Confused about the cosmos? Can't tell a planet from a star? Then give us just five minutes, and we'll show you what they are.
December 16, 2008 11:36 AM   Subscribe

"Some people hustle pool; some people hustle cars. Then there's that man you've heard about, the one who hustles stars!" Greetings, greetings, fellow stargazers! Looking toward your computer screen today, you'll find Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer, a five-minute show that has been in weekly production for over thirty years, airing in-betweensies on many PBS stations. Contrary to the cheeky bio on Jack's website, it wasn't always easy for Jack to "keep looking up!" This 9/19/1982 Miami Herald article reveals that he grew up as a sickly boy, eventually meandering to Florida to stumble into his avocation and vocation as Director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium, only to watch his life's work almost crumble due to a PR nightmare. Since then, however, things have been much better: Star Gazer (originally called Star Hustler, then changed in 1997 due to internet search engines leading people to Hustler Magazine's website) has been nationally syndicated since 1985 (and internationally since 1989), chalking up over 1500 episodes. A book of his monthly cartoons has been published. The Astronomical League sponsors The Jack Horkheimer Award for Exceptional Service by a Young Astronomer. (2008's winner.) So whether you find Jack avuncular or creepy, Jack Horkheimer is, to many, the face of popular backyard astronomy.

Here's a link to a year's worth of Star Gazer episodes, in both 1-minute and 5-minute varieties.

Also from his bio: 'Asteroid 1999 FD9' was renamed 'Asteroid Horkheimer' by the International Astronomical Union, Cambridge, Mass. in recognition of his lifelong contributions to popularizing astronomy. ('Asteroid Horkheimer' orbits between the planets Mars and Jupiter and Horkheimer suspects that it has "Earth Or Bust" etched across its surface.)

This RetroThing post has a couple of pictures of Jack without his trademark toupee and Members-Only jacket.

Star Gazer's theme song is Claude Debussy's Arabesque No. 1, re-imagined by Isao Tomita.

The 4/9/1997 Onion article.

BBC's backyard astronomy show, The Sky at Night, has been running even longer.

Previously on MetaFilter: Great Science Presenters and their TV Shows

Horkheimer, Horkheimer, Horkheimer.
posted by not_on_display (37 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Jack Horkheimer is awesome. He combines science, love of education, and high camp all in a little five minute educational public broadcast nugget. A friend of mine is a casual social acquaintance in Miami and says Jack is just as fun and generous in person as he is on TV.

In related Onion news: Horkheimer Hospitalized: Famed Star Hustler Hyperventilates Over Arrival Of Comet.
posted by Nelson at 11:53 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whoa whoa WHOA. The John Gribbin who wrote the excellent In Search of Schrodinger's Cat is the SAME John Gribbin that wrote The Jupiter Effect? Sweet jebus. I feel like I just learned Einstein shot porn under an assumed name. Or the SAME name.
posted by DU at 12:03 PM on December 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

In the early '90s I worked as a guide at the Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium -- in the museum part, not the planetarium part. But I could get into planetarium shows for free, and saw Jack walking around all the time. Knew him well only enough to exchange hellos... but he was always friendly.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:06 PM on December 16, 2008

The astronomy show is nice, but that throwing confetti everywhere shit could go.
posted by dgaicun at 12:07 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

And remember to keep! looking! up!
posted by EarBucket at 12:08 PM on December 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

This guy was a REVELATION to me and my chemically addled buddies back in high school. Keep looking up!
posted by dirtdirt at 12:08 PM on December 16, 2008

What was the "PR Disaster"?
posted by delmoi at 12:09 PM on December 16, 2008

( John Gribbin outburst was motivated by reading the 9/19/1982 article. The upshot was that Gribbin's Jupiter book predicted Doomsday due to planetary alignment. Horkheimer planned a public stargazing event that night in "celebration" and it was crashed by a bunch of knife-wielding rowdies and ne'er-do-wells looking for an all night rock concert.)
posted by DU at 12:09 PM on December 16, 2008

delmoi: What was the "PR Disaster"?

The PR disaster is located in the Miami Herald article, about halfway down, starting with, "It was Doomsday. It happend on March 11, 1982. Horkheimer had organized these things many times before: quiet, friendly evenings of stargazing in the open, out at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne."
posted by not_on_display at 12:14 PM on December 16, 2008

What was the "PR Disaster"?

