Syd Cassyd; Television Academy Founder
Syd Cassyd, the founder of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, died Friday at his home in Los Angeles after a long illness. He was 91.
Begun by Cassyd in 1946, the academy has grown into one of the most influential organizations in the entertainment industry today. In addition to sponsoring the annual Emmy Awards, which recognize outstanding entertainment and news achievement in television, the academy has a variety of outreach and archival programs. In recent years, it has also initiated forums for the discussion of television’s role in society.
“He was the inspiration and the man responsible for the start of the academy,” said Chairman Meryl Marshall. “His commitment to recognizing and celebrating and encouraging the best this medium has to offer was an important heritage and one we honor. He was a very dear man.”
Born in Teaneck, N.J., on Dec. 28, 1908, Cassyd worked for the Army Signal Corps as a film editor under then-Col. Frank Capra during World War II. After the war, Cassyd moved to Hollywood, where he worked as an editor for Box Office magazine, as well as a grip at Paramount Pictures.
It was at Paramount that he met and teamed up with legendary TV groundbreaker Klaus Landsberg, known for, among other things, pioneering live TV news coverage. Cassyd and Landsberg worked on an experimental Los Angeles television station that would eventually become KTLA-TV Channel 5.
While at KTLA, Cassyd felt that TV needed an organization in which people could share their ideas about the fledgling medium and talk about the future of the industry. He founded the academy with seven people who came to the first meeting.
“If it wasn’t for Syd, we wouldn’t have the television academy today, at least not in its present form,” said Hank Reiger, former editor of Emmy magazine. “He was a very farsighted individual back in the early days [of television]. He was a gentleman and a very knowledgeable man.”
In a 1996 interview, Cassyd recalled that by the fifth academy meeting, there were 250 members. “That’s how rapidly we grew,” he said. “People could make connections, come up with ideas and try to solve problems. For example, was something going to be filmed or live? Which union was going to do that?”
Cassyd asked ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, a popular radio and movie star, to be the academy’s first president on Jan. 7, 1947. A year later the academy formally became a nonprofit organization, its chief goal being “to promote the cultural, educational and research aim of television.”
Cassyd became president of the academy in 1950 and over the years held various other positions. In 1991, the academy’s board of governors created the Syd Cassyd Founder’s Award in his honor and presented the first one to him.
Besides his work with the academy, Cassyd taught film production at New York University and worked with various other colleges setting up film programs. He also produced episodes of the 1952 children’s shows “Candy’s Playhouse” and “Young Musical America,” produced documentaries and was the founder of TV News, the first monthly TV magazine of criticism.
Cassyd’s daughter, Donna, remembered him Friday as never losing his love of the medium, though as a documentary filmmaker she recalls him being more drawn to news shows--with a particular fondness for C-SPAN in his later life.
“He was a person that wanted television to be for all people,” she said. “Even though it was something he created, he never hesitated to critique the academy when it came to ethical and moral issues--that is a proud legacy he has given me.”
The family requests that donations be made to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation for the support of increasing diversity in television. Funeral services for Cassyd, who is also survived by his wife, Miriam, will be at noon Monday in the chapel at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.