by Luis Fuerte (as told to David Duron) | Prospect Park Books, Publisher
Book Review by Chris MacDonald
Huell Howser probably was California's most famous television reporter. With his
hit California's Gold show appearing on Public Broadcasting stations throughout
the state for over 25 years (it still is seen in reruns) and a variety of other
series on California Missions, neighborhoods and more, Huell created "must-watch
TV" for millions of viewers, including me. He made it possible for us to go on
vacation without leaving our houses--to explore, enjoy, learn, laugh, escape and
appreciate so many wonderful areas of "The Golden State."
But all of us viewers wondered what Huell was really like on and off the camera. Was that friendly, gushing Southern voice for real? Was he really that enthusiastic when the camera was turned off? What was it like to travel with him on his escapades into the most remote corners of the state?
These and many other questions were answered by his longtime friend and cameraman's new book, "Louie, Take a Look at This! My Time With Huell Howser," by Luis Fuerte. This is an honest appraisal of what made the handsome, smiling, muscular, 6-foot-4 ex-Marine tick.
Luis, who worked with Huell the first 12 years of California's Gold, gives an honest peek into the reporter's life. He tells how Huell was genuinely and deeply interested in everyone he interviewed; how his simple, straight-forward style made him likeable to those he befriended and those who religiously watched him; how he was able to bond with his subjects and disarm people with his charm so they would open up about their joy, wonder and sadness.
The 5-time Emmy-winning cameraman also tells how he had to push back when Huell wanted him to get a car serviced; how he let the reporter know when he got out of line trying to tell him where to set up lights before a crowd in Yosemite; how early on, Huell insisted on reviewing what was being shot to see if Luis got it the way he wanted it.
They developed a mutual respect for each other's talents. "He could be strong and forceful at times and I'd seen and heard Huell impose his will on others, I wasn't going to let him do that to me and affect my work," said Luis, who first met him at Los Angeles's KCET TV. "Knowing the technical end of things well, I had a good idea of what I could bring to the show and I knew he was exceptionally good at what he did."
When Luis started overthinking a shot, his friend walked up and said, "This isn't rocket science." He was usually right and the cameraman learned to love these simple words of wisdom.
Although they traveled thousands of hours together, driving to the most remote parts of the state, their relationship was strictly professional. They usually said goodbye and went their separate ways for dinner. Whereas Huell liked to party, Luis liked to go the quiet route and turn in at 9pm.
This fascinating book shows the difficulties of filming California's Gold, with Luis carrying a 24-pound metal and glass camera atop dangerous sheer canyon trails, in the front seat of Santa Cruz Boardwalk's famed Giant Dipper wooden rollercoaster, amongst inmates in Folsom Prison, rafting on the Kern River and atop the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Luis' favorite show was on the Golden Gate Bridge. It featured spectacular shots taken from helicopters and at the top of the bridge tower as well as interviews with the painters who worked year-round putting the famous golden orange color on the world's most recognizable bridge. (My father grew up across the street from one of those painters, who told him when they finished painting one end of the bridge, they started over at the other end. Many painters lasted only one day in the dangerous job, dangling alongside the bridge in windy, cold weather.)
This book puts you in the car with Huell and Luis as they show off the interesting places and people of this diverse state. When Huell is interviewing window washers 73 stories up in a Los Angeles skyscraper, the viewer doesn't realize that he was really afraid of heights. Pink's Hot Dog named the Huell Dog (2 dogs, mustard, onions and chili) after the reporter. You'll read about bloopers, blunders and things gone wrong; Huell's favorite phrases like "That's Amaaazing!" his family and background; Huell dying of prostate cancer and how you can visit the Huell Howser Archives at the Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University in Orange.
Luis Fuerte, a native of San Bernardino, has done a terrific service creating this up-close, behind-the-scenes look at a true California character. I couldn't put the book down and read it through in one reading. You'll love it, too!