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.
- Matthys Boshoff
ICr. 28:20 – really cool. thanks.
- Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Oh, I share your feelings. Every year – we reconsider Mom and Dad, and all the ones who gave us our true wealth. And we have to pay it forward because we can’t take it with us. Have to pay it forward.
It’s interesting that your post about the source of your wealth follows the one where you query us about our Vector as writers. And that followed one that’s been nagging at me — the one where you mention the Strike and the challenge to define “Why you write?”
There’s a “vector” through those three posts.
And you know what? YOUR Dad has got to be one of the reasons I WRITE — some of that stuff he did drizzled into my life, and I’m sure it affected me. I just didn’t know who was behind it. It’s all about feeling others’ responses, but never quitting because of it.
So today, I answered the question “Why do you write?” delineating my personal “vector,” concluding with a reference to my review of SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES which was my January 2008 Review Column.
I reviewed STC! in Jan. 2007 and #2 is still haunting me something terrible.
Now I’ve read your post today about your Dad – I have this eerie feeling he’s in this “Why do you write?” thing I wrote — somewhere.
Hey Blake! I loved Big Blue Marble! and Roger Ramjet. I still find myself humming those tunes at times. What a beautiful tribute to your dad. Happy Birthday Ken!
- Mike Rinaldi
This explains so much. I can see how these characteristics and influences blend together to make Blake Snyder.
You know what your dad could have done if he did drill that hole in his bedroom floor? Taken a really big straw… one that reaches across the room… (c’mon, you know where I’m going with this).
- Shaun UK
Greetings from the UK,
Your dad sounded Awesome. Blake, we met in London at the release signing of STCGTTM, and we spoke briefly, mainly about the packaging of specs (talking about nuclear family) well, i did the same thing for my Poker screenplay, packing it in a steel case full of poker chips – IT WORKED! Thanks to you i now have an agent at William and Morris and in negotiations.
Thank you so much for STC and STCGTTM, books that without, i wouldn’t be where i am today.
See you in Hollywood.
- john harrison
What a wonderful tribute to a great artist. Thanks Blake for telling your dad’s story. I’m fortunate, I still have my parents. Though not writers they have always supported my dreams and your words help remind that good family is worth their weight in gold. Happy Birthday Ken.
- Robert Thompson
You had a cool dad Blake. Coincidentally, my dad’s last words to me were, “Never give up. If you keep trying you will make it.”
Thank you, Blake, for sharing some great stuff about your Dad. As you know, I had the good fortune to work with him in Santa Barbara during the Big Blue Marble time. From your stories, I now understand why Ken enjoyed riding in his big black cadillac down the main street of town, windows wide open, playing John Philip Sousa music. His exhuberant creative spirit still resonates in my life. Thanks, Ken!
- Jackie Brown
Thank you for sharing your father’s birthday tribute. Your loving recollections lend truth to the old adage…”the leaf doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
- Kalvin T
Hey Blake, what can I say but wow! Thank you for once again allowing us a glimpse into your heart and soul. Proving that you are truly one of a kind (make that two of a kind). From now on whenever I think of STCGTTM, it will be a picture of your father above contemplating the hole. Ken, Happy Birthday and Thank You for your son. It has an honor and a privilege to get to know you.
My fathers birthday is February 28th also. He died in 1992, when my brother and I were in 2nd grade. Much before his time. I think about him every day and sometimes wonder what my life would’ve been like if he had been there to help me through it.
Then I think about how my life is now BECAUSE of him. Even though he was here for a short time, the time we did spend together really impacted me. And it’s funny because people say we look just like him or act just like him. It’s not because he picked it up from him by watching him. It’s because he’s us, and we’re him.
It’s always good to think about our loved ones that aren’t here anymore. We miss em, but they’re in a better place.
I met Blake shortly after my mother died on September 21st of last year. He was in NYC for a seminar. He told me how hard it was for him but that also his greatest initial success came a bit after his father died. He told me to keep writing and stay positive. I have taken his words to heart. And I have to say that I feel my mother is helping me realize my vision on paper and when I do sell a script and start work as a paid writer, it will be due to her help from wherever she is now. So…thanks Blake for your support and understanding. Your words will always stay with me.
- Lee Anderson
I was one of the lucky ones who worked with Ken Snyder in Santa Barbara during the 70’s. Ken was one of the funniest, most creative men I have ever known. We were producing the animated segments for the world-wide children’s t.v. show ‘BIG BLUE MARBLE’. Ken was also the creative genius behind some of the great early t.v. commercials most of us grew up with. Do you remember EXXON’s “Put a tiger in your tank” or the State Farm Insurance jingle with the three horns tooting “state-farm-insurance”? The KEEBLER ELF’S living in a tree, that was Ken’s idea. ROGER RAMJET was one of Ken’s kids. I helped put together the ROGER RAMJET REUNION with Gary Owens, the voice of Roger along with most of the origninal cast. Bob Arbogast, Gene Moss and others in Hollywood at the studios of KTLA. We had a great turnout. Ken also produced some great Saturday morning cartoon series for ABC like ‘SKYHAWKS’ AND ‘HOT WHEELS’. What did I do at KEN SNYDER ENTERPRISES? I was one of the ‘in-house’ voice over actors who was on salary for a grand total of $75 per week! Thank you!
Hey Blake, call me a new convert. I read (and bought and re-read etc) both STC books recently on the recommendation of a good friend. Although I am a typical bullhead who scoffs at templates, I have to admit that pretty much every good movie story I care about follows your BS2 one way or another. I recently noticed even BORAT follows your rules. (His discovery of Pamela Anderson on an old BAYWATCH rerun is to me a brilliant stasis = death moment.)
As for your dad, I work in animation and worship the ROGER RAMJET show. I even appeared on our local FUNNY COMPANY when I was a kid. (I promised the local host a drawing that I never got around to making). I haven’t seen the show since then but I recall the unforgettable name of the villain “Belly Laguna” and that their mascot was “Terry” a terradactyl. And of course “Shrinking Violet”.
Even as a small kid, i always preferred ROGER to Jay Ward’s shows–something about ROGER was just more direct, less self-conscious and a little more “pure.” I am happy to say that when I picked up the DVD’s a couple of years ago I found them even better the second time around. Hardcore animation pros like John Kricfalusi (creator of REN & STIMPY) point to ROGER as a landmark cartoon as well. It is nice to know that DVD makes it available to a whole new generation.
Happy Birthday to your Dad and thanks for the books.
- Kathleen Barnato fka Kathleen Whitcraft
I worked on the Big Blue Marble here in Santa Barbara in the 1970’s with your dad. I was one of the Spanish/English translators for the show. My daughter, a PhD candidate at UMD, Geography, posted a photo of earth that reminded me of that famous Big Blue Marble shot used on the show…and I found myself back at the Riviera complex in Santa Barbara!
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Hi Blake, Now I know where you get your resilience from. You had a really cool Dad. And for all of us STC fans we feel the same about you.