Arnie Wishnick: Pacific Palisades People’s Mayor
By BOB VICKREY
A few weeks ago, I ran into someone in the Palisades Village whom I had met last year at our local Chamber of Commerce office, and made the naïve mistake of introducing myself as a friend of Arnie Wishnick, who until recent months had been the longtime executive director of the Chamber. He looked at me with a skeptical grin and said, “Well, now that certainly narrows it down.”
The guy was right. Since Arnie, in his role at the Chamber, was well-known for having legions of friends in our community, I agreed that I probably owed him a few more details about our first meeting.
Arnie was indeed a friend of just about everyone he ever met, and his veritable “fan club” continued to grow over the years. This might help explain why the entire community is now grappling with his untimely passing on April 27. He touched so many lives during his 40-year working life in the Palisades Village—as branch manager of (the former) Glendale Federal Bank, Southern California Savings, and eventually, his 25 years as the Chamber’s leader.
In what now seems a rather cruel twist of fate, Arnie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly after retiring from his job at the Chamber in September 2018. In fact, He later joked in his inimitable understated manner that he had really enjoyed his one long weekend of retirement. Nevertheless, during his early months of treatment, he still managed to keep up his active social life while enjoying frequent lunches and dinners with friends and was also able to attend many of his beloved community events.
And what a social life this man enjoyed during his adult life. Arnie Wishnick was the true definition of a “social animal,” and was constantly seen chatting with just about everyone he encountered. If he didn’t know everyone in a room when he first entered, he often did by the time he left. When we lunched together frequently, I learned to keep my stories brief because I knew that we would inevitably be interrupted by visitors stopping by the table to pay their respects.
He was instrumental in recruiting ten honorary mayors during his tenure at the Chamber, including: Kevin Nealon, Billy and Janice Crystal, Steve Guttenberg, Gavin MacLeod, Ray Leonard, Anthony Hopkins, Eddie Albert, Bob Saget, Martin Short, and Jake Steinfeld. I’m quite sure that each of them would admit that it was Arnie who had always been the real “mayor” of Pacific Palisades.
In fact, eight months before his retirement last year, some of those same honorary mayors gathered at the Palisades Women’s Club and honored Arnie with an evening they called “A Night of Comedy.”
Each of the special guests performed their own unique comedy routines in his honor, but none of them expected that during the finale, Arnie would upstage them all with his own routine. At the end of the celebratory evening, host Kevin Nealon admitted that “With all the comedic talent assembled in the room, who would have thought that we’d be upstaged by the guy we were honoring?”
Arnie was always known as an inveterate moviegoer, and he loved talking to friends in the community about movies he had recently seen. For many years, he wrote a weekly column (“In the Balcony”) for the Palisadian-Post in which he offered capsule reviews of current films. His level of endorsement of each was designated by the number of palm trees he awarded the film, based on a one-to-five scale—the latter representing his highest approval rating.
His good friend John Prough often kidded him about his generosity in awarding those palm trees. John quipped, “If the movie had sound, it automatically received at least two palm trees.” Another local friend, Los Angeles Times Film Critic Kenneth Turan, told me once that writing succinct five-paragraph reviews was no easy feat and gave Arnie kudos for his work.
But his bright shining moment as a movie critic happened one day in a crowded local restaurant when he overheard a woman sitting at a nearby table say, “We should really go see it. Arnie Wishnick said it was really a wonderful film.” He later admitted that he had quite a bounce in his step for that entire day. He added, “Can you imagine? Somebody out there actually reads my columns!”
Arnie was a key member of our Palisades monthly lunch club during a period in which we visited nearly three-dozen legendary Southern California restaurants. Josh Greenfeld, Barry Stein, and I rounded out the foursome.
After each outing, I wrote my account of our trip in a column for the Palisades News—usually with tongue planted firmly in cheek. After each column ran, we regularly received recommendations from readers about where we should go next. (I found myself echoing Arnie’s exact comment: “Somebody out there actually reads my columns!”)
Our group eagerly anticipated each month’s choice of the designated restaurant, and Arnie even went so far as studying the online menu long before we ever arrived there. After the maître d’ seated us at our table, Arnie barely glanced at the menu and sat patiently as we perused the menu while deciding what to order.
We always considered these outings a celebration of each historic place we visited, and nearby diners were likely baffled by four gray-haired seniors who were behaving like carefree teenagers.
Our unofficial “mayor” won a Golden Sparkplug award and numerous other awards from various local organizations. This included the treasured Mort Farberow Award, the Pride of the Palisades award from the Community Council, and the Business Person of the Year award from the Rotary Club in March. He was named last year’s Palisades Fourth of July Parade Marshal, and the list goes on and on.
I told him a few months ago that there weren’t many more awards left for him to win and that perhaps an Oscar or Nobel Peace Prize might be within his grasp. On second thought, I realized a Tony Award would have been more appropriate since he produced several plays at Palisades Theatre.
In short, Arnie Wishnick, 76, not only invested himself deeply in local community affairs, he more importantly invested himself in the people who live here. The man had the enduring patience of Job, and always made time for everyone—even when he sometimes had other priorities at that particular moment.
He showered his friends and acquaintances with his kindness and graciousness. His even temperament and genuine charm has produced legions of friends and fans during his lifetime, and created a lasting legacy in this community that will live on for many years to come.
Longtime community activist Marge Gold probably summed up best what most of us felt about our friend when she said: “I doubt that I will ever meet a man more loved and admired than Arnie Wishnick.”
…And the people responded in unison with one voice: “Hear, Hear!”