Ben Fong-Torres was born in Alameda, California, in 1945, and raised in Oakland’s Chinatown, where his parents owned a restaurant. Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, Fong-Torres’ father, Ricardo Fong-Torres (born Fong Kwok Seung), changed his surname to Torres and posed as a Filipino citizen in order to emigrate to the United States. His family later adopted the hyphenated surname, Fong-Torres.
He was portrayed in the 2000 film Almost Famous by actor Terry Chen. The fictional version of Fong-Torres was character William Miller’s editor. “Miller” represents writer-director Cameron Crowe, who was 15 when Fong-Torres gave him his first assignment at Rolling Stone magazine.
Ben began writing for Rolling Stone in 1968, in its eighth issue. He had a full-time job at another publication: Pacific Telephone’s employee magazine. By night, he was a volunteer editor at East West, a bilingual Chinatown newspaper. In May, 1969, Ben joined Rolling Stone as news editor. His interview subjects included Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, the Jackson 5, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, the Grateful Dead, Ike & Tina Turner, Diane Keaton, and Steve Martin. The Ray Charles interview won the Deems Taylor Award for Magazine Writing in 1974.
Ben was also a weekend DJ on KSAN-FM from 1970 to 1979. He wrote and narrated a syndicated radio special, San Francisco: What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been, which won a Billboard Award for Broadcast Excellence. He was the host of KQED-FM’s live, weekly arts show, Fog City Radio, and has co-anchored KTVU-TV’s coverage of the Chinese New Year Parades since the Year of the Ox—1997. For his work on those broadcasts, he has won three Emmy awards.
Also on television, Ben did profiles on Evening Magazine in 1977; an interview with Steve Martin helped the program win a Northern California Emmy. In 1982, he went to China as scriptwriter for a special, Cycling Through China, which was broadcast in Asia, Europe, and the United States. His most unique TV credit was his 1993 appearance on Wheel of Fortune. Over three nights, he won some $99,000 in cash and prizes. He also appeared on the nationally syndicated Your Big Break in spring of 2000, doing an impersonation of Bob Dylan.
Ben left Rolling Stone in 1981 and has since written for dozens of magazines, including Esquire, GQ (where he was pop music columnist for three years), Parade, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, Travel & Leisure, American Film, TV Guide, MOJO, Paste, CMJ New Music, and Harper’s Bazaar.
In 1983, Fong-Torres joined the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a feature writer and radio columnist until 1992, when he left to write his memoirs, The Rice Room: From Number Two Son to Rock and Roll, published in 1994 by Hyperion (and in softcover by Plume/Dutton), which reached the San Francisco Chronicle‘s best-sellers list.
Ben also edited several anthologies while at Rolling Stone, wrote the main text for The Motown Album: The Sound of Young America (St. Martin’s Press). In 1991, he published Hickory Wind: The Life and Times of Gram Parsons (Pocket/Simon & Schuster). The book was nominated for the Ralph J. Gleason Book Award, and St. Martin’s Press published an updated version of it in fall of 1998.
Fong-Torres has been anthologized in numerous books, including Garcia; The Rolling Stone Film Reader; The American’s Search for Identity; Chink!: Studies in Ethnic Prejudice, and two college textbooks.
In 1993, on completion of The Rice Room, Ben joined Gavin, the San Francisco-based trade weekly for the radio and recording industries, as managing editor. He vacated that post in late 1997 to work on The Hits Just Keep On Coming: The History of Top 40 Radio, which was published by Miller Freeman Books in fall of 1998.
Ben’s work has been compiled in two books: Not Fade Away: A Backstage Pass to 20 Years of Rock & Roll (Backbeat Books, 1999) and Becoming Almost Famous (Backbeat/Hal Leonard, 2006). He also wrote The Doors By the Doors, published by Hyperion in 2006.
Fong-Torres, who also writes columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and for TVLand.com, is frequently called on to emcee community and fund-raising events, and to conduct on-stage interviews at events like South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and at the Mill Valley Film Festival. He is also known for his impressions of, among others, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. Both are featured in one song, “Rainy Day Bookstores,” on a CD titled Stranger Than Fiction, featuring best-selling authors performing music.
(Untitled) Quincy Jones project
Miller Freeman Books
St. Martin's Press
St. Martin's Griffin
Susan G. Komen For The Cure Rocket Dog Rescue
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