Saturday, March 29, 2014

Amazing Place: Inside Chapman University's Huell Howser Exhibit

The classic shot of The Huell at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve greets visitors to Chapman University's new Huell Howser Exhibit, now open to the public.
No figure has been an influence and inspiration to The Militant Angeleno more than the late, great Huell Howser, a man who needs no introduction to readers of This Here Blog (and if he needed to be introduced, you probably shouldn't be reading This Here Blog). The untimely passing of the legend early last year kind of left The Militant literally dumbfounded, perhaps even to the point where he sort of stopped blogging. He was all set to go to Howser's unofficial official memorial at Griffith Observatory in January 2013, even going so far as to discover a Greek Theatre-to-Observatory hiking route to circumvent the clusterfuggin parking situation that day, but after learning that The Humble Huell Himself did not want a public memorial, The Militant wanted to honor his wishes. He since learned it was a nice event, though part of it became The Tom La Bonge show. But The Militant digresses...

On Saturday, Chapman University, the sole recipient of The Huell's archives (Well, at least the non-Videolog/Visiting... material, which remains KCET property) opened their new Huell Howser exhibit at their Leatherby Library building called, "That's Amazing! Thirty Years of Huell Howser and California's Gold" with a daylong event of the same name. The event attracted several thousand Huell devotees of all ages (the majority being over 50 though...) which also featured people who have been featured on some of his shows. The Triple-A was a major spinor of the event and gave away Cali maps with locations of California's Gold episodes.

The line for the Huell Howser exhibit was pretty damn long.

The main attraction was the exhibit, which has a long-ass line that queued around the building with a wait of almost an hour.  Sure, anyone can go to this exhibit Tuesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with hardly any line, but dammit, The Militant don't go to Orange County that much, so he might as well stay in line!

It felt much like going to a Disneyland ride, which was just a few miles away (Guess this is what the O.C. is all about...). Once in the door, he heard the familiar Tennessee drawl of The Huell fill the room, almost as if he was there (or maybe an animatronic Huell greeting visitors before reciting The Gettysburg Address, no, wait...). But it was just a video screen showing a montage of The Huell (Even Huell had a montage).

Word.
Interactive stuff.

The master video tapes.
Worth their weight in...wait for it...
California's Gold.
Once inside, groups were led down a rather mundane-looking staircase to the basement level, and finally into the poppy-colored room, which had a California map on the floor with every Cali's AU episode's locale labeled accordingly. The exhibit followed Huell's life from childhood (his family dog was called "Hey Boy") to his early years in his native Volunteer State to the start of his KCET programs and CaliGold. There were also artifacts like a video camera, his desk, a case with mementos either from the show and given to him, as well as another room which had his personal book library, his shirt, and a room wherein all of his California's Gold (and associated shows - remember, Videolog and Visiting... ain't included) master tapes are stored. People can possibly view them eventually, albeit with archives staff approval. The archive staff person said they're real protective of The Huell's public image and didn't want anyone to see anything that was...un-amazing (hypothetically speaking, say, if The Huell cussed out someone on camera or something like that).


Huell Howser's editing desk. The rack of manila folders contained potential show topics at the time of his retirement in late 2012...shows that were never made!
A display case featuring various Huell Howser mementos.
The archives room (note his shirt in the back).
The other major attraction to the Chapman University event was the screening of the new documentary, A Golden State of Mind: The Storytelling Genius of Huell Howser, a 50-minute glimpse into his life and worth ethic, which begins with his early Tennessee days, follows his career to New York and Los Angeles, and features interviews with California's Gold production staff, subjects and The Huell Himself. Even a 2012 FunnyOrDie.com Huell Howser parody is featured. The end of the documentary talks of his demise in January 2013 and one of his last shows, a 2012 California's Gold episode focusing on Jacaranda trees, which many found symbolic and introspective with regards to his condition at the time.

You can see the exhibit any time now, but if you missed the documentary screening, don't worry, Chapman plans to screen it again later this year and perhaps make a DVD out of it, with a possible airing on KCET sometime in the future.

Whether you're watching Huell's shows via Chapman's online video archive, at the university exhibit itself, or on good ol' KCET, it's easy to feel as if Huell Howser is immortal. And in a way, he is now, living on for all eternity through his numerous shows. But there were shows he never got to shoot, places he'd yet to discover, and even in the 15 months since he left us, new people, places and things worth discovering.  Huell can never be replaced (though The Militant once confessed to one day being his successor), but it's the mission of The Militant, and many others out there, to fill in the void, however little we can.

And what would The Huell say to us today? Well, assuming The Militant were in fictional San Dimas and traveled in time via a funky phone booth outside of the Circle-K, going back in time to pluck Huell Howser from the not-so-distant past, he would probably say, "Be amazing to each other."

This dude's shirt says it all.