Luis Fuerte was attending San Bernardino Valley College in the 1960s and was well on his way to earning an electrical engineering degree when a random visit to the college’s television station, organized by a friend, changed his life forever.
“I saw the equipment and the tape recorders. I went to stand behind the camera and immediately fell in love,” he recalled. “I thought, this is what I want to do, so I changed my major to telecommunications engineering.”
The move would spark a career that spanned five decades and saw Fuerte capture a number of Hollywood legends for the small screen and oversee the editing, lighting and sound that would make them shine.
It would also land him on the doorstep of a Huell Howser, a television host from Tennessee who had appeared on several programs before going gold in 1990 with a hit series featuring Howser in front of the camera and Fuerte behind.
For more than a decade, the fearless duo produced for KCET-TV more than 120 episodes of “California’s Gold,” a show that featured interviews with official and sometimes unofficial state keepers of history in places both known and distant. .
“He spoke at a level that made people feel comfortable. And he let everyone tell their stories,” recalls his host’s cameraman, who recorded the show until his death from cancer. cancer on January 7, 2013. “I had worked with a lot of producers, and sometimes you have no idea where the story was going. But he kept it so simple.”
Although picky at keeping away from the shot, Fuerte became known to “California’s Gold” fans, as Howser often addressed him in his signature twang by the nickname “Louie”. In fact, Howser once confessed that he could hardly go out in public without people asking after Louie.
Fuerte, now 79, lives in San Bernardino County but comes out of retirement to share his experiences and thoughts, many of which were compiled in the 2017 memoir “Louie, Take a Look at This! My time with Huell Howser.
The cameraman made such an appearance on Wednesday, addressing a packed house convened for a series of lunches and lectures at Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar, where he provided a personal, up-close look at his decades in the industry and labor relationship he had with Howser.
This relationship began in 1989 when Fuerte, who had worked for KCET since 1972, was assigned to shoot a short “Videolog” episode to serve as filler between regular programs and was paired with Howser.
Their first subject was a retired animal trainer named Charlie Franks, who would reunite with an elephant named Nita that he had worked with 16 years earlier, now living at the San Diego Zoo. Howser advised Fuerte to keep the shot simple.
In a bit of movie magic, Nita rushed over to Franks and kissed him with her trunk. The couple enjoyed sweets together and reviewed a few tricks from their old circus days before saying goodbye. Franks would die a year later.
“The story was told with love and with undeniable tenderness,” Fuerte wrote. “It was during this shoot that I recognized his talent for touching people’s hearts, so that they tell their stories with joy, wonder and sometimes sadness.”
Filming “California’s Gold” would take the couple on countless adventures across the Golden State on horseback, train, boat and shoe leather. Feeling the full weight of the camera and his own advanced age, Fuerte retired in 2001.
Although nearly a decade has passed since Howser’s death, “California’s Gold” is still airing on KCET today and getting strong ratings, says Maria Hall-Brown, senior manager and producer for PBS SoCal/KCET.
“We’re talking about a timeless, important show with a dedicated fan base that’s hard to compare to anything else,” said Hall-Brown, who came to Sherman Gardens on Wednesday for Fuerte’s speech.
Even Sherman Library & Gardens executive director Scott LaFleur considers himself a fan.
“I love the show and I’ve certainly seen a lot of [the episodes],” he said. “We definitely planned some family adventures watching them.”
In his opening remarks, Hall-Brown described the important role Fuerte played in the production of each show, lugging a 30-pound camera, microphones and audio tape packs through sometimes inhospitable conditions.
“Huell may have had the vision, but it was Luis who made it happen,” she said.
Chapman University – to which Howser bequeathed his life’s work – presented the late TV host with a posthumous honorary doctorate just months after his passing. Fuerte was asked to accept the award on behalf of his former colleague.
Although he had a sense of the impact and legacy of “California’s Gold,” he was shocked when an audience of around 2,000 gave him a standing ovation. It was then that he understood that he too was part of this heritage.
“It was quite an adventure,” he sums up.
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