13 fun facts about former Petaluma Argus-Courier celebrity columnist Bill Soberanes
It seems almost everyone knew Bill Soberanes, the longtime Argus-Courier columnist who was famous for that and so much more.
But did you know about his knack for hitting deadlines? How about the number of pipes he went through each year?
Soberanes, who died June 2, 2003, would have turned 100 on Tuesday, and to help wish our former celebrity columnist a happy birthday, here are 13 fun facts about the man so many knew and loved:
1. Soberanes coined the term “peopleologist.” He also called himself the world’s “number one people-meeter.” Soberanes was buried at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Petaluma. His gravestone memorializes him as “Columnist-Peopleologist.”
2. His trademark was that he was photographed with more “famous, infamous, usual and unusual people than anyone in the world.” Among them: Presidents Hoover, Nixon, Carter, Ford and Reagan.
Soberanes estimated he had more than 45,000 photos of people including politicians, sports figures, gangsters, everyday people and celebrities, from Frank Sinatra and the Beatles to baseball great Lefty Gomez and Mafia boss Joe DeCarlo that were taken with him. Many were featured in his column, “My Fascinating World of People.”
3. The native Petaluman was widely known as “Mr. Petaluma” for his steady support of Petaluma citizens and causes and his overall dedication to his community.
4. Soberanes never missed a deadline. When he traveled to New Zealand in 1976, he wrote 17 columns in advance so that he would continue his record of having never missed a deadline. His column ran every week in the Argus-Courier from June 2, 1954, until two days after his death on June 2, 2003. He died exactly 49 years to the day of his first column in the Argus-Courier.
5. He was a distant relative of General Mariano Vallejo, who founded the town of Sonoma and was granted the 66,000-acre Rancho Petaluma.
6. After his 4 ½ -year stint with the Merchant Marine during World War II, Soberanes returned to Petaluma and spent his time alternately as a hay baler, a cow puncher, a bull rider on the rodeo circuit, a “resort bum” and other jobs before writing his first column for the weekly Petaluma News in 1950.
7. Soberanes didn’t drive. He made all his rounds on foot, gathering news with a pen and notebook. He never drove again after smashing the family car when he was 22, while home on leave from the Merchant Marine. He walked some 16 miles per day, reportedly going through six pairs of shoes per year.
8. Soberanes was dapper, always dressed in a suit, with a camera in tow and a briar pipe in hand or clenched between his teeth. He said that he lost about 20 pipes a year. As a boy, he got his first camera, a Brownie, through mail order by redeeming cereal box tops.
9. His columns were never truly edited, just checked for typos. Some of his longest run-on sentences were occasionally shortened. His style was his own and prompted a tongue-in-cheek “I Can Write Like Bill Soberanes” contest in the Argus-Courier in 1988 that generated numerous entries.
10. Prescott Sullivan, a longtime San Francisco Examiner sports columnist and a friend of Soberanes, said, “Bill never answers the phone at home. Come to think of it, what good would it do to phone him? He is rarely at home anyhow.”
11. Soberanes often engaged readers with the phrase, “You are a real old-timer if you remember …” followed by trivia from previous decades ago. When seeking information about a person or an answer to a question, he would write, “Does anyone out there in readerland know …”
12. Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz featured the World’s Wristwrestling Championship in 11 Peanuts comic strips between April and May of 1968, shining an international spotlight on Petaluma. Soberanes and Schulz became good friends. The comics were featured in an exhibit in 2010 at the Mahoney Gallery at the local campus of Santa Rosa Junior College. Soberanes traveled to hundreds of cities and several countries, including Russia and New Zealand, to promote wristwrestling.
13. The Plaza South and Plaza North shopping centers on North McDowell Boulevard hosted the Bill Soberanes Halloween Festival for many years, with Soberanes and his wife, Jane, attending the local trick-or-treat extravaganza. He helped establish and promote numerous local events, including the Whiskerino contest, the Old Adobe Fiesta, the Petaluma-to-Sonoma Walkathon and the World’s Ugliest Dog contest.
Dianne Reber Hart is a former features editor for the Argus-Courier.