‘King' Stahlman Lives (In Spirit)

The iconic bail bondsman passed away, but his advertising legend lives

A lonely bail bondsman sits at his desk on the phone. He looks up when I enter the downtown storefront office on Union Street.

“Can I help you?” he asks, bending the ancient phone receiver away from his mouth.

“I, uh, don’t want to interrupt your conversation,” I stammer, sheepishly. I’m not a regular at bail bonds offices, and don’t know the protocols.

“You’re not interrupting,” he replies, almost pleasantly.

“Well, I’m here about a t-shirt,” I blurt.

“Oh, in that case, you’re interrupting,” the man says. Nonetheless, he gets up and opens a large wooden closet. He starts rummaging through a pile of black shirts. He mentions that he can’t seem to find any larges among the XLs and the XXLs.

Then he finds a large. After what seems like a wink from behind his glasses, the man tosses me a King Stahlman Bail Bonds t-shirt. I’ve come seeking it partly as memorial, and partly to see if the legend lives on.

Iconic George “King” Stahlman died recently. He was 85. Emphysema took him. You have to have seen his omnipresent advertising somewhere, and sung his slogan: “It’s better to know me, and not need me, then to need me, and not know me.”

Stahlman was a certified character, who started his business in 1946, and apparently owned the oldest bail bond license in the state. Visiting Oakland Raiders fans were some of his best customers. He once posed jokingly for a pet photo feature in “San Diego Magazine” with a springer. ( Get it? He springs people from jail?)

The King got the idea 15 years ago to give out free t-shirts at the office. All you have to do is ask. I was made aware of this by an associate who says whenever you wear one in Pacific Beach, homeless people approach you and remark, “Hey, I have that shirt, too.”

I’ve yet to test that out. But I’ll wear my mine in homage to an urban legend who will be missed.

Ron Donoho, formerly executive editor of "San Diego Magazine," is a regular contributor to NBCSandiego.com who covers local news, sports, culture and happy hours.

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