Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Happy World of Huell Howser (1973)

Good morning!

How's your Tuesday treating you? Well, if you were having a lousy workaday morning, I do have JUST THE THING to cheer you up... Matthew and I cut Netflix out of our monthly subscription list because God love it, we do not ever see anything we like on Netflix. In the meantime, I've been scouring Youtube for things I've meant-to-watch-but-never-sat-down-and-committed-to-watching-because-we-have-Netflix. Well! Did I ever find what I was looking for!

Folks, have you heard the good word about Huell Howser?

I think I first heard of Huell Howser in January of 2013-- his untimely passing at the age of 67 sparked a number of heartfelt memorial posts about the California-based newscaster, who began his career right here in his home state of Tennessee.Either because of or in spite of my precocious childhood, my Nashville native mom does often treat me like I should remember local fixtures and events that happened long before my life began...and in asking her about Huell Howser, you'd better believe I invited a harangue of that exact nature to be rained down upon me. She's not hateful so much as incredulous, but it went something like: "Oh HUELL HOWSER, YOU know who he i-i-i-is! The news reporter!!! He used to be on WSM, channel four!"  Huell was born in Gallatin, TN and worked for WSMV for most of the seventies' before moving to California in 1981 (cough: four years before I was born), where he became as beloved a human interest reporter on the west coast as he had been in the Southeast.

In 1973, when he was still in the Volunteer State, The Happy World of Huell Howser ran locally on channel four, and my biggest regret about watching the clips I could find of this show on Vimeo and Youtube is that it has now ignited a deep interest in a tv show I probably won't get to see more of anytime soon. Come watch along and see if you agree with my naked delight at the real life people and stories of Tennessee, through the folksy, friendly lens of Huell Howser:

#1 Minnie Pearl episode (part one, part two


  • I think the music is supposed to swell to a dramatic crescendo at the end of the introduction, but I also think the timbre and pitch they chose is UNIQUELY UNSUITABLE to its particular task. I feel less like jumping out of my seat and cheering at the 1:25 mark and more like Cary Grant in North by Northwest's cornfield scene....I escaped! But barely! What menace!
  • Sponsor Commerce Union Bank seems to have borrowed a vocal piece, voice over, and visuals from an unproduced Dario Argento helmed version of 1984. "It's our new identity...but we still want to identify...with you. Commerce Union Bank-- we'll change, as you change."
  • "Porky the Pig's Birthday Party" carries this bombshell:
    • Huell: What do you feed him normally?
    • Owner: Well, normally, he eats just whatever we do. Whatever we have for breakfast, dinner, supper, he does. But, uh, his main food is hamburgers. He loves hamburgers. And he loves Pepsi-Colas to drink and--
    • Huell: What about pork? Does he eat pork? I hate to ask that question.
    • Owner: Yes, he don't realize it anyway. He eats pork, sausage, bacon...ham...he eats anything like that, he don't know the difference.
    • Huell: You think he  might be eating one of his brothers or sisters...
    • Owner: He could! [laughs]
  • ((then they fed him a Pepsi out of a bottle and some birthday cake; for my own part, I managed to tamp down my horror long enough to be delighted by how human-like a pig like Porky can be))
  • "Well, if she wants a pig, I say, every feller to his likin'...everybody has a right to a pig if it wants to," Minnie opines when Huell asks her what she thinks about the house-pig segment.

