Living the dream: Western film historian finds special value in career

Charlie LeSueur during an event held July 6 at Cartwright Sonoran House in Cave Creek. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Charlie LeSueur during an event held July 6 at Cartwright Sonoran House in Cave Creek. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Taking the stage with a red guitar strapped around his shoulder and a cowboy hat atop his head, the Arizona Official Western Film Historian transformed an intimate dinner party into an evening reminiscing about old Western movies.

With humor, facts and a slew of stories, Mesa resident Charlie LeSueur put on a presentation about the Western “good guys” at the Cartwright Sonoran House nestled in the small town of Cave Creek on a July evening.

As the sun set in the desert, Mr. LeSueur and his audience engaged in a unique conversation about TV and film stars dating back to the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Dubbed the official film historian by the state of Arizona, Mr. LeSueur grew up watching westerns with his father during and after dinner.

“It really all goes back to when I was a kid,” said Mr. LeSueur in a July 5 phone interview. “My dad was the influence on me as far as Westerns go.”

When it was time for dinner, Mr. LeSueur’s father created a solution so they wouldn’t have to miss a single minute of their favorite movie.

“We had a TV in the family room, and next to that was the informal dining room. My dad had installed a lazy Susan that had a smaller TV on it, behind the bigger TV.”

When it came to the big screen – Mr. LeSueur generally went to see John Wayne movies in the theaters.

“That’s what we talked about and what my parents talked about,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about school but I knew a lot about westerns.”

Turning a hobby into a career

Mr. LeSueur started his TV career in the 1970s with his own locally broadcast show out of Utah, “Hotel Balderdash.”

Similar to Arizona’s own “Wallace and Ladmo,” “Hotel Balderdash” included three hosts who performed antics and slapstick comedy in between children’s cartoons.

Fate played a major role in Mr. LeSueur’s career. After walking into the broadcast station on the same day another show had been cancelled – “Hotel Balderdash” was on the air three months later.

Rising to be No. 1 overall for all age-markets, “Hotel Balderdash” ran for 12 years before fizzling out.

Married with four children, Mr. LeSueur returned to his hometown of Mesa in 1985 and began working with an advertising agency in the early 1980s.

Over the years, Mr. LeSueur grew his interest of western stars by attending film festivals for his agency. Eventually he began shooting footage for the festivals and then slowly started doing panels and interviews.

He appeared in hundreds of commercials, radio shows and TV shows such as “Chrome Highway,” “Hoover’s Place,” “At Home in Arizona” and “Dining Out in Arizona.”

“In 1997, I was asking some of the celebrities questions and they’re saying ‘I forgot about this and forgot about that’ and ‘why don’t you write a book?’” recalled Mr. LeSueur.

Nearly two decades later, he penned “Riding the Hollywood Trail” and “Riding the Hollywood Trail II,” and is working on a third.

Mr. LeSueur’s career has blossomed over the years and he now travels around the country hosting events.

“I’ve just had a great time writing my books and going around the country,” he said. “I’m really living this life of living this dream.”

In addition to different events scheduled around Arizona and the country, he is also a Fellow at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.

One of the special attributes of Mr. LeSueur is that he invites historical people – who he now has a personal relationship with – to his events at the museum, said special assistant to the museum director, Kat MacDonald during a June 29 phone interview.

“He did one story, talking about the history of the actual person and then told the audience that the man was there in attendance,” said Ms. MacDonald. “He had him come up and speak as well.”

The personal friendships made throughout the years have been the best reward, said Mr. LeSueur.

“I think everything combined over the past quarter century has culminated into one thing that has happened now,” he said. “I’d watch all these people growing up, and now they’re my friends.”

Old stars – such as Robert Fuller – will casually call up the film historian just to chat.

“After watching for 20 years as a kid, now the next 25 years I’ve become friends with these people. It’s a dream come true. That would be the thing I treasure the most.”

Mr. LeSueur will be returning to the Museum of the West in the fall with his monthly Saturday presentations. Each week offers a different subject, said Ms. MacDonald.

“This coming year, we are very excited because he has a number of interesting programs,” she said. “One on the sidekicks and what did it take to be one, which is really interesting and fun. He will also be discussing real women who became ‘reel women.’”

To learn more about Mr. LeSueur, see his upcoming events list, visit his website www.abouttheoldhollywoodtrail.com, his Facebook page or by e-mail at azfilmhistorian@gmail.com.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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