bringing it into our living rooms. Most importantly, he reminded us to find the magic and wonderment in our lives every day. Huell was able to brilliantly capture the wonder in obscurity. From pastrami sandwiches and artwork woven from lint to the exoticism of cactus gardens and the splendor of Yosemite — he brought us the magic, the humor and poignancy of our region.
I, for instance, never knew that Lancaster hosts an annual Poppy Festival – an event that not only celebrates our State Flower, but helps celebrate Earth Day. The downtown festival supports visitors who travel to the Antelope Valley State Poppy Reserve. And this year, I’ll likely attend.
I fell victim, like so many, to Howser’s spell and look forward to participating in a California adventure his iconic show introduced me to. In fact, I think that I’m proof that his approach to television works: keep it simple.
In the Los Angeles Times, where you can find a far more poignant memoriam of the host, writer Greg Braxton cites a 2009 interview between Howser and the Times:
“We have two agendas,” Howser said in a 2009 interview with The Times. “One is to specifically show someone China Camp State Park or to talk to the guys who paint the Golden Gate Bridge. But the broader purpose is to open up the door for people to have their own adventures. Let’s explore our neighborhood; let’s look in our own backyard.”
For many communities, they may never know another ambassador like Huell Howser. He was California Gold.