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Meet The Former and Present Residents of Manhattan Plaza: Arnold Wilkerson

Meet The Former and Present Residents of Manhattan Plaza: Arnold Wilkerson

Buddy Valastro, Arnold Wilkerson, Joe Ariel after Little Pie Company wins the competition during the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival.

Arnold Wilkerson is an actor and the creator and owner of the Little Pie Company located in Manhattan Plaza.

Arnold Wilkerson, Gilbert Lewis and Denzel Washington in  a production of “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men” 1979 Players State Theater in Florida

Orginally from California, Wilkerson attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. After graduation,he moved to New York City, making his Off-Broadway debut as Hud in the original production of James Rado and Gerome Ragni’s Hair at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in October 1967. He made his Broadway debut in 1968 as Arnold in the original production of John Sebastian’s Jimmy Shine, sharing the stage with Dustin Hoffman and Rue McClanahan. In 1969 came Jon Swan’s Fireworks at the Village South Theatre. That same year he appeared in the original production of Ronald Ribman’s The Most Beautiful Fish with Eileen Dietz which was commissioned by New York Television Theatre for broadcast on PBS.

Alex bradford, Arnold Wilkerson, Bobby Hill, Hope Clark and seated Micki Grant.

In 1971, Wilkerson appeared in the world premiere of Micki Grant’s Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. He continued with the production when it moved to Broadway the following year. 

In 1974, he played the role of Jimmy in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

After Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, Wilkerson’s acting career went through a slump and he worked largely as a waiter. In 1983 he, along with business partner Michael Deraney, founded the Little Pie Company.

Arnold Wilkerson in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

T2C: When did you first move into Manhattan Plaza and how did you get into the building?

Arnold Wilkerson: I started out as an actor and qualified in that category. I moved here in 1983 when the building was considered a white elephant. The neighborhood was run down and nobody wanted to live here until Mayor Lindsey decided the actors needed nice dwellings.

T2C: What are your fondest memories of living in the plaza?

Arnold Wilkerson: The support system and a great appreciation for the community they were establishing. I was able to start my business from my apartment thanks to Rodney and Richard.

T2C: Where you there during the AIDS crisis? Tell us about that time.

Arnold Wilkerson: Yes indeed, Rodney and Richard found a way to set up a foundation to care for patients. I had the privilege to be on that board. Now as a result of that board it has been converted and designed to help elderly patients.

T2C: You created The Little Pie Company. How did that come about?

Arnold Wilkerson: I was working as a waiter in a restaurant and I was at the point where I decided I needed to make a change in my life. The other waiters and I use to make five – course meals for each other. Nobody liked my cooking, but they liked my deserts. 

T2C: What have been the biggest changes to the neighborhood and your business?

Arnold Wilkerson: Having been in this neighborhood since the beginning. Through community support, I was able to star my business. Actually because of the restaurant Curtain Up. The night I brought in my pies Liza Minelli, Bobby Short and Chita Rivera all had some. They told Robert Nahas the owner that my pies should be on the menu regularly, as they thought I had something really great going on. This helped popularize his restaurant.

I was also working at Maxwell Plum’s. I would give slices of my pies to my favorite customers. One night Babara Costikyan, from New York Magazine had one. She wrote an article called “Buy, Buy This American Pie.” when she wrote this my phone ran off the hook. I was baking from my neighbors apartments (3 to be exact), as I could only do four pies at a time in mine. My waiter friends would deliver the groceries and the pies. Rodney told me he knew I was smuggling pies, but he let me slide in order to create this life for myself.

T2C: What does living in the building allowed you to accomplish?

Arnold Wilkerson: It understood that artists are creative people, no matter what part of the arts it is. There is such a large support group.This building allows you to expand and grow.

T2C: How does living in the building make you feel?

Arnold Wilkerson: Manhattan Plaza continues to allow me to be creative. Self-expression is realized. It is supportive and it stills remains.

T2C: What would you change from your time living in Manhattan Plaza?

Arnold Wilkerson: There isn’t anything because this has been a perfect structure for me. To have a business five minutes from where I live, allows me to be an entrepreneur. I have been very fortunate.

T2C: What is your fondest memory of New york?

Arnold Wilkerson: Making the decision to do what I am doing. I decided that as an actor, if I wasn’t where I wanted to be by a certain age, I would change careers. Timing is everything. I became enlightened while watching Phil Donahue. He stated there was a time in America where you could write the word taxi on your car and you had a instant business. People did that. I took that a sign to cut through the red tape. The fact you could do this encouraged me to make pies. I was soon selling to Curtain-Up, Maxwell Plum, Dean and Deluca, The Empire Diner and on and on. I outgrow my apartment and Richard and Rodney offered me a space downstairs. The problem was I had no money. I met Jane Stanicki who worked for the Bowery Bank. When we met, she was surprised when we met. She thought a Jewish kid would arrive with a name like Arnold. She got me a loan. I am indebted to all these people for what they entrusted me with. It was quite a journey, but I made the commitment and needed to stand by it. I paid back all the loans. 

T2C: What would you like us to know that we haven’t asked you?

Arnold Wilkerson: That lots of business come and go in this city. We have, by the grace of God, been able to be here for 30 years. That makes me to continue to work hard. The trust and support has continued. 

The documentary Miracle on 42nd Street, is available on Amazon and will soon be available to stream. 

Food and Drink

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

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