‘Says You!’ panelist Arnie Reisman, a Boston media mainstay, dies at 79

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From the Boston Globe

In a Vineyard Gazette column filed a few days before he died, Arnie Reisman recounted a quintessential Arnie Reisman moment on “Says You!” — the NPR quiz show on which he was a panelist.

For the final category, then-host Richard Sher posed a question that was obscure even by the program’s quirky standards: “Who does not belong in this group and why? Paul McCartney, Babe Ruth, John McEnroe, and Eric Clapton?”

“I thought for what seemed like an inkling and blurted, ‘Eric Clapton. He’s the only one who’s right-handed,’ ” Reisman wrote. “Richard looked at me as if I had fired a dart into his belly. ‘That’s right!’ My stunned wife looked at me and said, ‘Who. Are. You?’”

With questions like that, “Says You!” was tailor-fit for Mr. Reisman’s mind. “It helps to have a photographic memory, which I inherited from my father,” he wrote. “The show was the perfect recycling center for all the trivia that made my brain a storage bin.”

An Emmy Award-winning TV producer and a writer who ranged widely in Boston media for decades, Mr. Reisman died in his sleep early Monday in his Vineyard Haven home on Martha’s Vineyard. He was 79 and previously had lived in South Natick and Wellesley.

He was a writer first, last, and always,” said his wife, Paula Lyons, a longtime TV consumer reporter and a “Says You!” panelist. “And he was a writer of everything – journalism, documentaries, poetry.”

On Martha’s Vineyard, where the couple became full-time residents a decade ago, Mr. Reisman had served as the island’s poet laureate, and his wit was evident in the titles of his poetry collections, which included “Sodom and Costello.”

Mr. Reisman began his writing career as editor of his high school newspaper, the East High Spotlight in Denver, and never stopped.

He also edited The Justice, the student newspaper at Brandeis University, where he had a revelation about which profession to pursue.

“Since I never really thought in terms of what I was going to be when I grew up, I reached my senior year in college and panicked,” he told Charles Giuliano during a 2011 Berkshire Fine Arts interview.

“I mean, I was one of those people who thought of who he was, not what he was. Career? What’s that? Even today when someone asks me if I’m planning to retire soon, I have to respond, ‘From what?’ ”

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English from Brandeis and a master’s from the Columbia University’s School of Journalism, Mr. Reisman was a freelance writer and then an arts reporter and editor for the Patriot Ledger in Quincy.

“In the fall of 1968 I got a call from Stephen Mindich, the copublisher of Boston After Dark, a 16-page weekly giveaway about the arts scene,” he told Giuliano.

At 26, he became the alternative paper’s executive editor and under his tenure, its page count grew to 156.

Leaving in 1971, he moved into television at WGBH and WCVB, Channel 5, where he worked on “Chronicle” and was awarded regional Emmys.

Memorably, he wrote scripts at WCVB at the end of the 1970s for “Park Street Under,” a locally produced sitcom set in a Boston bar.

“Two years after our show went off the air, ‘Cheers’ reared its head,” Mr. Reisman wrote in “Where Everybody Borrows Your Name,” a Gazette column.

“Ever see the pilot of NBC’s hit series? If you didn’t, but saw the pilot of ‘Park Street Under,’ you didn’t miss much,” Mr. Reisman wrote. “They were teeth-gnashingly similar.”

Mr. Reisman went on to write, direct, and produce documentaries, often holding more than one role. He was the codirector and cowriter of “The Powder & the Glory,” a documentary about cosmetics pioneers and competitors Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein.

He also cowrote “The Other Side of the Moon,” a 1990 documentary about Apollo astronauts, and he directed “Stolen Bases,” about the 2000 season of the Nashua Pride baseball team.

Early in his career, he was married for about a decade to the photographer Nicole Symons. Their marriage, struggling under the weight of his professional commitments such as Boston After Dark — “Was I married to her or the paper,” he mused to Giuliano — ended in divorce.

More than 40 years ago, he was at a party when he met Lyons, who has worked as Mayor Kevin White’s press secretary, a TV consumer reporter, and an executive coach.

Their first date, at a Back Bay Japanese restaurant, was disastrous.

“I took her to a place that just about killed the relationship,” he said in a 2008 Vineyard Gazette interview.

“At work the next day he said, ‘Let’s try this again,’ ” she recalled for the same feature. “I had to go to buy some big appliances and I thought a pair of strong arms would be helpful. He was himself that night and very funny. He cracked me up, and I gave it another try.”

