Shown left to right: 1947 "March of Dimes" Poster Girl Nancy Drury, Seymour Kneitel holding 4 1/2 year old son Kenny. Far right is Ken's grand-dad Max Fleischer. Taken in the Polio Ward of Knickerbocher Hospital, N.Y.C. Note the poster of Popeye on the back wall.
My dad loved his work… he loved to draw and he’d laugh hysterically at a good ‘gag.’ So it would seem that every day he’d go off to work wonderfully happy. Often he did. But like any other kind of show biz… the show had to go on and the business of animation had to go forward no matter what difficult times might be happening in your personal life.
Our family was greatly impacted—as so many others were—by the terrible polio epidemic that peaked in the 1940’s and 50’s. Worse as the summer months approached, polio struck down children as well as adults, both paralyzing and killing. Polio was second only to the atomic bomb in surveys of what Americans feared most.
My two brothers, Tommy and Kenny, contracted polio within weeks of each other in June 1946. They were to remain in the polio ward of New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital for fourteen months receiving the only effective treatment that existed at the time, Sister Kenny hot packs.
The only time I saw them during those months was when they were taken outside on the porch pictured in the photo above. It was several stories above the ground. Periodically my parents would take me to a spot below where I could look up and wave to them. Tommy is on the bed in the very front, Kenny is in the 3rd crib back from the front.
As a parent I’ve often looked back and wondered how my dad—a devoted father—managed to every day go to the business of making cartoons with this heavy weight in his heart.
WikipediaSeavey, Nina Gilden, Jane S. Smith, & Paul Wagner. A Paralyzing Fear: The Triumph over Polio in America. New York, New York: TV Books. 1998.