He’s hosted dozens of the most famous people in the world — Ronald Reagan, Tom Hanks, Shimon Peres — but Bakersfield Business Conference founder George Martin said he’s never been starstruck.
“When you get to know them, they’re not any different than the rest of us,” he said in an interview Monday.
Except maybe Margaret Thatcher. A noticeable tone of reverence crept in when Martin remembered the former British prime minister’s appearance.
“Maybe it’s part of the British culture, but what a lady. David Brinkley was asking for her autograph for his granddaughter, and she signed that one and all autographs.”
Martin answered our questions on the highs and lows of the 21 conferences he’s hosted since 1985, confirming at least one dark suspicion: Hollywood types can be a nightmare.
“There have been some entertainers that showed up that we never had signed contracts with because I wouldn’t sign them,” the Bakersfield attorney said. “One entertainer, I won’t mention who, wanted three different doctors on standby while they were entertaining. There are 50-plus-page contracts with some entertainers.”
Most surprising speaker:
“Arnold Schwarzenegger. We booked Governor Schwarzenegger before he had given any speeches or decided to run for governor, and so we were the first ones to give him a platform and did not know how well he would perform as a live speech maker. He received a standing ovation.”
Most expensive speaker:
Biggest newsmaker or a bombshell:
“Just as the Israeli war broke out, we had booked Benjamin Netanyahu to speak along with Queen Noor of Jordan. The time was very tense and Netanyahu was unable to appear live so we — for the only time in the history of the Bakersfield Business Conference — brought a speaker in by satellite. With the tensions between Jordan and Israel, it was an electrifying talk.”
Most poignant moment:
“The tribute to Nancy and Ronald Reagan attended by Nancy, who refused to leave Ronald for more than four hours.”
Speaker you would never invite back:
“I try not to say anything bad about anyone we’ve invited, but I don’t care in the case of Jesse Ventura (the professional wrestler and former governor of Minnesota). It was the year we were doing the tribute to Ronald Reagan with Nancy Reagan. We were in the green room and Jesse Ventura sits down on the arm of the sofa, and Nancy Reagan was near that arm. He had a big cigar in his hand and was waving it around and I had to ask him to stop it. I won’t say what he said, but it was very vulgar. I got her up and said we’re going to another room. She said, ‘That man’s an animal,’ and I said I was the idiot who invited him.”
“Introducing Walter Cronkite as Walter Mondale. The year before at the exact same time, Walter Mondale was on stage and I lapsed back one year and introduced Cronkite as Mondale. Walter Cronkite said he did not know if that was a compliment or not.”
Speaker you tried hardest to get but never did:
“Antonin Scalia. The Supreme Court always starts on the first Monday in October and we could never make schedules work.”
Toughest speaker you successfully booked:
“There were actually three gets that were very difficult. First, getting all three former presidents to speak at the same conference. Number two, getting five Nobel Peace Prize winners to do a panel all at the same time. And three, getting Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins all together on one panel for the 25th anniversary of their landing on the moon. We were the only event in the country that was able to get them together that year.”
“We’ve had many, many funny speakers over the years but I think Terry Bradshaw fit our audience perfectly and had them howling with laughter.”
Most special moment:
“There were actually three special moments. One was the introduction of Vernon Baker, the only African-American to get the Medal of Honor for World War II, who got it 40 years too late. Number two would be the appearance of Tom Hanks in support of the Apollo 13 astronauts, which brought the crowd to a complete frenzy. And number three, the surprising appearance of Rudy Giuliani in 2002, when the audience had earlier that morning seen satellite images of Rudy Giuliani walking through the rain to the New York firefighters’ memorial service. The audience thought he was going to be coming or appearing by satellite and yet we put him on a jet and he got to Bakersfield just as we were ending the day. The audience went crazy.”
Speakers you couldn’t get this year:
“We tried to get Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier (from Fox News). But because of their commitments on cable TV they couldn’t do it.”