David Snell (journalist): Wikis


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David Snell
Born March 28, 1921(1921-03-28)
Louisiana Minden
Webster Parish, Louisiana, United States
Died July 1987 (aged 66)
United States Houston
Harris County, Texas
Alma mater Louisiana State University
Occupation Journalist; cartoonist, with service at Life magazine
Spouse(s) (1) Julia Williams Snell (divorced)
(2) Dixie Oliver Snell
Children First marriage:

Barry Snell
Jan Whitfield Snell
Second marriage:
Mark Snell

Steven M. Snell
Parents John Barnard Snell
Ada Jack Carver Snell

David Snell (March 28, 1921–July 1987) was a reporter and cartoonist for the defunct Life Magazine and several other publications during his career as a journalist.


Early years, family, education

Snell (He had no middle name.) was born in the small city of Minden, the seat of Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana, to John Barnard Snell (1884-1959) and the former Ada Jack Carver (1890-1972). J.B. Snell was the principal of Minden High School from 1913-1917, when he left to join the United States Army during World War I. On his return to Minden, the senior Snell operated his own cotton gin.[1]

Ada Snell was born in Natchitoches, Louisiana, to Marshall H. Carver and the former Ada W. Jack. She graduated from Judson College in Marion, Alabama, and became an author of short stories, most with a Louisiana setting, particularly the Cane River country of Natchitoches Parish. Her writings include "The Joyous Coast" (1917), "The Cajun" (1926), "Bagatelle" (1927), and "The Clock Strikes Tomorrow" (1935). Ada was an occasional guest at Cammie G. Henry’s Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches Parish, where she met the Louisiana author Lyle Saxon. John and Ada married in Shreveport, Louisiana.[2] Their first child, John Hampton Snell, died in a household accident shortly before what would have been his second birthday in 1921, only two days before David’s birth.[3]

In 1939, David Snell graduated from Minden High School. He thereafter planned to study medicine at Louisiana State University, where he procured a commission in the United States Army Medical Corps Reserves. He was a member of Phi Chi and the Sigma Nu fraternity.[4]

Journalism career

After he was stricken with scarlet fever, Snell left medical school and devoted his pursuits to journalism. Early in his career, as a staff member of the Atlanta Constitution (since Atlanta Journal-Constitution) in Atlanta, Georgia, he penned a controversial and unsubstantiated story alleging Japan's successful test of an atomic bomb prior to the American bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.[5] On August 29, 1945, a B-29 called the Hog Wild was fired upon by Soviet Yak-3 fighters. Snell's Atlanta Constitution article speculates that the plane was forced down to prevent its crew from spotting a Japanese atomic bomb facility in what is now Hŭngnam, now the third largest city in North Korea.[6]

Snell filed a number of stories for the Constitution, both while he was in military training in the United States and after he arrived with the occupation forces in Korea in World War II. One of his stories from Korea is based on an interview with Bishop Arthur J. Moore of Atlanta, who had visited China and Japan in an effort to survey conditions regarding the return of missionaries into those countries after the cessation of hostilities. In Korea, Snell was assigned to the 24th Criminal Investigation Detachment to investigate crimes against the United States. His discovery of the atom bomb story had been beyond his official assignment with the Atlanta Constitution, and was unrelated to his military assignment.[5]

In 1967, Snell reviewed the Warren Beatty-Faye Dunaway film Bonnie and Clyde. In 1934, when David was barely thirteen, the senior Snell had taken him to the location in Bienville Parish where law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Henderson Jordan, had ambushed the fugitives after a regional chase which attracted national headlines.[7]

That same year Snell received national attention for the Life article "How It Feels to Die" based on a personal near-death experience.[8]

In addition to his tenure with Life, which ended with the magazine’s first closing in December 1972, Snell wrote articles for The Smithsonian and The New Yorker. In the February 1972, edition of The Smithsonian, he published “The Green World of Carrie Dormon”, a reference to Caroline Dormon, the naturalist from Natchitoches and Bienville parishes who pushed for the development of Kisatchie National Forest.[9]

