My father Kenneth C.T. Snyder would have been 83 today. He died in 1989 and February 28 always reminds me what a huge influence he was in my life. No one called him Kenneth; the C. and T. stood for Charles, and Timothy, his confirmation name. And even though he was Dad, I like most of his friends and family, thought of him as Ken.
Ken was a poor kid from Chicago whose own father left when he was just a baby. He had a much older sister, Marge, who made sure my dad’s mind was exposed to art, music and books, forever taking him to concerts, museums and anything else educational that the city of Chicago offered for free at the time. There are some wonderful stories I know about his youth. They moved a lot during the Depression, and once the family found rooms over a movie theater. He told me once that at night he could hear the rumble and echo of the movie one floor below, the double feature repeating every show all night long, and he often thought about getting a drill to drill a hole in the floor of his bedroom so he could see the movies, too.
Ken was an enthusiast. This was the guy who at 17, the day after Pearl Harbor, followed a marching band down the street and signed up to be in the Navy. It wasn’t so much out of patriotisim; he liked the music, and the excitement of the parade. He was the guy too who, after the war, signed up to go to college on the G.I. Bill and wound up leading the band, even though he didn’t have a day of musical training. He just thought he could do it, and he did.
If you look in the Screen Actor’s Guild Players directory for 1946 you will see a slightly buck toothed, very skinny up-and-comer named “Casey” Snyder who wound up working for his Uncle Ray at RKO in Hollywood and getting a few parts in comedian Leon Errol’s movies. One of these roles was a predecessor to Buck Henry’s in The Graduate, a hotel bell boy who reminded Leon that even though he was checking in with his wife, he had been there lots of times.
Ken always wanted to be in Hollywood, be in the movies, or make them. And every time he was taken away from Hollywood, as he was when he went back to Chicago to go into advertising, he always was drawn back by its siren song. He became a whiz at the ad game (I can’t see the spot-on Mad Men without thinking of him), rose to Creative Vice President of Needham, Harper and Steers in Chicago, was Copywriter of the Year in 1957, the year I was born, and finally moved the family out to L.A. for good in the early ’60s to become a TV producer.
He was, in fact, a TV pioneer who produced and created remarkably brilliant children’s series and specials. The Funny Company, a five-minute cartoon, was the first live action/animation kids’ show on TV and featured such characters as Buzzer Bell, Terry Dactyl (for whom Ken did the voice), and a computer named The Weisenheimer. Ken wrote all 256 episodes in the office above the garage in our house in Westwood, California — just down the block from where, 30 years later, I would write Blank Check.
Ken went on to produce the cult cartoon classic Roger Ramjet, produce the first segments for Sesame Street, and win an Emmy in the ’70s for a show called Big Blue Marble.
My Dad was, by his own admission, a “ham.” (Gee, I wonder where I get it from?) Once while promoting Big Blue Marble, he was on To Tell The Truth (“Will the real Ken Snyder please stand up!”). In his 50s by then, the To Tell The Truth hairdresser introduced him to this magic thing called “the combover” that looked great on TV, but it took his horrified family weeks to convince him to please not do that in real life.
We got to work together some but I really regret not being able to do more with my Dad professionally. I think it was because he was such a force of nature that by his own admission he “took the oxygen out of the room” all on his own. Forever trying to get me to perform “that funny voice you do” or “tell that joke you told me,” I would die of embarassment as a teenager and wish this guy, who so loved to engage strangers in conversation — and did it so loudly — would not be such an extrovert. And certainly not insist I be one, too!
Before he died, I did get to write and produce a radio show he oversaw. He gave me notes on it, some I will never forget, mostly because he made me see that my creativity had to be tempered with the reactions of others. I couldn’t always have it my way, others had to tell me what they thought, and I, as the creator, had a responsibility to listen.
He also whispered something in my ear as a kid that really irritated me, and he kept whispering it in my ear my whole life. Jeesh, Dad! I know! I know! I’d say whenever he pointed his finger in the air, struck a pose and said: “A Snyder never….” This was my cue to fill in the rest: “….gives up!”
Love that guy. Still do. Thanks, Ken.