David Snell (journalist)

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David Snell
Born(1921-03-28)March 28, 1921
DiedJuly 1987 (aged 66)
Alma materLouisiana State University
OccupationJournalist; cartoonist, with service at Life magazine
Years active1945-1987
Spouse(s)(1) Julia Williams Snell (divorced)
(2) Dixie Oliver Snell
ChildrenFirst marriage:

Barry Snell
Jan Whitfield Snell
Second marriage:
Mark Snell

Steven M. Snell
Parent(s)John Barnard Snell
Ada Jack Carver Snell

David Snell (March 28, 1921 – July 1987) was a reporter and cartoonist for Life Magazine, a major 20th-century magazine, and several other publications during his career as a journalist.


David Snell (no middle name) was born in Minden in Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana, to John Barnard "J.B." 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] In 1936, he headed the Boy Scouts of America fund drive for Bienville, Claiborne and Webster parishes.[2] J. B. Snell was for more than twenty years a member of the Webster Parish School Board and in 1948 the vice president of the Louisiana School Boards Association.[3] A decade later in 1958, Snell was named president of the Minden Building and Loan Association.[4]

Ada Carver 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, writing 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.[5] 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.[6]

In 1939, Snell graduated from Minden High School. He planned to study medicine at Louisiana State University, where he procured a commission in the United States Army Medical Corps Reserves.[7] He was a member of Phi Chi and the Sigma Nu fraternity.[7]

Journalism career[edit]

After becoming ill with scarlet fever, Snell left medical school and switched to journalism, becoming a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution (since Atlanta Journal-Constitution) in Atlanta, Georgia. He was later in charge of the Constitution's News Bureau at Marietta before entering the Army in 1945.

During his military service, Snell filed a number of stories to the Constitution while training in the US and also after arriving in Korea with occupation forces following the war. In Korea, Snell was assigned to the 24th Criminal Investigation Detachment, which investigated crimes against the United States.

One of his stories from Korea is based on an interview with Bishop Arthur J. Moore of Atlanta, who had visited China and Japan to survey conditions relate to the return of missionaries into those countries after the cessation of hostilities. While assigned to the 24th Criminal Investigation Detachment, Snell wrote a story alleging Japan's successful test of an atomic bomb prior to the American bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It was unsubstantiated and controversial.[8] 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.[9] His discovery of the atom bomb story had been outside his official line of duty and was not any part of his official assignment.[8]

Snell became the Life assistant editor on February 1, 1955. Late in 1956, he was assigned to the Paris bureau.[10]

In 1967, Snell reviewed the Warren Beatty-Faye Dunaway film Bonnie and Clyde. As a 13-year-old boy, he had traveled with his father 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.[11] That same year Snell received national attention for the Life article "How It Feels to Die," based on a personal near-death experience.[12]

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.[13]

Family breakup[edit]

While with the Constitution, Snell lived in Marietta, Georgia, with his first wife, the former Julia Williams, originally from Augusta in Woodruff County, Arkansas. The couple had two sons, Barry Snell (born January 3, 1945), who became an attorney, and Jan Whitfield Snell (born February 15, 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.[14]

In 1947, the Snells moved to New York City 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 left The World-Telegram for Life.[11]

After a bitter divorce, Snell was estranged from his first two sons for the remainder of his life. (Julia Snell married a man named "Black" and died in 2004.) 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.[15]

Snell and his second wife, the former Dixie Oliver (born October 1, 1923), had two sons, Mark and Steven M. Snell. Dixie was a food editor of the New York World-Telegram at the time the two married.[14]

Snell’s legacy[edit]

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.[16] 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.”[11]

J. B. and Ada Snell are interred at historic 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.[6] 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."[11] Snell is among the Minden natives included in exhibits at the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum, which opened in 2008.

Bill Streifer of Inwood, 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.[9]


  1. ^ Obituary of John Barnard Snell, Minden Herald, March 23, 1959
  2. ^ "J. B. Snell will head Scout Fund drive in North Louisiana", Minden Herald, October 2, 1936, p. 1
  3. ^ "J. B. Snell Elected Officer in La. School Boards Association", Minden Herald, March 12, 1948, p. 1
  4. ^ "J.B. Snell President of Minden Building and Loan", Minden Herald, July 17, 1958, p. 1
  5. ^ "Findagrave.com: Ada Jack Carver Snell". findagrave.com. Retrieved September 4, 2009.
  6. ^ a b Cemetery records, Minden Cemetery, Minden, Louisiana
  7. ^ a b ’’Webster Review’’, August 25, 1942, p. 1
  8. ^ a b "1946 Atlanta Constitution Atomic Bomb Articles". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved September 4, 2009.
  9. ^ a b "Atlanta Constitution, October 3, 1946". my-jia.com. Retrieved September 21, 2009.
  10. ^ "David Snell Assigned to Paris Life Bureau", Minden Press, January 28, 1957, p. 1
  11. ^ a b c d Charles Champlin, "A Stamp of Approval for a Friend", Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1987
  12. ^ ""Near-Death Experience: David Snell, "How It Feels to Die", Life (62(21)38-47) (May 26, 1967)". obebibliography.info. Retrieved September 4, 2009.
  13. ^ David Snell, “The Green World of Carrie Dormon”, ‘’The Smithsonian’’ (February 1972), p. 31
  14. ^ a b Statement of Barry Snell, oldest son of David Snell, attorney in San Antonio, Texas, August 2009
  15. ^ Minden Herald and Webster Review, December 19, 1957, p. 8
  16. ^ Review of Houston Post, July 1–9, 1987