In my younger days during the 1990s while I channel surfed (we loved that term back then) late at night there were a few shows that I’d catch irregularly that are forever embedded on my brain. One of them was “The Star Gazer” (originally called The Star Hustler) staring an interesting man named Jack Horkheimer. Mr. Horkheimer wasn’t a traditional TV star. A portly dude wearing a windbreaker, sporting a mustache, and speaking in a soft voice wasn’t what one would think of as someone who would be the centerpiece of a national television series, but he was all over PBS stations across the nation.
If you’re not familiar with The Star Gazer, basically you’d be watching PBS at night and this very distinctive music would kick in, The Star Gazer himself would show up, tell you what you’d expect to see outside during a certain time frame while he stood in outer space, and then he’d sign off with his catchphrase, “Keep looking up.”
And it was awesome.
The Star Gazer was dedicated to “naked eye” astronomy, which is what you can see in the night sky without the aid of the telescope (if you were lucky enough to live in a place where you can see the stars, sorry big city folks). Each episode only lasted five minutes a piece. Again, something that isn’t normal in the world of 30 minute or an hour-long episode chunks.
Who was The Star Gazer? That was Jack Horkheimer who was a pretty interesting dude. He was born in 1938 in Randolph, Wisconsin and got a Science degree at Purdue University. He eventually he found his way to Miami where he volunteered at Miami Science Museum planetarium. He eventually became the director of the planetarium, which shows that volunteering can pay off. Jack managed to turn the planetarium into a money-maker by changing it from a straight up science lecture into something more entertaining by incorporating lights, narration, and music which would be replicated at many other planetariums. Fun fact: Famous talk show host Sally Jessy Raphael was a voice in his show at one point.
One notable fact about Jack Horkheimer was that he struggled with respiratory problems almost his whole life. You really couldn’t tell by watching Star Gazer though. His excitement for astronomy overcame any physical ailments.
Unfortunately Jack Horkheimer, the Star Gazer, is no longer with us. He passed away in 2010, but he leaves behind some fond memories. And hopefully he inspired many of us to take a look out at the night sky.
The show lives on as Star Gazers. Jack was such a powerful presence that it takes two
guys to fill his shoes on Star Gazers.
One thing I love about Star Gazer is that it’s an underground form of nostalgia. It’s not something you might think of, but if someone says to you, “Hey, remember that show on PBS about astronomy hosted by the guy with the mustache?” You immediately respond with an excited rush of memories and say, “Oh yeah! That guy!” In the case of my girlfriend her response was, “You mean the guy that had the woo woo woo music? That used to creep me out.” Okay, not all of us react the same way, but it’s fun when you find out someone used to watch The Stargazer too. Heck, even during 1997 when I was a senior in High School (with relatively no internet), I wasn’t sure that anyone else besides myself had seen the series. It wasn’t until I became semi-friends with this guy that we both geeked out over the series. It was like a nostalgic bond over a show that was still airing.
Speaking of the music from Star Gazer, here’s the full thing theme song. It’s by Isao Tomita and it’s called Arabesque No. 1. If you think the first part is unique, just wait until the 1 minute 20 second mark.
While Jack Horkheimer is gone he is not forgotten. Sometimes when I’m looking at a starry sky, I think of Jack floating around up there and telling the world to, “Keep Looking Up.”