George’s excellent adventure
Imitating dead people for fun and profit
General Vallejo poses outside his Sonoma home.
George Webber has so much to say, he needs four separate personas to say it.
Some people call this multiple personality syndrome. George calls it a living.
First you meet General Vallejo who, you may recall, first set boots on Sonoma soil in 1834 and, almost two centuries later, is still at the top of his game, hobnobbing with locals, edifying tourists, filling the Plaza with stentorian orations and grandfatherly whiskers.
If Vallejo runs out of verbiage, Mark Twain is waiting in the wings to take over. And should Sam Clemens’ word well run dry (not bloody likely) get ready to meet loquacious Luigi the Italian chef, to be quickly followed by Professor Vine, whose oenological palaver is wedged firmly between broad satire and a painfully familiar, self-important sommelier.
If you’ve met any of these impassioned personalities then you’ve already been Webboozled by Sonoma’s fantastical, schizophrenic and undeniably corporeal George Webber.
When George Webber opens his mouth, torrents of words come out. Fountains. Hurricanes. George has likely been talking since birth, and he once held his own as a talented young actor and singer. But where he really learned to vocalize was deep in the throes of the trading pit at the San Francisco Stock Exchange. For 20 years, eight hours a day, George jockeyed his voice through a razor-sharp meritocracy of 50 other hustling brokers and traders not unlike himself.
“It was acting,” pure and simple, he recalls. “Because of my larger than life personality, I was the best. I almost never made a mistake.”
When new stock exchange computers finally replaced him, George had saved a small fortune, enough to move to Sonoma and consign himself to semi-retirement. As a house dad, he found himself addressing the limited audience of his domicile—one cute but entirely unappreciative baby—with a voice that had nowhere to bellow. A politics major and an armchair historian, he cradled a dormant passion for Sonoma history. Then, five years ago, his wife blithely suggested he do a historic tour as General Vallejo. Fireworks exploded in his brain. Her advice had the impact of a spiritual awakening. George threw himself into the annals of history, only to emerge two years later in the genteel livery of Vallejo himself.
“People thought I was crazy,” he says. He doesn’t argue. You might say he’s a crazy man who’s done his homework.
George’s alter egos have reified Sonoma history and even uncovered it. Because of George, our local community is even privy to a more factually accurate account of the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt.
George’s self-proclaimed profession is “edutainment,” although “historomedy” also comes to mind. A shameless self-promoter with “not one speck of humility,” he delivers unforgettable Sonoma walking tours as General Vallejo and his other muse, Mark Twain, whom he’s certain at least passed through Sonoma during his Bay Area exploits. He also dazzles private groups with history, wine and food experiences as the fictional Luigi and the esteemed Professor Vine. Often, he segues from one to the other like a serial madman.
You may have already seen him promenading on the Fourth of July as Answer Man, the sage who will furnish an answer to any question. If the baggage of excess personalities isn’t enough, George is also expanding his art to speech giving—a lucrative vocation in which he’ll call upon his stable of deceased buddies. A possible slogan? “Famous dead people make meetings come alive.”
Why do you do what you do?
It’s a way of acting, a way of making money and a way of fulfilling my other passion—history ... I want to change people’s perception of this town, by appearing as historical characters.
Why Mark Twain?
He’s my favorite. I read all he wrote.
What do people forget about Sonoma history?
This was a true gold rush town. We had 48 saloons right on the Plaza. People actually came here (to Sonoma) thinking gold was here. Back then, it was the golden age of rumor.
Who’s your ideal audience?
Smart people. The smarter you are, the more you appreciate this crazy, insane (fountain) of knowledge I have.
Do you walk around town in your costume?
Yes. I feel completely at home wearing costumes. Here in Sonoma I have laughs and smiles. Elsewhere, I get double takes that fade into “I’m not here.” At one point I started wearing an Official Sonoma Tour Guide badge. So at 20 feet away, I can see them thinking, “Crazy, Crazy, Crazy.” At five feet the expression switches to relief, “Oh, not crazy.”
What do you personally hope to achieve with your profession?
Eventually, I would like to be the highest paid tour guide on earth.
How did Luigi come about?
I came up with my characters very organically. Luigi appeared in 2000 as an Italian alter ego and culinary extraordinaire. Someone told me that one day I would make a great little wife for some lucky woman. (George is an ardent gourmand, and these days he belts out ballads and Big Night banter while serving up gourmet meals for private events.)
What’s your proudest moment?
My Bear Flag re-enactment. I believe I have the first and only script that actually tells what happened. The first enactment we ever did, as I strode in with my chops through the gate as General Vallejo, I really did become furious. I’m a good actor, but that day it wasn’t just me. I believe Vallejo’s spirit was with me that day. And in front of 300 people, all of a sudden all my volunteers became actors. They really threw me in my chair and roughly tied me up and the audience was saying, “Ooooh” and “Ahhhh.” It was perfect.
What’s your vision for Sonoma?
I want Sonoma to be a historic destination town. I’ve worked hard to do this.
From the Winter 2008 Issue of SONOMA