  • "Huell Gets Kissed by a Bear" is a pretty amazing example of this good natured man suffering for his art...for starters, he's in Lewisburg, TN, having a burly, squat man in an apparently unisex sequined leotard explain to him how the bear act in this local show works. When said man offers Huell the opportunity to feed the bear some little jerky stick, Huell reasonably assumes he's going to feed the bear from his own hand. When the bear trainer sticks the jerky in Huell's mouth like a cigar...well, let's just say you're a braver man than I, Gunga Din. His "Whoooooooaaaaaaa!" is about as sincere as any you'll ever hear. He lived to tell the tale at least!
  • Huell asks Minnie Pearl about the most unusual pet she'd heard of someone keeping, and she outs Roy Acuff and his wife Mildred as having had a pet monkey. "Roy Acuff had a monkey when I first came to the Opry and he was crazy about that monkey! So was his wife Mildred-- some people just like odd pets!" You tell 'em, Minnie. And this excerpt from a book on Acuff  backs her up on that monkey story (not that Minnie Pearl would have any reason to lie, but it's funny to find that that's not another of her "tall tales"). 
  • "Charlie the Wonder Dog" of Shelbyville, TN puts the Romney Family Dog Incident to shame...the heck with a crate, Charlie just rides on top of the car, "up to speeds of 65 MPH" (!!!!!!!!!). No, seriously, it's not that bad. Owner Mr. Peacock recounts, "I usually picked up the children, meet the grandchildren, when it was rainin', and this particular time-- Charlie he always follow, he always went with me when I went to get 'em, but this particular time, it was rainin', and I wasn't aimin' for Charlie to go." Charlie took matters into his own paws and hitched a ride on the roof of the car, where he's "been goin' up there ever since" (two years and a half years [!!] at the time of the broadcast). And he's never fallen off! "When he first started to ride to town, well, sometimes it'd be four or five different cars would try'n blow me down, 'It's a DOG on your roof! It's a DOG on your roof!' And Shelbyville soon got kindly used to it, but now, every time a car blows me down, that's just 'bout everytime I come to town, it's always an out of town car! 'It's a DOG on your roof!'"

  • Sadly, the program breaks before we could see the chitlin festival that ended the episode. Maybe it'll surface someday (along with some more episodes, I hope I hope?).

Think about all the daytime talk and Judge So-and-So shows they show on Channel Four now...couldn't we spare twenty five minutes a couple times a week to show these old episodes of truly odd/endearing local programming? Also, I wonder if a DVD will ever come out of this.

Miss Rebecca and Rosa episode (whole episode here)


  • In this, the only other episode of HWHH I found online, Minnie Pearl has been replaced as a co-host by Miss Rebecca (left) and Rosa (right), who otherwise enter without introduction with Huell to a set outfitted with rocking chairs. "Well, what do you think of about these rocking chairs?" Huell asks. Miss Rebecca replies, "Oh, they're great. I'm just gonna sit here and rock all my troubles away." As they discuss the gas crisis, Rosa mentions how she got to the studio that day, "Welll, so far I've been able to get as you see I got up here tonight by my good friends Mr Ms Williams, I thank the Lord for that, but I hope my taxi driver down there don't run out of gas-- if he did, maybe I couldn't get anywhere!"
    • I CANNOT get OVER the people's accents in this and the last episode. I can hear traces of my mom, my granddaddy, my third grade teacher...all manner of native Tennesseeans are represented in the friendly Southern burrs that color their speech. Finally! Folks who say "olll" instead of "oy-yul" for "oil", and "wudn't/dudn't" for "wasn't/doesn't". I could listen to this all day.  Someone show this to the actors in ABC's Nashville? Please?
    • How do you like the ladies' dresses? Rosa's in particular! She's also wearing a rhinestone pendant on a chain, catseye glasses, jangly gold earrings and a brooch, an overall look which I wholeheartedly endorse:

