When Arnie Wishnick was executive director of the Pacific Palisades Chamber of Commerce, his “sidekick” was the ever-dependable Marilyn Crawford, who worked as his assistant for 18 years, until he retired in September 2018.
Crawford told Circling the News that she was hired by Wishnick in December 1999. “I knew Arnie from my volunteer days at the YMCA,” she said. “I was attending Chamber Mixers and events as a representative for the Y and helped raise money for them.”
Once the Chamber hired Marilyn, she devoted herself to the business community. “Arnie and I answered questions and/or complaints that came into the office. Our days were filled. But we laughed a lot, had some fun, good eats and good friends were available each day.”
“Many people would stop by for a cookie, candy, bagel and some jawing time with Arnie regarding business and other subjects,” like movies and the Chicago Cubs, Arnie’s favorite team.
Crawford added, “Oh, also the occasional puppy dropped by for an Arnie treat.”
On a day-to-day basis, Crawford’s job focused on membership, phone calls, the annual Chamber directory, upcoming events, committee meetings and running the office.
Wishnick was the Chamber’s representative out in the community, attending numerous daytime and nighttime organization and club meetings, interacting with City officials, and dealing with local political situations.
“First and foremost, we strived to meet the needs of our business members,” Crawford said. “We provided them opportunities to network, interact business to business and to provide opportunity through events for businesses to get exposure in the community.”
The Chamber, in addition to publishing the directory, also hosted seven to eight events a year, including Ho!Ho!Ho!, the health fair, Expo, an Auto Show, a Village Fair, a Sidewalk Sale and the polo tournament at Will Rogers.
“This was an opportunity for any Chamber member’s business to get exposure, and meet and greet the community,” Crawford said, who also contacted local schools to see if they wanted to participate. “They ALWAYS did.” Students and teachers from Village School, Fancy Feet, Gerry Blanck’s Martial Arts, and Amazing Music were among those participating.
“I remember Dr. [Damon] Raskin, very early in his career in the Palisades, always paying for a booth,” Crawford said. Technology for You with Ramis Sadrieh and Luxe Homecare with Fay Vahdani were also active participants. “It was a lot of work, but the results were wonderful.”
Marilyn also loved working with the honorary mayors and remembers meeting Anthony Hopkins before he became mayor in 2000.
“I was walking across Mort’s parking lot one day, and it was a bit foggy. I saw this man and said ‘Good Morning’ just being friendly and not knowing who he was, at the time. He replied in that wonderful voice (which I then recognized) and said, ‘Today reminds me of England. Have a lovely day.’”
Crawford said, “Anthony Hopkins was always gracious, friendly, accommodating and a genuinely nice fellow.”
One year the Chamber was hosting its annual membership breakfast at the Riviera Country Club and actress Nanette Fabray was to be the speaker. “She called Arnie the evening before, telling him she was not feeling well and had to cancel,” Crawford recalled. “Needless to say, we were a little panicked, but Arnie called Anthony Hopkins, who said (on a moment’s notice, mind you, for a 7:30 a.m. event): ‘I would be delighted to help Nanette and fill in for her.’”
Guests that morning were expecting Fabray, but as Crawford said, “They were not disappointed when Sir Anthony stepped to the podium and gave an engaging talk.”
Two of Marilyn’s favorite mayors were Steve Guttenberg and Gavin MacLeod. “They were very special and took their positions seriously,” she said. “In fact, they each served double terms and a bit longer—we just could not let them go.”
Crawford also had rave reviews for Janice and Billy Crystal, who were the first to share the honorary mayor position. “They were a husband and wife team all the way! They both stepped up to the plate and were gracious and accommodating at Chamber and community functions.”
According to Crawford, one of the Chamber’s greatest nights was “Comedy Night” in January 2018, which was planned by Brett Bjornson and his wife, as co-chairs, with Arnie as the honoree the year he retired.
“Billy Crystal was a big part of that event, as was Steve Guttenberg, our then Honorary Mayor Kevin Nealon, past Honorary Mayors Sugar Ray Leonard, Jake Steinfeld and many, many others,” Crawford said. “It was a huge success and a lot of FUN! Arnie was the hit of the night, on stage, recalling some of the trials and tribulations that he dealt with in his job. He was very funny!”
She said that Wishnick was good at giving his full attention to whomever or whatever came around. “His way was to make each person coming into the office feel comfortable, whether they were resident, business or friend, and to give his undivided attention to them for whatever they needed. On occasion, someone would come in a little hot under the collar, but after visiting with Arnie, they usually left in a better frame of mind with an answer or a ‘I’ll see what can be done.’ Arnie always tried to follow up on his promise with answers.”
Crawford shared that Mort Farberow (of Mort’s Deli on Swarthmore) used to come to the Chamber office to talk business with Arnie – they were also good friends. Mort told Arnie that he adored Arnie’s mom, Ruth. Whenever Mort and Ruth saw each other, they would hug and dance around.
When Ruth passed, Mort came to the office to give his condolences to Arnie, and again told him how much he thought of his mom. A few months later, Mort passed.
Crawford said, “One day Arnie stopped by my desk and said, ‘You, know Marilyn, I know that when Mort got up to those pearly gates, my mom ran to him, hugged him, danced around and then my dad walked up and said, ‘Ruth, I have waited 25 years for you. Who is this handsome man?’”
A year after he retired, Arnie Wishnick passed away from pancreatic cancer in April 2019.
Marilyn worked for another 10 months at the Chamber before resigning.