Today, my city and my state lost one of its greatest boosters, and his passing reminds me of other great journalistic boosters for my city and state. In their memory this post is dedicated.
Today’s news brings the sad report of the death of California icon Huell Howser. Howser, a transplant from Tennessee, grew to be one of the greatest booster of Los Angeles, Southern California, and all the quirks and oddities of California. Starting in the mid-1980s with Videolog, he rapidly developed a folksy style over a series of travelogue programs covering our great state. I know he was out to Orange Empire Railway Museum numerous times (which increased attendance every time), and even did a video report on the subway tunnels of the Pacific Electric. He was evidently as nice in person as he was on TV, and just enjoyed telling people about this wonderful state. I’m glad to see KCET will continue to air his shows.
Thinking of Huell made me remember another lost icon of Los Angeles, Ralph Story. Story died in 2006, and I wrote up some recollections then. Story worked for KCBS (then KNXT) and KABC. I remember Story from his award winning series “Ralph Story’s LA”, which explored the history of Los Angeles. I particularly remember the segment he did on the Pacific Electric Railway tunnels near Echo Park.
I tend to like to do things in 3s, so I wanted a third person who boosted LA and has passed away. My wife came up with the answer: Jack Smith of the Los Angeles Times. Smith was a columnist who did regular columns on Los Angeles and Southern California; many of these were collected into books such as “The Big Orange” (for you Bay Area folks, substitute Herb Caen). Smith died in 1996, and I’m not sure the Times has had a columnist like him since. About the closest is Steve Lopez.
While writing this remembrance up, one other booster came to mind, but it is neither dead or off-the-air… however, it hasn’t had the same impact. KABC’s program, Eye on L.A., is a long running travelogue series hosted by whomever KABC had on staff (I remember Chuck Henry hosting it, but there have been others). However, it hasn’t exclusively focused on Los Angeles, or even California.
So, Huell, we thank your for your love of Los Angeles and California, and for continuing in the tradition of Ralph Story and Jack Smith, bringing the stories of the people to the people. You will be missed.