You’re probably familiar with The Most Interesting Man in the World. But what about The Happiest Man in the World? Well, his name was Huell Howser, and hedied from cancer last Monday, January 7. For 19 years, Huell produced and hosted California’s Gold, a charming combination of travelogue, history, and public affairs seen on PBS across California. Visiting sites across the state with one camera and one microphone, Huell interviewed local experts and unexpecting passersby. The uncomplicated program relied on little more than his enthusiasm as its sole production value.
Huell could make a compelling claim for the Trees of Mystery roadside attraction in Klamath along with the tufa columns of Mono Lake. Watching him, a family-run cobbler shop in Pasadena became as inspiring as the Golden Gate Bridge. Every show ended with his trademark sign off: “And that’s what makes [insert program location] truly a part [dramatic pause] of California’s gold.” No matter what he was exploring on any given “adventure,” Huell would always say “That’s amazing!” Except with his Tennessee drawl, this California transplant sounded more like, “That-suh-maayzing!” (Though among his fans there’s a debate as to whether his real signature was the more direct, “Wow!”)
Huell’s folksy style was easily spoofed – he even earned a cameo on ‘The Simpsons’ – but that’s what made the show one the highest rated on California’s PBS stations: Californians couldn’t resist Huell’s unbridled – and genuine – happiness. He taught us to love the Golden State, from the grand to the garish. More than that, he taught us to find wonder and joy and excitement in everything, great and small.
In his poem Pied Beauty, Gerard Manly Hopkins invokes the simple glories of creation, nothing being so lowly that it’s beyond celebrating:
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
The ‘Happiest Man in the World’ got this, in his own quirky way. And given that, I’m pretty sure that as soon as Huell walked through the pearly gates, he looked around, and laughed, and could only say one thing: