Janet Reilly reflects on some of her favorite interviews, including with Wayne Thiebaud, pioneering painter and perennial A-lister.
Over the last three years, I have had the opportunity (and honor!) to interview some of the most notable people in the Bay Area — people who are making their mark in the world of politics, art, philanthropy and business. This month, since it’s our A-list issue, It thought it would be the perfect moment to revisit my favorite quotes and memorable lines from the luminaries who got up close and personal.
Kristi Yamaguchi on finding out she won the gold medal in the 1992 Olympic Games: “I was backstage with my coach and with Nancy Kerrigan and her two coaches, waiting for the last skater to finish. The official call usually came from TV because they post the scores and that’s when everyone finds out. I could hear through the headset of one of the cameramen and I asked him, ‘Do you know the official results?’ So, he calls in to the producer and says, ‘Hey Dusty, what’s the official result?’ And, the cameraman held the earpiece out and we heard the producer say, ‘Yamaguchi! Ito! Kerrigan! But, don’t tell them!’ Meanwhile, there’s just crying and screaming from both camps.” — February 2018
Richard Blum on his enduring marriage to Senator Dianne Feinstein: “I think we have the same value system — I mean, if you think of what she’s all about, it’s helping people. … Lunch led to dinner, and the rest is history. Once we started going out, I never went out with anybody else and neither did she.” — January 2017
Ben Fong-Torres on working alongside Hunter S. Thompson at Rolling Stone magazine: “He just had tremendous energy and brains and talent. If any writer had us in awe, he was the one because he carried himself like a rock star without necessarily being brazen about it. When he showed up to Rolling Stone, he had this humongous duffle bag, like a giant gym bag, that had an IBM electric typewriter in it. It was a heavy mother. And a little sound system and all the other stuff that you needed to get through a day and night, I suppose. He would just put that in and march into [Jann Wenner’s] office and take it over. He knew Jann wouldn’t be in until maybe afternoon and he’d just start working. Crank up the sound system and go to work. Who knew what he had been drinking just before or during?”— June 2017
Fred Blackwell on growing up in Oakland and what motivates his work at the San Francisco Foundation: “What I remember most was the imbalance in terms of opportunity. We lived in a great neighborhood, but I attended Oakland public schools my whole academic career except for the time I spent at the school founded and run by the Black Panther Party in East Oakland. I had many classmates and peers who were more talented and smarter than I was at the time, but many of them did not have the opportunities that have allowed me to be where I am today. Some of them ended up in prison and others are no longer alive. Those memories are a motivating factor for my work today.”— March 2017
Tony Bennett on recording his classic song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”: “We were on our way to San Francisco and Ralph Sharon — who was my accompanist at the time — said, ‘You have to listen to this song.’ That was the first time I had ever heard it. And on that trip, we had a show at a little club in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We were rehearsing the song and a musician came over and said: ‘If you record that song, it’s going to be a big hit.’ So when we got to San Francisco, we started performing it, and everybody said, ‘Where did you find that song? You need to record it right away.’ We recorded it and, sure enough, it became the biggest record I ever had.”— June 2018
San Francisco Mayor London Breed on her confidence to be herself: “I think it has a lot to do with coming from nothing. I feel like I have nothing to lose.” — September 2018
Wayne Thiebaud on how he started painting his iconic pies: “While I was [in New York], there were people I was reading about [who] said you should try to find and make something you love and try to make it look like art if you can. I remembered that vividly. So when I came back to Sacramento, I took it to heart and went out in the studio and set up a painting on an easel, and said, ‘I’m going to go right back to basic things.’ … And, I started with these ovals, and then I put triangles, which is another basic shape and started painting these damn pies, and I had this row of pies and I said, ‘If I’m going to do this, I better get ready to be laughed out of the art world. No one can take this seriously.’ I really felt that way, but all of a sudden, I couldn’t leave it alone. It reminded me of washing dishes and selling hot dogs as a kid, and newspapers, and it suddenly just made a very warm feeling about where I came from and what was my real experience.” — May 2017
Kara Swisher on the most important things tech needs to change about itself and its culture: “They pretend they’re not powerful when they’re the richest people on earth. Listen to Mark Zuckerberg talk. It’s like, ‘We, together, are going to fix this.’ But, we, together, didn’t get the billions. We, together, didn’t create Facebook. When you have an industry, you have a responsibility for the implications of your industry. That’s all I’m saying. These people have benefited grossly from the success, and now they have to think about their responsibilities when there are problems.” — November 2018
Billionaire developer John Sobrato on being asked to sign the Giving Pledge (a commitment to give the majority of one’s wealth to philanthropy during their lifetime or in their will, created by Melinda and Bill Gates and Warren Buffett): “We joined back five or six years ago. So, I get a call one day at the office. The receptionist said, ‘It’s Warren Buffett.’ I said, ‘Oh yeah?’ I said, ‘I know who it is. It’s my old partner Carl [Berg],’ because he likes to joke around. I pick up the phone. I said, ‘Carl, would you cut this crap?’ The caller said, ‘No, it’s Warren Buffett. I’d like you to join the Giving Pledge.’ So he goes on and on talking to me about it and I said, ‘Warren, you’re too late because we decided many years ago that we were going to give all our wealth to charity, not just half’ — which is the requirement for the Giving Pledge. He says, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no. I definitely want you to sign up.’ So we did. Then [our son] John Michael did similarly.” — December 2019
George Marcus on the key to success: “I don’t know anyone who has a really nice, buttoned-down job who can just work seven or eight hours [per day]. I was working probably six days a week, 10 to 15 hours a day. And that’s the only way it works. It’s not going to work any other way.”
“I don’t as much anymore. Who said that? Did somebody write that?” —Stanlee Gatti, responding to a rumor that he drinks 12 shots of espresso a day
“It’s multilayered. There’s eclecticism. There’s comfort. Practicality plays a large role, and at least with the women we work with, [there’s] a sense of wanting to look pulled together and kind of colorful, both in actual color and in attitude.” — Emily Holt, owner of the Hero Shop boutique, describing San Francisco style
“No, I’m very independent. I don’t need men. I have men friends.” — Denise Hale, socialite
“I’ve been an insomniac ever since I was a little kid. If I could exercise everyday of my life, I’d be a really happy person, because I’d sleep better.” — SFMOMA boss Neal Benezra