- Huell Howser
Read Exclusive Excerpts from Luis Fuerte's Book, 'My Time with Huell Howser'
Luis Fuerte's book, "Louie, Take a Look at This!: My Time With Huell Howser," is available from Prospect Park Books. Read three exciting excerpts from the book below, where the author shares stories of adventures with Huell and offers insights into the iconic Golden State explorer.
From "My Time With Huell Howser," by Luis Fuerte, as told to David Duron:
Falling off a Horse
One day, we went to the old Camp Lockett in Campo, down toward San Diego, to shoot a reunion of World War II veterans who were members of the last horse-mounted cavalry in the United States. The attendees also included the last veterans of the Buffalo Soldiers, the all-black military horse unit that had fought heroically in many American battles. They were a fun group, telling Huell great stories about their adventures at Camp Lockett as young men training to ride their steeds into battle. A few of the veterans even got up into saddles after fifty years and showed Huell how they rode their horses military-style.
At the end of the shoot, Huell asked me, “Louie, how do you think we should finish the show?”
I looked around and said, “Well, the sun is right, it’s getting late in the day, and the light is perfect. We’re in a nice valley, and it’s beautiful. Why don’t you and the guys ride your horses into the sunset? That’ll be the closing shot, and we’ll roll credits over that.”
Huell liked the idea, so I set the camera in the field to get the sunset shot and lined up Huell and the soldiers on their mounts. I rolled the camera, got speed, and shouted, “All right, action!” and they took off, horses charging, riding into the sunset, just like in the movies. Except that Huell fell off his horse.
As he got up and dusted himself off, I could see that he hadn’t suffered any real damage, so I pulled a Cecil B. DeMille on him and shouted, “Huell, you ruined my shot! How could you fall off the horse and ruin my shot?”
It turned out that the saddle hadn’t been cinched tightly, so it slipped and rotated on the horse, and off Huell went. I tried, but I could not convince him to get back on the horse and do a second take, even though we still had that west light streaming in low and I could get the great film shot I’d envisioned. But I did manage to finish the show with a gorgeous shot of the landscape at sunset. It really would have been so much nicer with Huell astride his horse, charging into battle.
For another El Centro shoot, we started out at dawn for a good long drive to do a Visiting with Huell Howser show about life there. When we got to El Centro, however, the people we were supposed to interview didn’t show up.
We just sat there in the car with the air conditioner blowing, out in the middle of the hot, dry desert some two hundred miles from home. Things looked bleak. Huell asked if I had any ideas for how to salvage the situation, to at least get something on tape. The best thing I could think of was to go to a cool bar and discuss the situation; maybe we could salvage the drive and come up with an idea. All we needed was some creativity—which is what bars are for, right?
He thought that sounded reasonable, so we drove around until we found a bar. It sure didn’t look like much, but we sat down with a couple of beers and talked about the situation. After a while, Huell looked around, taking in the place, the bartender, and the patrons, and then he looked at me, eyebrows raised. His wheels were turning, and I caught on pretty quick.
He said, “What do you think, Louie?”
I looked around and said, “Why not? Let’s talk to the bartender. They always have stories and know what’s going on.”
So Huell talked to the bartender, who gave him some input on who was interesting around there to talk to, and what might be worth shooting. We filmed a short segment in the bar, and on the bartender’s advice, headed to the local newspaper. Somehow, Huell worked his magic to stretch and stretch and stretch the little information we had—and we got a show! To this day, I don’t really remember what it was about, but it was fun and it worked.
Huell was big on themed shows and opportunity shoots. The themed shows were California’s Gold programs that featured segments with a common thread but not directly related to one another—nor were they likely shot on the same day. There were theme shows on just about anything you can imagine, from “Trees” to “Flying Fish” to “Neat Houses,” and we’d shoot all over the state to make them.
The opportunity shoots often wound up in theme shows, and they usually happened by chance. Typically, Huell and I would be driving to or from a location shoot when one of us would spot something interesting. We’d stop the car, Huell would hunt for someone to talk to, and if it worked out, we’d shoot something there spontaneously.
One of the opportunity shoots that I’ll never forget was the field of marigolds we drove by in the Las Posas Valley—we were in the Camarillo area on the way to another shoot and just happened to come upon miles of marigolds, a rolling sea of gold and orange. To quote Huell, it was amaaazing. We got out of the car at the side of the road and Huell searched for someone to talk to about this spectacular sight. He finally located a couple of brothers who were growing the flowers, and he interviewed them amid the marigolds in the fields.
What made this shoot memorable was Huell’s reaction to the brothers’ answer to his question about where the flowers were destined. He was, of course, expecting to hear that they were going to flower shops. But they said that all those gorgeous orange petals were destined to become chicken feed, because the marigolds helped make the egg yolks a richer color.
Huell looked as shocked as if he’d just stuck his finger in a light socket. I thought he was going to fall over! Then, when the delightful surprise about coloring eggs hit his funny bone, he broke out in that huge Huell grin.
“Chicken feed? To color chicken feed?!” he exclaimed in that marvelous Tennessee accent. His reaction really is hilarious.