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Unhappy Ending

Gene Deitch talks about how Bill Snyder played the pivotal role in the second stage of his career.

Author Gene Deitch at the early part of his career.

Author Gene Deitch at the early part of his career.

An excerpt from Gene Deitchs How to Succeed in Animation (Dont Let a Little Thing Like Failure Stop You!).

Bill Snyder.

Extravagantly optimistic: Snyder & Deitch will rule the world!

Supremely self-assured: I never catch a cold. I refuse to believe in colds!

Openly narcissistic: I am a beautiful man!

This unfazeable, unstoppable, unreasonable, endlessly resourceful man came finally to an end none could have imagined for him. He fell victim to Alzheimers syndrome and died in his sleep on June 4,1998, at the mere age of 80, though he seemed to me to have enough steam to reach 100. He once told me matter-of-factly that neither of us could expect to live more than another 20 years, so we had to make it now. That was more than 40 years ago.

Snyder evoked so many mixed reactions from people that he is impossible to summarize. My two oldest sons thought he was a con man. The women in the Prague film organizations loved him. They giggled at his outrageous remarks. He reveled in the outrageous, and loved to show his bravery by uttering politically taboo remarks while in communist Prague. The women loved him especially because he always brought them rare presents from the west.

I have the greatest problem in measuring him. He discovered the possibility of producing animation films in Prague. He had excellent taste. He chose great books to adapt. He acquired rights to James Thurbers Many Moons, and three Ludwig Bemelmans Madeline books. He was the first to acquire the animation film rights to J.R.R.Tolkiens The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings before anyone had heard of them. He always started in high gear.

But he came on too strong for me. He was a showoff. He was exasperating. He didnt hesitate to embarrass. We would be sitting in a luncheonette, I trying to have a serious discussion with him, when the waitress arrived. Snyder would grasp her hand and plow right in: Darling, you are a nice looking girl, but you are really wearing too much makeup! At such moments and there were many such moments I wished I could fall through the floor.

He was insufferable in many ways. Whenever we were outside he was constantly hacking a spitting, and there was that omnipresent cigar; cigar smoke is not my favorite breathing material.

When we walked along together, he insisted on stopping when he had a point to make, to ensure he had my full attention. He was extremely critical of my character, as contrasted to his, and he missed few opportunities to lecture me. I left my wife and kids for Zdenka, but he was, loyal to his wife. Yet he reveled in his tales of philandery. So I leave a little semen in Europe. So what? We were different, thats all. Snyder evokes such a mix of emotions in me that I can hardly make a sum of the man. He changed my life. He brought me to Zdenka (albeit unwittingly). He also brought me to collywobbled anxiety and economic distress.

I could never prevail in a confrontation with him. He was a master of attack as defense. Once, I went to his office in New York determined to get a settlement of money he owed me. Before I could open my mouth, and without a word of greeting, he leaned forward angrily, Gene, there are three things I can never forgive you for! and launched into a litany of nonsense, forced me into long rebuttals, smothering any chance of my getting to my own points. He had a sixth sense.

Only Fate was able to defeat him, and I get no joy in making my points now. For Zdenka and me, there is much to think about, and much to remember. Zdenka still loves him. Snyder did change our lives for the better, and we cannot forget that. And I also cannot forget the great fun we had together, and the marvelous creative burn as we both raced through in the early days of our productions. He exuded confidence and optimism; he projected the image of a winner, and yet he lost; he never made his millions. He was a person no one could forget, and no one could cope with. We neither can cope with his inexplicable end.

To read more about Genes adventures in the animation world, visit Genes online book.

Gene Deitch is one of the last surviving members of the original Hollywood UPA studio of 1946 and the instigator of the CBS-Terrytoons renaissance of 1956-1958. He was also animation department chief of the Detroit Jam Handy Organization; 1949-1951, creative chief of UPA-New York, 1951-1954; director at John Hubleys Storyboard Inc., New York, 1955; president of Gene Deitch Associates Inc., New York, 1958-1960; creative director for Rembrandt Films, 1960-1968; and star director for Weston Woods Studios, Inc., Weston, Connecticut, 1968-1993. He has worked for more than 40 years with the Prague animation studio, Bratri v Triku.