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Snider, Leon Samuel (1896–1965)

by Rosslyn Finn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Leon Samuel Snider (1896-1965), theatre proprietor, entrepreneur and politician, was born on 6 February 1896 in Melbourne and named Samuel, sixth child of Polish-born immigrants Samuel Phillip Snider, fruiterer, and his wife Rose Dinah, née Palitz. Educated at St Mary's school, West Melbourne (where he established a lifelong friendship with Arthur Calwell) and at Scotch College, Sam joined his elder brother Mendel in the family's diverse businesses, which included a cider brewery. During World War I he served as a lieutenant in the Militia, based in Melbourne. Following the Armistice, he travelled through Berlin to White Russia, carrying suitcases of cash to assist relations to escape from the Bolsheviks to the United States of America.

On his return to Melbourne, Snider joined Hoyts Theatres Ltd. By the late 1920s he was managing Hoyts in Sydney. Rivals vied to create the most lavish 'picture palace': Snider oversaw the construction of the Regent (1928) and Plaza (1930) theatres in George Street; Stuart Doyle built the State Theatre (1929) in Market Street. Styling himself Leon Samuel, Snider married 22-year-old Ruth Etta Noreen Cohen on 15 May 1930 at the Great Synagogue, Sydney. They lived first at Bellevue Hill and then at Point Piper, and spent holidays at Jervis Bay where Snider leased (1936-43) a cottage from the Commonwealth government on the site of the former Royal Australian Naval College. In 1937 he helped to found the Temple Emanuel, Woollahra. Increasing anti-semitism in Europe prompted him and others to lobby the Commonwealth government to permit the immigration of central Europeans, many with professional qualifications.

In 1935 Snider resigned from Hoyts. With George Dean, he established Snider & Dean Theatres Pty Ltd, theatrical entrepreneurs and independent film distributors. They bought picture theatres from Sir Benjamin Fuller in Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Snider & Dean imported the successful American revue the Marcus Show in its entirety in 1937. Two members of its chorus were to have prominent careers—Daniel Kaminski (Danny Kaye) and a hill-billy singer called Bob Dyer. Snider negotiated contracts to assist Jewish musicians, among them the Weintraub Syncopators who settled in Sydney in 1939 and later played at Prince's Restaurant.

Snider's plans to bring cinema to the country encompassed special Friday-night shows at the School of Arts, Carcoar. He owned two theatres at Bathurst, and used bicycle couriers to show—reel by reel—one movie between them. In 1940 he bought Stokefield, a property at Carcoar, and used it as a base from which to supervise the chain of thirty-five 'hardtop' cinemas he had developed throughout western New South Wales. That year he chaired the Film Exhibitors' Council of Australia.

An alderman (1942-48) on Woollahra Municipal Council, Snider was mayor in 1944. He had been elected (1942) as an Independent to the Legislative Council for twelve years, but later joined the Liberal Party. Generous to his political opponents, he also tried to help immigrants and successfully campaigned for some refugees to be reclassified as 'friendly aliens'. He served on the select committee on the local government (areas) bill that investigated boundaries within the County of Cumberland. Re-elected for a further twelve years in 1954, he crossed the floor and joined the Country Party in 1959 when some Liberals supported the Australian Labor Party's proposal to abolish the council.

The interests of Snider & Dean expanded to include importing (beer, wine and spirits) and hotels (in Sydney and the country). After World War II, Snider was agent for Adler Business Machines Inc., a director of Hale's Secretarial Colleges Pty Ltd, Andersons Seeds Ltd and Stenex Business Equipment Co., and chairman of Williamson Gerard (Australasia) Ltd, wine and spirit merchants. By 1956, when it appeared that television would affect attendance at cinemas, he converted to new wide-screen systems and showed such blockbusters as The Robe (1953).

A keen racegoer and racehorse-owner, Sam Snider belonged to Tattersall's Club, and to the Monash Country Club for golfers, near Narrabeen. His wife was a foundation member of the American National Club, Sydney. He died of cerebral thrombosis on 9 August 1965 at Rose Bay and was buried in Rookwood cemetery; his wife, and their daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • S. D. Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora (Syd, 1988)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 24 Aug 1965, p 9
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Sept 1935, 20 June 1936, 17 June 1937, 7 Apr 1939, 19 July 1940, 30 Sept 1959, 10 Aug 1965
  • Sydney Jewish News, 13 Aug 1965
  • Dept of Air, A705, item 171/93/556 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Rosslyn Finn, 'Snider, Leon Samuel (1896–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/snider-leon-samuel-11732/text20975, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 31 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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