Tuesday, July 31, 2007

My Tom Snyder Moment

When I heard yesterday that American former late-night talk-show host Tom Snyder had passed away on Sunday from leukemia, at the youngish age of 71, I flashed back immediately to a story my friend Dick Pintarich told me a few years ago.

It seems that back in 1997, when Snyder was still hosting CBS-TV’s The Late Late Show, he invited folksy Alaskan author and radio personality Tom Bodett (he of the Motel 6 commercials) onto his show as a guest. At the time, Bodett was hosting a PBS-TV series called America’s Historic Trails with Tom Bodett. The idea was that Bodett would travel around the United States, visiting trails and roads that were in one way or another essential to the country’s expansion. Those paths included the Boston Post Road, the Wilderness Trail, the Natchez Trace, El Camino Real, the Mormon Trail, and the Klondike Gold Rush Trail. It was a cute series, especially interesting to history buffs and TV viewers who liked a bit of humor in their travel programming.

In any case, while the finishing work was still being done on that series, I was commissioned by publisher KQED Books in San Francisco to write a companion book. Although I’d never traveled many of the historic courses about which I would be writing, I accepted the assignment and dug right in to the subject, with help from a research assistant herein Seattle, the aspiring Louisiana writer Ellen L. Boyer. The idea was that, while the Bodett series was 90 percent travel and 10 percent history, my book would reserve those priorities. Ellen and I spent months and months doing library research, and I did my damnedest to boil everything down into text that was both informative and readable. In all, it was one of the most enjoyable writing experiences I’ve ever had. (And, after I completed the book, I wound up driving the Natchez Trace and writing about it for the late, lamented magazine, Historic Traveler. That story is still available online.)

Well, Snyder apparently had Tom Bodett on his show to talk about the America’s Historic Trails series. I didn’t see that night’s installment, but Pintarich told me about it later. And he noted that, in the course of their back and forth, Snyder inquired about the companion volume to the TV series. Bodett was quick to point out that, while he’d contributed a foreword to the book, he hadn’t actually written the volume. He volunteered that the book had been composed by J. Kingston Pierce. “I don’t want to hear about this Pierce fellow,” Snyder reportedly retorted, “I want to hear about you.” Well, so much for my 15 minutes in the spotlight. Every time Bodett corrected Snyder on the authorship of the America’s Historic Trails book, the TV host turned their discussion back to Bodett himself.

So, as much as I mourn the loss of Tom Snyder as a human being and a late-night TV personality from my youth, I can’t help feeling a bit resentful at the same time. He didn’t know me from Adam, it’s true; but heck, he didn’t have to be an ass about it.

READ MORE:Tom Snyder, TV Talk Show Host, Dies at 71,” by Jon Elsen (The New York Times); “Passings: Ingmar Bergman, Tom Snyder,” by Vince Keenan; “Tom Snyder (1936-2007): A Personal Recollection,” by Peter Barry Chowka (American Thinker); “Tom Snyder,” by Ken Levine.

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