Oakland’s reputation in other areas may involve only two things—violence and sports—but those of us who live in the area know that there’s a lot more to the city than just that. We have a vibrant intellectual community, a thriving food scene, and much more—including more than our fair share of famous native and transplanted East Bay residents.
When you ask a non-local to name a famous person from Oakland or the East Bay, you probably won’t get much of an answer. If anything, a knowledgeable person may correctly name Jack London, who spent much of his life in Oakland. There are quite a few other household names hailing from the East Bay, though—some of which may come as a surprise even to longtime Oakland residents.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it's a good primer.
The iconic Clint Eastwood needs no introduction. He was born in San Francisco but spent much of his childhood in Oakland and the East Bay. He has mentioned having fond memories of spending time on the beaches of Berkeley as a child. While Clint Eastwood no longer lives in the area, he has remained involved to some extent in some of its affairs. For example, he was involved in the planning and creation of Berkeley’s Eastshore State Park.
Another famous actor, Tom Hanks, hails from the East Bay. He was born in Concord, on the other side of the hills, but went to high school in Oakland. Known for films such as Sleepless in Seattle, Forrest Gump, You’ve Got Mail, and The Da Vinci Code, Tom Hanks may have begun to develop his acting chops while studying theater at nearby Chabot College.
Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee
From westerns to romantic comedies to martial art films, it seems the East Bay has raised actors who can fit any role. Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco, but moved to Oakland and founded a martial arts studio here in his mid-20s. His son, Brandon Lee, was born in Oakland (though the family moved away when Brandon was very young).
Of course, actors aren’t the only famous people from the East Bay. Julia Morgan was a renowned architect who designed hundreds of buildings in California. Interestingly, she’s one of those cases that divide locals from others. Anyone from the area will recognize her name instantly, while those from other places are often unfamiliar with her name or work. Morgan was born in San Francisco, but her family moved to Oakland when she was a toddler.
Innovative rapper MC Hammer is an Oakland native. He grew up in East Oakland and went to high school there. He was involved with the Oakland A’s in various capacities for years; he served as a batboy when he was young, and eventually borrowed money from several different A’s players to found his record label.
Oakland and the East Bay are (or have been) home to several famous and talented writers. These include Jack London, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ishmael Reed, Gertrude Stein, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Amy Tan, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert Duncan, and Philip K. Dick.