LCI Blog: Meet the Media – Merla Zellerbach, SF journalist and author

Today, we bring you Merla Zellerbach, a longstanding San Francisco journalist and author – and former game show panelist! Ms. Zellerbach is editor emerita and former editor in chief of the Nob Hill Gazette. She penned the “My Fair City” column in the San Francisco Chronicle for 23 years. Ms. Zellerbach has also published 10 novels and five self-help books about allergies. LCI recently caught up with Ms. Zellerbach to hear more about her illustrious career.

What’s your top story for today?

I just had the delightful pleasure (that’s redundant, I know) of interviewing Craig Newmark, who founded Craigslist, for the Nob Hill Gazette. He’s quite brilliant and articulate, and insists on describing himself as a nerd, but his social skills are polished, and he’s deeply involved in philanthropy and improving people’s lives. It was a memorable and inspiring experience.

Tell us about your “dream assignment.”

My “dream assignment” would be to interview one or more of my favorite people: Hillary Clinton, Stephen Colbert, Paul Krugman or Gail Collins of the New York Times, Charlie Rose, Gloria Steinem, Frank Gehry, and what the heck, George Clooney.

Describe the wackiest interview you’ve ever done?

My wackiest interview subject, by far, was Andy Warhol. He arrived at my house with Bill Graham and his (Andy’s) entourage of four. Every question I asked he answered with a yes or a no. Duh! Finally I asked a question he couldn’t answer that way. I said, “What’s your favorite color?” He turned to his PR man and said, “What’s my favorite color?” The PR man said, “Red.” Andy said, “Red.” I wrote the interview exactly as it happened and never heard from him or Bill Graham again.

What is your PR pet peeve?

I really like my friends in PR – Donna Berry Glass, for one. They’re very creative and often come up with terrific story ideas. I guess the only peeve I have is when someone has a really boring client who’s been around for a long time, and tries to make him or her sound fresh and exciting.

Tell us a little more about yourself.

Well, I do write mysteries that are available in some bookstores and online, so I guess I should mention those. My newest book is Love to Die For. And my passion is a nonprofit group, Compassion & Choices, which promotes the right of mentally competent, terminally ill adults in great pain and discomfort, to get medical aid to end their suffering. Personal experiences with loved ones have taught me how horrible a long, painful dying process can be. And to end on a positive note, my favorite quote comes from Mark Twain: “When in doubt, tell the truth.”

Please comment below or send an email to Merla!

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15 Comments

  1. Rob Reply

    Merla, thank you for the great contribution to our blog. But more important, thank you for your great contributions to the canon of Bay Area journalism over the years. I LOVE the story about Warhol. I had a few interviews like that back in my journo days as well. Fun! — Rob

    • Merla Zellerbach Reply

      Dear Rob, Thanks for your kind comments. At least you and I were around when newspapers were king 9and queen) of the media. Warmest regards, Merla

  2. Donna Reply

    Hi Merla – I too love the Warhol story, that’s classic. And the fact that you “broke new ground” at the Chronicle by being one of two women in the newsroom when you started your column, and paving the way for women everywhere. Thank you for that, and for the nice shout out too.

    – Donna
    PS – George Clooney would be on my list as well.

  3. Landis PR Reply

    Hi Merla,

    You have had such an interesting and diverse career! Being one of two women at the Chronicle’s begining is so inspiring and I absolutely love the Andy Warhol story as well! Thanks for sharing with us.

    -Hilary

    • Merla Zellerbach Reply

      Dear Hilary, It seems like another lifetime when women were second class citizens at the Chronicle. Thank goodness that situation has improved. All the best, Merla

  4. Erin Hunt Moore Reply

    Merla – what a pleasure to have you contribute to our blog. You’ve been such a legacy in this city – thank you for keeping us in touch with and informed about people and issues significant to this city. Loved the Warhol anecdote, as well. His handlers had him on a tight leash – a man of many stories, indeed! Finally, thank you for your involvement in promoting the rights of the terminally ill to die with dignity. What a difficult issue. Having recently experienced the painful and slow death of a friend with a terminal illness, this is something I’ve been giving quite a lot of thought to. I’ll take a look at the organization. Thank you for inspiring! Erin

    • Merla Zellerbach Reply

      Dear Erin, Many thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’m glad you’re interested in Compassion & Choices. You may want to look at our Website: compassionandchoicesnca.org. Best wishes, Merla

  5. Gretchen Krueger Reply

    A lovely lady, Merla. So much fun to read this.
    I’ve enjoyed your columns. Now, I must pick up
    your new book!

    • Merla Zellerbach Reply

      Dear Gretchen, I hope you like to read mysteries. Thanks for your generous thoughts, Merla

  6. Tarah Beaven Reply

    I love your delivery of the Andy Warhol interview – when in PR, I suppose you can never know too much about your client. Thanks for sharing with us. Your story is inspirational and delightful.

    Best,
    Tarah

    • Merla Zellerbach Reply

      Dear Tarah, (Pretty name.) I couldn’t figure out whether Andy was really dumb or just playing a role. Guess I’ll never know. Thanks for your kind remarks, Merla

  7. Jordana Reply

    Merla, thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading the new book. I do hope you get to interview Stephen Colbert someday…I’d love to read that! Cheers, Jordana

  8. Merla Zellerbach Reply

    Dear Tarah, Thanks for your kind remarks. All the best, Merla