‘Louie, Take a Look at This!’ and ‘Crossing California’

REVIEW: Ridge Writers on Books


“Sac Bee” journalist Sam McManis and TV host/legend Huell Howser explored California, recording the sights they saw and gathering behind-the-scenes stories from people along the way.

For “Crossing California: A Cultural Topography of a State of Wonder and Weirdness” (by Sam McManis, B&W illus., Craven Street Books, trade paperback, 280 pages, 2018, $14.95), McManis found illuminating parts of the picture in remarkable artists, Hollywood denizens, neo-hippies, one-of-a-kind desert dwellers, and urban sophisticates.

The portrait emerges through their words as well as his from stops at the International Banana Museum and the Museum of History in Granite off Interstate 8 in Imperial County, from “High Art in the Low Desert” at Death Valley Junction to a TV show taping in Burbank, and from “L.A. Noir” on a sort of morning as if someone had “rung up the studio and ordered a classic film noir sky” to a spa in Sonoma where he soaked in “a vat of silage, this glorified compost heap” to a converted chicken farm in Petaluma, now the Rancho Obi-Wan tribute to “Star Wars.”

In “Louie, Take a Look at This!: My Time with Huell Howser” (by Luis Fuerte as told to David Duran,

color illus., indexed, incl. year-by-year episode guide, Prospect Park Books, hardcover, 192 pages, 2017, $22.95), Howser’s five-time Emmy winner cameraman recounts a memorable working relationship between two consummate professionals.

Together, using no scripts and no location scouts, they created the beloved PBS series “California’s Gold.”

Throughout, Fuerte lugged “24 pounds of metal and glass,” often walking backwards or executing 360-degree turns.

Fuerte starts with KCET’s Golden Age of Television and his first meeting with Howser, then moves on to traditions at a Mexican rodeo, Howser interviewing Fuerte’s mother when she came to watch a shoot, regional delicacies, food festivals, visiting singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Dale Evans at their museum in Victorville and Howser in a phone booth with freshly ground horseradish.

Closer to home, they covered pupfish and Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley, Mono Lake, Bodie, Kernville and Howser on the Kern River as Fuerte bobbed with the current in frigid snowmelt, hefting his camera.

Both books offer the engaging feeling of being there, side by side with Sam, Huell and Luis as they reveal the spirit of our state.

Story First Published: 2018-10-17