Family breakup

While with the Constitution, Snell lived in Marietta, Georgia, with his first wife, the former Julia Williams, later Julia Black (died 2004), originally from Augusta in Woodruff County, Arkansas. The couple had two sons, Barry Snell (born January 3, 1945), an attorney, and Jan Whitfield Snell (born 1948), a businessman, both of San Antonio, Texas. Julia met Snell at LSU. She became a Broadway performer in New York City, having studied music at LSU and then at the Juilliard School in Manhattan.[10]

In 1947, the Snells moved to New York and lived in a neighborhood in the Queens borough, as Snell took a position with the since defunct New York World-Telegram. During this time, he did cartoons regarding the Army-McCarthy hearings. He then left the ‘’World-Telegram’’ for Life.[7]

After a bitter divorce, Snell was estranged from his sons for the remainder of his life. Barry Snell recalls not having been notified at the time of his father's death. In 1957, the Minden Herald and Webster Review reported that Snell was the head of the Paris Bureau for Life. The paper said that Snell had come to Minden to visit his parents but that his wife (unnamed second spouse) remained behind in Paris.[11]

A physically large man who did some professional wrestling, Snell was already balding and bespectacled while he was in his early thirties.[7] Snell and his second wife, the former Dixie Oliver (born October 1, 1923), had two sons, Mark Snell and wife Minori H. Snell, and Steven M. Snell. Dixie was a food writer at the time the two married.[10]

Snell’s legacy

The Snells were residing in Houston at the time of his death in 1987 at the age of sixty-six. The Houston Post did not carry an article about his death or a regular notice in the obituary section of the newspaper.[12] Notice is found in a column by a former colleague, Charles Champlin, in the Los Angeles Times. Champlin described Snell as having “low-brow humor {which was} a masquerade for a sharp intelligence, a surprising amount of insecurity and more than his quota of private anxieties and sadness. After his magazine years and until his death, Snell was a successful and gifted free-lance writer, a gentle family man.”[7]

J.B. and Ada Snell are interred at Minden Cemetery on the left side of the western entrance to the old section of graves. John Hampton Snell is interred in the same plot as his parents.[3] David Snell and Julia Black were cremated. Dixie Snell still resides in Houston.

Of his journalism profession, Snell once quipped: "In this business, you either sink or swim or you don’t."[7] Snell is among the Minden natives included in exhibits at the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum, which opened in 2008.

Bill Streifer of Long Beach, New York, and Irek Sabitov of Ufa, the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan, Russia, are co-authoring the book, The Flight of the Hog Wild, which will offer detailed information on David Snell.[6]


  1. ^ Obituary of John Barnard Snell, Minden Herald, March 23, 1959
  2. ^ "”Findagrave.com: Ada Jack Carver Snell”". findagrave.com. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Snell&GSfn=Ada&GSby=1890&GSbyrel=in&GSdy=1972&GSdyrel=in&GSst=20&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=29288891&. Retrieved September 4, 2009.  
  3. ^ a b Cemetery records, Minden Cemetery, Minden, Louisiana
  4. ^ ’’Webster Review’’, August 25, 1942, p. 1
  5. ^ a b ""1946 Atlanta Constitution Atomic Bomb Articles"". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. http://www.reformation.org/atlanta-constitution.html. Retrieved September 4, 2009.  
  6. ^ a b "Atlanta Constitution, October 3, 1946". my-jia.com. http://www.my-jia.com/The_Flight_of_the_Hog_Wild. Retrieved September 21, 2009.  
  7. ^ a b c d e Charles Champlin, art editor, "A Stamp of Approval for a Friend", Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1987
  8. ^ "”Near-Death Experience: David Snell, "How It Feels to Die", ‘’Life’’ (62(21)38-47 (May 26, 1967)". obebibliography.info. http://obebibliography.info/NDE.htm. Retrieved September 4, 2009.  
  9. ^ David Snell, “The Green World of Carrie Dormon”, ‘’The Smithsonian’’ (February 1972), p. 31
  10. ^ a b Statement of Barry Snell, oldest son of David Snell, attorney in San Antonio, Texas, August 2009
  11. ^ Minden Herald and Webster Review, December 19, 1957, p. 8
  12. ^ Review of Houston Post, July 1-9, 1987


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