That there was no story?
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:16 PM on December 16, 2008

Bonus points to @dgaicun for Most Excellent Rip Taylor Reference.
The trifecta would have been Taylor, along with Wayland Flowers and Madame and Charles Nelson Reilly.
We would also have accepted J. P. Morgan.
Jaime Farr would have disqualified you immediately.
posted by willmize at 12:16 PM on December 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

OK, got it, thanks not_on_display.

He had served refreshments to reporters at his press conferences. He had answered their questions about comets and eclipses. He had fed them fluffy filler stories about the stars on slow news days. He had invited local television personalities to narrate his planetarium shows. They were supposed to be his pals, and now they were chewing him up and spitting him out in small pieces.

Journalism 101.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:25 PM on December 16, 2008

I thought "star hustler" referred to someone who gained advantage over celebrities by means of confidence games. Which lead to me being very confused.
posted by paisley henosis at 12:26 PM on December 16, 2008

Can't sleep. Horkheimer will eat me.
posted by zippy at 12:33 PM on December 16, 2008

The so-called "PR disaster" can easily be explained by adding a "Florida" tag.
posted by ...possums at 12:35 PM on December 16, 2008

I fucking love that guy. Many Saturday evenings when I was in high school consisted of SNL, then two syndicated episodes of Star Trek TNG, then Star Gazer and then bed. It sounds sad, but it was actually quite an awesome way to spend an evening.

Keep! Looking! Up!
posted by ND¢ at 12:38 PM on December 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

He wears a $10 electric watch and a ring set with a second-century BC bronze coin from the reign of Ptolemy VI of Egypt. He has a heavy metal plaque embossed with the word "HUSTLER" on his key ring. He drinks only champagne, which he buys 10 cases at a time, in vintages varying from cheap, oversweet Andre to dry, costly Moet & Chandon. He makes champagne cocktails by pouring the bubbly over a lump of sugar laced with Angostura bitters, and laps them up delicately, cat-like, one after another.

Man, I miss the 70s.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 12:47 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love his quote at thend of the the Miami Herald article article: We're getting paid for doing what we like to do," says Horkheimer with a tentative little laugh. "We're like the hooker that enjoys her work."
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:51 PM on December 16, 2008

Holy crap. My mind just blown. I grew up in Miami and actually had attended more than one seminar that Jack put on when I was a whee little kid. Then when I saw him on TV I thought it was just a local thing. I thought he was syndicated a bit on PBS but holy crap! The Planetarium at the Miami Science museum always blew me away and I've always been struck that not every city has a planetarium as awesome as that [nostalgia-ist].
posted by cavalier at 1:04 PM on December 16, 2008

I HOPE He's still wearing the Member's Only jacket!! YEAHHH!!!
posted by cavalier at 1:04 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Durr.. could have been in the same comment.. he's not on that big set where he's at a forced perspective angle walking up into space, but at least they kept the funkdafied music.
posted by cavalier at 1:06 PM on December 16, 2008

He's been the very last thing shown on my local PBS station on Saturday nights for years. I love Jack Horkheimer. I love that goofy theme song, I love his cheesy animations, I love his breathless excitement and passion for what he does.
And that's not just the beer talking, because I know I've consumed a lot of other stuff while watching him.
posted by Floydd at 1:08 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

That Onion article was the first one I ever read. I laughed and laughed. (Holy shit, that was over 11 years ago!!) Star Gazer was the bomb. Many are the nights I fell asleep to the soothing strains of Jack's ethereal theme music.
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:22 PM on December 16, 2008

I knew how amazingly terrible this was even as a kid. But I watched it.

I also watched It's Academic because fuck it nothing else was on.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:36 PM on December 16, 2008

Horkheimer revealed that although he intends to be stargazing well into the third millennium, nevertheless he has already erected his own tombstone with the following epitaph:

"Keep Looking Up was my life's admonition,
I can do little else in my present position."

posted by Ian A.T. at 1:50 PM on December 16, 2008

True story: back in the '80's, whenever Jack would come on the TV, we'd immediately dig out the nearest available copy of Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself". If you turned Mr. Horkheimer down and turned Billy up, you got an amazingly, eerily perfect music video, with Jack's gestures going with the music. Try it. It's WAY better than that Wizard of Oz/Dark Side of the Moon thing.
posted by dragstroke at 2:25 PM on December 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

I too have a lot of nostalgia for Jack Horkheimer, and the show will always be "Star Hustler" to me. For a long time it was the last thing I'd watch before I went to bed.

