In a memorable scene from the 1989 comedy "Uncle Buck," John Candy makes pancakes for Macaulay Culkin's birthday that are so large he needs a snow shovel to flip them.
Kenneth Gagnon, a master carpenter and veteran of Chicago movie sets, made the sight gag work.
"His job was to figure out how to make a gigantic, realistic-looking pancake that could be flipped without falling apart," said his daughter, Aileen Troia. "After only a couple of tries he came up with a winner — a pancake made of half batter and half synthetic."
Mr. Gagnon, 79, known to many as "Papa Gags," died Saturday, Jan. 4, at Alden Poplar Creek Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Hoffman Estates after a series of strokes.
Mr. Gagnon became a member of the Studio Mechanics Local Union 476 in Chicago in 1966. He worked on movies including "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (1989), "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" (1992), "Chain Reaction" (1996), "My Best Friend's Wedding" (1997) and "Return to Me" (2000). One of the last films he worked on was "Road to Perdition" (2002) starring Paul Newman.
"I've known Ken since I was 18 and have always looked up to him," said Brad Matthys, president of the Local 476. "Back in the day, before specialization, he'd build a movie set, light it and then take it down after it was over. He did it all."
In the early 1970s, Mr. Gagnon worked in lighting as part of a roving news crew with Television News Inc. in Chicago.
"He had a wonderful eye," said Dick Oates, who met Mr. Gagnon as a fellow crew member with TVN. "It was his precision, accuracy and the ability to zero in on details that made him great with lighting, as well as (being) a supreme carpenter."
Born in Chicago, Mr. Gagnon spent his early childhood on the Northwest Side but later moved with his family to Hibbing, Minn., where his parents owned and operated a resort.
After graduating from high school he returned to Chicago, where he met and married Catherine Blunk. The couple lived in Norridge and had six children, before their divorce in 1984.
Mr. Gagnon began his career in the mid-1960s with the help of a cousin who worked as a Chicago stagehand. One of his first gigs was the 1969 Francis Ford Coppola film "The Rain People," shot in Colorado and starring James Caan and Robert Duvall.
"He met a lot of interesting people when they were still young and long before they became famous," his daughter said.
An avid outdoorsman, Mr. Gagnon moved from Norridge to rural northern Minnesota in the mid-1980s but continued working part time on movies and TV commercials here and around the country. About three decades ago his two sons, Tommy and Kenny, followed him into the business.
"From that point on he became known as Papa Gags," his daughter said.
Mr. Gagnon returned to the Chicago area two years ago to be closer to family.
Survivors also include three other daughters, Catherine Ferry, Sharon Rubino and Annette Cortez; two brothers, Wally and Clem; two sisters, Yvonne Olsen and Jeanette Cuchetto; and 12 grandchildren.
Services were held.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun