Light Up a Colortini

While Tom Snyder's broadcasts continue to fly through the air

I grew up during an unusual time in history. I was young and impressionable in the tumultuous 60s and 70s. Among my first memories were the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King. I was deeply influenced by the Beatles and, later, the murder of John Lennon. I was horrified and fascinated by the murder of Sharon Tate by Charles Manson. As well as by Vietnam, and the imperial presidency and impeachment of Richard Nixon.

Supposedly there is a Chinese saying: "May you live in interesting times," and I have been blessed or cursed to have grown up in such an historical vortex. It seemed to me that from about 1980 through 2001, not much at all happened in comparison.

My generation was also one of the first to be profoundly influenced by television. Those who came before me marveled at the wonder of "the pictures flying through the air" but my contemporaries were the first to experience the medium in color, and then, in stereo. While those older than I grew up with such celebrities as Edward R. Murrow, Lucy, and Uncle Miltie, I was weaned on Carson and children's show hosts like Captain Kangaroo and, in NY, Officer Joe Bolton, Sandy Becker, and Sonny Fox, who became, perhaps, our babysitters and somehow our friends. It is an odd concept that we could feel so close to people we never met.

Johnny Carson, who passed away about two years ago, was one of the first entertainers who came into my home and sent me off to bed with a smile on my face. To this day, I still watch Dave Letterman before bed to make me chuckle and wash away the cares of the day.

But Carson was an entertainer. His onstage persona was not the person he was in private (or so I read), and you did sort of know that. Even as a child I was always a late-night person. I grew up in an apartment and it seemed there was always hubbub..... the dishwasher making noise, whatever, my refuge was to go into my room, close the door, turn on the TV, and find my own solitude. I would enjoy watching Carson after my folks went to bed, on my little 12" black and white TV, in my lime-green bedroom, with blue and green shag carpeting, psychedelic Richard Avedon posters of the Beatles, a black light, and a lava lamp.

I was about 17 when The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder debuted. I lived in New York, and at that time, Snyder (I think) was also a news man in NY, as he was for a while after the Tomorrow Show was cancelled. I was transfixed by his TV presence. Here was a man who spoke directly to the camera--directly to me and his viewers, and he was not objective like a newsman (even though he could be) or hidden behind a wall of humor like Carson. He was just who he was. Opinionated, stubborn, goofy, irascible, self-centered. He was also a Taurus as am I, almost exactly 20 years older than me. I had found a friend, even a kindred spirit. So I began staying up every night to watch Tomorrow. As I got older, I would light up a joint--in an apartment with my folks sleeping in the next room. I would use a towel to fill the crack under my bedroom door so the smoke would not leak out, and exhale through an open window that was eleven floors above the ground. And in the summer, the air conditioning would mask both the smell and the sound.

History passed in front of my eyes. Snyder interviewed everyone from my god at the time--John Lennon, to the devil--Charles Manson. And Snyder never minced words. Never. He would ask and then say exactly what was on his mind; his dark eyebrows fluttering in the middle of his ridiculously 70s styled hair and clothing (which we all had back then). He could be silly, he could be intense, he could be probing--he was always interesting and compelling. And I forged a bond with this man on a 12" TV screen who I'd never met. I later became a news (print) reporter, and the thing I remembered about Tom Snyder is how--even at his most confrontational--he almost always put his interview subjects at ease. Because he was real, he was genuine. He had opinions and he was curious. He always tried to figure out what made his interviewees tick. And I think most of them admired him for that. He was genuinely interested.

Snyder was cancelled eventually, but I kept track of him. He did the news, he did a syndicated radio show, he showed up on one of the NBC cable channels, and I always caught him when I could. He was like an old friend.

And then Dave Letterman brought him back for a few years to be the first host of the Late Late Show. I knew he wouldn't last there. He was always somewhat of a maverick and even though he enjoyed doing the show, I personally got the feeling that he was thinking "been here done that" and maybe he was doing the show as a favor to Dave for bringing him back. Just my feeling. And I think perhaps he didn't know what else to do. Tom was an interviewer and, like a rock and roll musician, you just have to keep doing what fires you up. I relished every show he did but I knew he would move on. And he did after just a couple of years.

Eventually, in semi-retirement, he started a Web site: He did a blog before it was called a blog. It was basically the equivalent of what his opening monologue used to be. He wrote about things that amused or irked him, and commented on TV and politics. On the Web he was able to call assholes assholes, and it was refreshing. It was as if he was still doing his show without having to worry about network executives and censors.

He moved from LA to Marin County, another bond because I lived in Marin and have a fondness for it to this day. I'd  always hoped to meet him somehow--for a drink at Sam's in Tiburon perhaps. He had a sheepdog that he loved, I think the dog's name was Oliver. At some point Oliver got sick--I had a different type of sheepdog, but mine was also becoming ill. I emailed Tom to console him and he kindly answered and thanked me. I wrote him a couple more times about various topics, and he did answer from time to time.

On Tom's site he would occasionally talk about the minor ailments he began to face with age, and many people were stunned when he revealed that he'd been diagnosed with leukemia. As I remember, he wrote that his brother also had it, had suffered from it for some years, and was assured by his doctors--and he assured us--it was manageable and treatable.

But then all of a sudden he abandoned his Web site; it seemed he didn't have the time or energy to be "public" anymore, and I had a bad feeling about that. I suspected he wasn't doing well. Still, I was a bit shocked and very sad when his passing was announced the other day. He was only 71. Still only 20 years older than me. I never knew Tom Snyder but he touched my life.

So, TS, I will raise a colortini in your honor. You stepped into the midst of history and made some yourself. As Bob Hope sang, "Thanks for the memories." The universe is huge, and your televised shows will continue to fly through space for, likely, longer than humans inhabit the earth. It will be your legacy. Goodnight and have a pleasant Tomorrow.

Posted: Wed - August 1, 2007 at 12:59 AM