la times

Story topics: la times, letter

I was glad to read your article regarding Huell Howser, because it now gives
me the opportunity to share something about him with someone else. I only
wish I'd been able to do it sooner so that it might have stood a chance of
being published in some way, as a way of honoring him.

In 1980 I won an Oscar for a feature-documentary I produced and directed
called "Best Boy" (<>)>. It tells the story of my
then fifty year old mentally retarded cousin, who had always lived with his
parents, then in their seventies, and of how at that late age, I tried to
help him to become more independent. The film has been a huge hit and thirty
years later is almost as busy as is was when it was first released. The
title "Best Boy" is now a term of art in the developmental disabilities
community, referring to a significant set of circumstances, in which parents
hold on to their children longer than they should and then worry what will
become of them once they are gone.

The first U.S. showing of the film was at the 1979 New York Film Festival,
after which it was scheduled for a theatrical release. Somewhere in between,
I received a personal phone call from a guy named Huell Howser, who said he
was a reporter for the local CBS affiliate and would like to interview my
cousin and I. I politely explained that it would not be possible for him to
meet my cousin because the last thing I wanted was for it to appear that he
was somehow being exploited. Huell said he understood and would still like
to meet with me.

At our meeting, I found him to be a charming, outgoing guy with a gregarious
demeanor and broad smile. Somehow, by the end of that meeting, I had not
only agreed to allow Huell to meet him, but to film him for the local news.

A few days later, Huell phoned to say that he had been in contact with Lamar
Alexander, the then Governor of Tennessee, and he had persuaded him what a
good idea it would be to show the film to a joint session of the Tennessee
legislature. If I were interested in doing this, he would arrange for all
expenses to be paid. I was interested, we did do it, and as a bonus, the
Governor gave a party in my honor at his mansion, and standing on the grand,
winding staircase, gave me an award.

It was so interesting and such a pleasure to spend those three days in
Nashville with Huell, who took me around, not only to the various vaunted
venues of the city, but to the local breakfast joint as well. No matter
where we went, Huell was warmly welcomed and genuinely embraced by everyone.
It was quite astonishing.

Years later, after much of his new-found success with "California Gold", we
"bumped" into each other a few times in Los Angeles, the last time being in
front of the Vons supermarket parking lot on Vine Street, just a stone's
throw from where he was living at The Royale apartments, on Rossmore. We
spoke warmly and wished each other well.

As it happened, the only reporter ever to film my cousin was Huell and I've
often wondered why I allowed him to do it. Actually, I know the answer: I
trusted him. That's what he inspired in others, a feeling of warmth and
integrity, the sense that his word was his bond and that he understood what
it mean to follow through on that word.

I'm not sorry it was Huell who got to film my cousin and am proud and happy
to have known him.

What do you think?

Ira Wohl