  • "Mrs. Hattie Lyles and Her Car" is a ninety-two year old woman from Hartsville, Tennessee (my great-grandparents' hometown) who isn't affected at all by the gas crisis-- she's had this electric car for fourteen years, and by Godfrey, it gets her where she needs to go. Examine first-- this woman was born in 1881. She celebrated her twentieth birthday at the turn of the twentieth century. And here she is in her coal black wig and electric-powered car, getting by just as fine as you please. As for the speed and upkeep "You go tol'able fast when you're on level ground...I don't know just how much...downhill...but when you start uphill, it slows down...but it goes on up....the charger comes with it and I keep it charged...you plug it in, and let it...it'll click off when it gets thoroughly charged. I never have noticed my bill running up at all."
  • Tojo Whitefield, 68, of Smithville, TN gets Huell's good samaritan award for passing out trinkets and treasures to the children in his neighborhood as an act of neighborly good will. He says he's given away little pieces of sunshine to around 185 children in a several mile radius of his home. What I love is how grandfatherly the little treats are-- whereas today, a kid would probably hold out for Hot Cheetos, holographic Naruto stickers, and name-brand Hi-C "juice" boxes, Mr. Whitefield's inventory includes bananas, tablets, pencils, stick candy... probably the same kind of thing an nine year old Tojo would have liked himself as a child in 1914. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THIS MAN WAS A NINE YEAR OLD CHILD IN 1914. It's amazing to think about walking around in the world with people old enough to remember a pre-WWI America.

  • The next segment, after some back and forth about Rosa and Miss Rebecca's husbands' fishing habits, features a whale of a tall tale from a dentist...I don't want to ruin the story for you, but it ends on a visual punchline that is...well, just you look, and then tell me if you don't want to hear the story, because if the guy on the right doesn't convince you to listen to the guy on the left, there's just no convincing you!

  • Act like I wasn't tickled to death to see a flea market held on the town square in Lewisburg, a city about an hour south of Nashville. One of the vendors came from Frankewing, TN, which I initially thought was spelled "Frankenwing, TN" and which I got overly excited about until I realized my mistake. That town is an even more rural community, about twenty miles from Fayetteville, which I've been exploring through the magic of Google Maps. While the people selling are delightful in and of themselves, I keep trying to wrap my head around the cheap and plentiful bounty that must have been antiques back then. Just the idea of things that were antique in 1973. The one woman is selling model T wheel rims, for goodness sake! 

  • At the twenty minute mark, Miss Rebecca has brought cammelias from a flowering bush in her yard. She says wherever she goes when they're in bloom, she always brings a big bowl of them with her because everyone loves the smell. When I was little, my grandmother had three roses bushes in the front yard that bloomed yellow, red, and pink roses, big, luscious blooms-- she would cut some and send them with me to school to give my kindergarten teacher, which I always hated to do because my kindergarten teacher was totally mean. "Here, my grandma told me to give these to you," was the tender sentiment I remember expressing as I handed her the gorgeous roses. They're still there today but I don't think they flower as hardily as they used to.
  • Last but not least, we have a senior citizen center where the two ladies to the right (in the blue and olive drab print) do a rooster crow along with the song at decided upon time (I still don't know how the time was decided upon, but there you are). The one in blue says she crows like a "young rooster" and the other like a loud rooster, but watch out for the lady in stripes to the left...she gets the biggest laugh of the segment with her own, secret part in this chicken business. :)

Huell went on to produce many successful segments throughout the rest of his career-- I am so excited that this is just the tip of the Howser iceberg for me to explore, and that living in the internet age would make this possible. What a great guy. See more on his website here and on his youtube channel, here.

So! Watch and tell me what you think! Which segment is the best (trick question: they're ALL the best)? Do any of these people remind you of members of your family or community? Do you have any stories about cute-itude-to-the-max Huell Howser to share? How do you get such an awesome job as shooting the breeze with a bunch of lively senior citizens? I wish they could bring something like this back without the "reality tv" angle of today ruining the earnestness of these people that makes the show so special. And when do they put this out on DVD!

For your viewing pleasure:




I gotta run, but I will see you tomorrow! Have a great Tuesday, talk then! :)


  1. Well you know how much we love Huell (a major inspiration)!!!! Although we claim his as one of our own, He makes me believe that everyone from TN is just a wonderful and full of wonder as he was. We actually had a full-on memorial celebration for him that we continue to remember as one of the best days of our lives. I'm so glad the internet is keeping his legacy alive; one of my favorite pics is of Huell, Loretta, and Dolly!

  2. A huge chunk of my childhood was watching grainy reruns of California's Gold with Huell! I still can't get his voice out of my head, it's so great to see other work he did!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...