They married in 1982 and, along with eventually serving as “Says You!” copanelists, formed an enduring Boston media couple.

“We’ve never really fought about anything, ever. I think the secret is acceptance. Neither tried to change the other,” he told the Gazette, and added: “We defer to what we think are each other’s strengths.”

Arnold Lawrence Reisman was born in Chicago on May 1, 1942, and lived there until he was 10 and his family moved to Denver.

His mother, Ida Lubliner Reisman, took care of the family while his father, Irwin Reisman, ran a shoe store in Chicago before working with a family electronic parts business in Denver.

An only child, Mr. Reisman did well in school and kept touch with other high achievers in his East High class in regular Zoom meetings.

“Everyone in his school that he was friendly with was planning their getaway because Denver was tiny at the time and not that interesting to them,” Lyons said. “They couldn’t wait to go.”

Stanford University accepted Mr. Reisman, who chose instead to attend Brandeis, and he remained in Greater Boston.

“In a way, Arnie was, to Boston, what George S. Kaufman was to the Algonquin Round Table, except the ‘vicious circle’ lasted only 10 years while Arnie enlivened his circle of friends for more than 60,” Nat Segaloff, a former Boston movie publicist and film critic, wrote in an appreciation for the artsfuse.org website.

“It’s tempting to call someone irreplaceable when you wonder how it happened that he got created in the first place,” Segaloff wrote. “Not only do I mourn Arnie, I mourn the loss of what he brought to everyone who knew him, as well as the loss for those who never did.”

A burial service was held Friday on Martha’s Vineyard for Mr. Reisman, whose wife is his only immediate survivor.

On the Vineyard, he chaired the board of the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, where he wrote, directed, and acted in many productions. He hosted the organization’s poetry café and was a member of the Cleaveland House Poets — endeavors that provided outlets for his wisdom, wrapped in wit.

“As Arnie liked to say,” Lyons recalled, “ ‘I never met a phrase I couldn’t turn.’ ”

3 Comments

  1. Tony Kahn on October 16, 2021 at 5:42 pm

    To know Arnie, as I did, as a colleague and friend for fifty years, was to know wit and humor that at first would crack you up and then linger in your mind as an experience so delightful you had to tell somebody else. We created a lot of comedy together, some of it aided and abetted by Fred B. and WGBH, but that was only a corner of his tool kit. He wrote everything from screenplays to poetry and, at one point, seemed to be producing just about every interesting and innovative kind of programming from the golden days of WVCB, the Boston ABC affiliate for national and local audiences. He was, on top of all that, born generous and approachable and kind. A lot of people in the Boston broadcasting and journalism scene of the ’70s and ’80s, got employment and the pleasure of knowing each other through Arnie. Our first 25 years we worked often side by side. The second 25 it was across each other in separate teams on “Says You.” Close up, I got to see him crack up thousands, but his own laugh was just as memorable, a real generous guffaw from the kind of guy who could appreciate a great joke as much as he could make one, and never with malice. All in all, not the kind of guy it’s easy to forget or believe is really gone. We used to joke that Death, the big leveler, finally turns all of us into three anecdotes in the memory of those we leave behind. Arnie deserves a couple of hundred.

  2. Fred Barzyk on October 16, 2021 at 11:36 am

    With deep sorrow I read that one of the most intriguing , clever, and funny colleagues had passed away.

    Dear Arnie… how many joyous laughs we had putting together the team that created Mother’s Little Network.

    Arnie first came to my knowledge when he wrote a review of one of my shows for a local newspaper.

    It was an OK review but it was done with such humor and brevity that I had to meet this critic. We clicked.

    Soon, I asked him to write a script which I could present to WNET Playhouse for possible production. It never got past the head of Playhouse but one scene still sticks in my mind. It is one of the funniest scenes I have ever read.

    A very serious young man has to send a really important message to his family and rushes into a Western Union Telegram office. He has very little money and so the clerk helps him revise the telegram. They cut back the words to keep the costs down. Cut… cut… another few cents off… cut again.

    Finally the only thing he could afford to send was “Sorry”

    God speed Arnie
    Fred

    Here is a brief selection of Mother’s Little Network featuring many cameos by Arnie:

    https://vimeo.com/503101252#t=1m17s

    • Harriet Reisen on October 17, 2021 at 9:43 am

      Dear Fred, You brought me and Tony together on the first portable video show, “Where to Get Off in Boston,” and soon after Arnie came in to do some segments. He was our best man, and Tony was his in the same year, 1982. So thank you for two of the sweetest and funniest guys I’ve known, and for bringing together so many others.

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