Sunday, February 27, 2005

He wasn't Hunter S. Thompson, but...

Bill Soberanes
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
26 February 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - His name was Bill Soberanes and he never missed a deadline until 2003. Not that he didn't come close, not that he didn't get so drunk on occasion that it was amazing his heart held out. But he wrote and wrote and wrote, mostly a column for the tiny Petaluma Argus-Courier, sometimes a feature or two, but always making his deadline.

He's also credited with launching the World Wrist-Wrestling contest which became famous in the 1960s and 1970s when it was picked up by ABC's Wide World of Sports. It's still going on.

I attended several of these extravaganzas - yes, right in Petaluma with the TV cameras rolling and the girls in short-shorts up on stage. And in the middle of the chaos was Bill Soberanes, running around looking as much like one of the famed Petaluma chickens as a semi-famous columnist.

Bill Soberanes was the real deal. He dealt with me (as a very young editor of the newspaper that employed him from 1954 until the day he died) with the same respect he accorded everyone. I'm not sure I always deserved it, or appreciated what he did until fairly recently.

Bill's other claim to fame was getting photographed with celebrities, including Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe and a list so long that it would trigger so many hits from people's search engines it might freeze the internet.

He would ask someone else to take the picture and he would stroll up and put his arm around the famous persona and SNAP, he had a shot of him with Madonna or Pat Brown or Elvis. This was before people had legions of body guards around to prevent this strange man from getting close to people quite easily.

Twice a year there's a meeting of the Petaluma Press Club in his honor at Volpi's in Petaluma, the next one March 10.

There even might be a famous person or two there to have your picture taken with. Just not Bill anymore.


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