The Importance of Huell Howser
- 08 Jan 2013
- Written by Joseph Mailander
MAILANDER MUSING - (Note: Los Angeles television icon Huell Howser died Sunday at age 67.) Huell Howser has been very much on people's minds here in LA in recent weeks, as evidenced by a post of DJ Waldie's at Zocalo and CityWatch, "The Darkness Beneath Huell Howser," which has been the top trafficked post at this site every week since it appeared. Now that he has passed away at age 67, the man and the piece both deserve revisiting.
I have to confess that while I almost always understood Howser, I never really understood the Waldie piece (as I so often don't get Waldie). Waldie on Howser seemed to stop just short of labeling long-settled Californian's established Anglo community as white trash, and Howser a happy panderer if also a happy wanderer to that ambiguous and much maligned segment.
Didn't Steinbeck note something akin to this, if with rather less naked contempt for "Okies" and other arrivistes, nearly 75 years ago, before either Howser or Waldie were born? It was a cheap classification, maybe one born of a little jealousy.
The piece certainly didn't go near what Howser truly represented to Los Angeles in his time. It certainly didn't note what a kick gay Los Angeles got out of apparently regular ole' guy Howser garnering so much widespread, mainstream, ordinary appeal in the early 1990's.
Even as recently as last year, whispers about Howser remained thick and fetching more hits on YouTube than some far more deserved pieces--say, a clip on his segment on David Hockney, which retained considerable art historical value, and even featured snazzy Howser in a tux prompting very rich responses from the fabled artist.
The truth as I see it is that the California Anglo community and its generational echo is as diverse as the California Latino or Asian community, as sure as there was a Lummis and a Lankershim and a Beaudry and a Vignes. Maybe Waldie has some class issues of his own. But Howser, folksy if not "folk," remained a class-straddling class act to the end of his television run, and will become better known as a pivotal television figure, one who knew TV's heft and used it as an ironic tool to ply against our own quixotic history.
He especially knew his own role within it--ever enthusiastic, chiefly an adroit and self-effacing documentarian, one capable of celebrating our things of gravitas, if ever with an impishness befitting the nature of the culture.
Vol 11 Issue 3
Pub: Jan 8, 2013