Remembering When Huell Howser Was Among Us
It's nice to know that Huell Howser was here.
On September 20, 2008, Howser brought his Visiting… crew to the East Village Arts District to check out SoundWalk, our annual sound-art installation event, then in its fifth year.
I didn't actually meet Mr. Howser, but I heard from many people who did, and their tales of his visit were consistent to the point of monotony. But that's a good thing when you're talking about someone who is consistently pleasant, polite, and enthusiastic—and not just in front of the camera.
"Howser was enormously supportive and respectful of SoundWalk—and much more sophisticated than his persona would sometimes allow," recalls Marco Schindelmann, a member of FLOOD, the organization that curates SoundWalk, "Howser was able to metabolize and present the event in such a way that made the art accessible sans dumbing down."
"I had the pleasure of accompanying him as he moved about the event," says FLOOD member Shelley RuggThorp. "It was impressive to me how in charge he was, and that he did everything except operate the camera. He directed all the shots, performed his role as interviewer and enthusiastic participator, and then went back to the studio and did all the editing himself. Not only did he broadcast the program pre-SoundWalk that year, but he made sure to air it again prior to the next SoundWalk event. Very thoughtful and supportive."
Gordon Winiemko, a participating artist in SoundWalk 2008, didn't really know of Howser prior to being featured in the Visiting… segment, but he found the host to be very much the man we've seen on TV for the last quarter-century.
"In an election year when 'hope' was on everybody's lips, my collaborator Jeff Foye and I had arranged for a group of local high-school and college students to play the theme to Star Wars ('a new hope,' ya dig?) over and over," Winiemko recalls. "Other local musicians got into the act as well. The black-metal version of the Star Wars theme was pretty cool. Huell took it all in stride with what I later understood was his usual wide-eyed, gosh-golly demeanor. 'Okay, what's this all about?' he asked with a combination of favorite uncle and tongue-clucking grade-school vice-principal. I got my 30 seconds to explain, and whoosh, he was off. Bye, Huell."
It's good for local treasures to be documented. In California, no one did that with more alacrity than Huell Howser. Long Beach is lucky to have been part of the man's world.