One night I left my radio tuned to a public radio station when I went to bed, and I drifted out of sleep the next morning to the familiar sounds of the theme song to the show. Well, I dozed off for a while longer, but was jolted out of my slumber shortly thereafter by a segment of the song that occurs sometime after the theme trails off on the show. Oddly enough, what starts out as a fairly pleasant piece of music eventually ends up in territory that's not conducive to peaceful sleep. I suppose in a way that's in keeping with the show.
posted by Brak at 3:25 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is there Albert Einstein porn?

posted by rodii at 3:27 PM on December 16, 2008

Never liked the title "Star Hustler"; back in the 70s/80s it was a common term for a male prostitute and when I went over the hill from The Valley to Hollywood, CA, the last thing I wanted to see was John Horkheimer hustling on Hollywood Blvd. But then I learned he did the show in Florida and I felt much better. I'm glad he finally changed it, but "Star Gazer" sounds too passive. The guy's doing more than just "looking up". He's "reaching for the stars" and should have that as a sign-off instead of Casey Kasem.

I enjoyed Horkheimer's minishows late on Friday or Saturday nights, right before KCET or KOCE (the Orange County PBS station, imported to The Valley via cable) either signed off or ran the all-night filler of "Classic Arts Showcase". His enthusiasm and absence of scholarly snobbery engaged my interest more than even watching the first moon landing on TV when I was 13. Sorry, Neil.

But also worth mentioning is StarDate the TOTALLY NOT STARTREK RELATED astronomy radio show from the University of Texas McDonald Observatory that just celebrated it's 30th anniversary in national distribution. I caught up with StarDate in the '90s, when KPCC in Pasadena was running the two-minute show after "All Things Considered" at 6:58PM. It was a nice reminder when I was leaving my office late to keep one eye on the rest of the Universe. (I just learned that the founders of StarDate, Deborah Byrd and Joel Block, had already left to do a more generalized science show, Eath&Sky before I started listening).

It's just good to know that SOMEBODY is still doing shows like this, even during the long lulls between publicized NASA projects.
posted by wendell at 4:32 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Jack Horkheimer & Papa Twiddlebug: Separated At Birth (voice resemblance)
posted by not_on_display at 4:45 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I definitely find Horkheimer pretty creepy, in that a friend showed me a bit of a BDSM movie once, in which a dominant Jack Horkheimer look-alike proceeded to insert long, sharp medical-grade needles through a woman's breast and nipples.

Jack Horkheimer, star sadist.

After that, I could never watch his show with a straight face again.
posted by markkraft at 1:27 AM on December 17, 2008

I thought he was dead till I caught a recent Star Hustler episode on teh Pea Bee Ess. Glad he's still kicking! And with modern advances in supercomputers, he can record well into the next century's worth of episodes, like an Astronomical Hari Seldon. And like Hari Seldon, when his broadcasts start to be wrong, we will know we are fucked.
posted by Eideteker at 6:46 AM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

"After that, I could never watch his show with a straight face again."

Could you ever? I've wanted to be an astronomer since I was in diapers and I still crack up when I see "The Star Hustler".
posted by Eideteker at 6:48 AM on December 17, 2008

"Saturday evenings when I was in high school consisted of SNL, then two syndicated episodes of Star Trek TNG, then Star Gazer and then bed. It sounds sad, but it was actually quite an awesome way to spend an evening."

That depends on when you were in high school, and when, in your opinion, SNL went bad.
posted by Eideteker at 7:05 AM on December 17, 2008

Thanks for this post. I've been trying to remember who the guy who walked along a planetary ring and talked about stars was for YEARS. I used to get it confused with Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
posted by katillathehun at 7:40 AM on December 17, 2008

Rats. Missed it. I could have popped out to say hi! “Send Your Name to the Asteroid Belt”. Oh, well. I'll build the papercraft model of the spacecraft.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 11:55 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

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