The Famous Turkels[index]

Studs Terkel 1912-2008 and his work


Studs Terkel at 85 listening . . .
Studs Terkel at 85 listening

Studs Terkel at 95
Studs Terkel is honored on his 95th birthday
at the Chicago History Museum during a broadcast on WFMT.
He was on the station for 45 years and the program
rebroadcasted a number of his interviews.
(Tribune photo by Charles Osgood / May 16, 2007)

  • Studs Terkel dies

  • The Life Story of Studs Terkel

  • Studs Terkel to receive honorary book critics prize Associated Press report 1/20/04

  • History from the bottom up by Aaron Chambers, Dec 2001
    "Using Chicago as a microcosm, Studs Terkel has helped defineAmerica, with all its divisions and unions." "The 89-year-old Terkel is a self-described Luddite, someone who rejects technological change. He doesn’t drive a car and, for that matter, has no license to drive. He prefers a typewriter to a computer. And, as he confesses, he sometimes has trouble operating basic recording equipment."

  • CNN - Studs Terkel: Still speaking for the common man - September 11,1997
        The above link would open a search page for Studs at

  • Creative Artists at the macdowell colony
    MACDOWELL COLONISTS At its founding the Colony was an experiment for which there was no precedent. It stands now on its record with over 4,500 artists having worked there. Edwin Arlington Robinson was among the first applicants to MacDowell when...     1644 bytes, 1998/03/19

  • Leather Soul labor video documentary
    LEATHER SOUL: Working for a Life in a Factory Town Narrated by Studs Terkel PRODUCER: Bob Quinn DIRECTOR/EDITOR: Joe Cultrera WRITER: John Stanton CAMERA: Henry Ferrini The rhythmic grind of machinery, the breath of smokestacks, the cacophony of...     6801 bytes, 1997/07/30

  • Studs Terkel
    Studs Terkel An interview with the man who interviews America By Kira Albin Photos by Sharon Green In a standard-sized room at the San Francisco Marriott Hotel, Studs Terkel and I sit across a small round table from each other. The room is filled...     3057 bytes, 1996/02/06

  • Studs Terkel
    Studs Terkel An interview with the man who interviews America By Kira Albin Photos by Sharon Green Terkel, now 83, is thriving, ebullient, and a little hard of hearing. He wears his trademark red and white checked shirt and red socks. They match...     7390 bytes, 1996/02/06

  •  From the New York Times, June 17, 1997
    A Listener and Talker Becomes a Literary Lion: It's Official.     By MEL GUSSOW


    From the New York Times, June 17, 1997

    A Listener and Talker Becomes a Literary Lion: It's Official

    At 85, Studs Terkel says, 'Here I am, for better or worse.'

    Studs Terkel is a wise and watchful chronicler of life and hard times in the United States, and anyone planning a Terkel-like study of the in the 20th century should have him at the top of the list of people to be interviewed. Visiting Manhattan from his home in Chicago recently to be inducted into the American Academy of arts and Letters, he took a long look at himself at 85 and said, "Here I am, for better or worse." And in his typical fashion that called for an explanation.

    When I was 13 or 14, I saw a play called 'Burlesque,' with Hal Skelly and a young actress named Barbara Stanwyck. He's an old drunk and she's this young hoofer, and she sticks with him all the way. Her last line is, 'I married you for better or worse." He says, 'Yeah, better for me, worse for you.'

    "I never forgot that line. For better or worse, here I be Ecce Homo."

    Beheld, the man is slightly rumpled and unprepossessing. He could disappear in a crowd. But when he speaks, he is inimitable, with an encyclopedic knowledge and an insatiable inquisitiveness.

    His response to joining the eminent poets and novelists in the American Academy: "It's official!" And that reminded him of a story. Everything reminds him of a story.

    "Once I knew a hoodlum in Chicago. His job was to collect from tavern keepers who were remiss in payments on jukebox receipts. No one ever refused. He's in a couple of my books. I call him Kid Pharaoh. He would say in an authoritative voice, 'Do you know that Chiang Kai-shek owned three quarters of the gambling casinos in Las Vegas?'" If anyone questioned his statement, he would say, "It's official."

    Mr. Terkel added, "I've been told I'm not much of a writer and don't deserve to be in the Academy. But from now on, it's official!''

    A conversation with him is like a jazz riff, with digressions within digressions. Terkel talk is salted with slang and literary allusions and peppered with exclamations. By his own measure, he is a man of many contradictions, beginning with the fact that he is famous as a listener but suffers froth "a touch of logorrhea." He is so voluble that one wonders how his subjects get a word in edgewise.

    But today it was his turn to speak. Having a martini (straight up) at the Algonquin, he opened the album of his life, starting with his childhood. Studs-style, here is what he said: "I loved vaudeville. Chicago had a Palace Theater. Second balcony, 25 cents. There were nine acts. Oh, those glorious nights. They were my desiderata."

    He also 'loved jazz, "buying used records in gallimaufry shops," and getting to know musicians like Big Bill Broonzy.

    His dream was simply to be a spectator, "to have a civil service job, and to see plays and ball games and movies." He went to law school, worked on a Federal employment project during the Depression and briefly was an actor. That led him to radio as a disk jockey. "I came out of radio -- this is important -- not out of writing."

    Looking at the tape recorder on the table, he interjected, "Is this coming through? I always worry about tape recorders. My bread and butter, yet I'm absolutely inept on it. I've lost more people. I lost Martha Graham. Sometimes I forget to press the button. Enslaved to technology! If you ask me about a computer, you're talking Aramaic. Hardware to me is hammer, nails, saw. Software is pillowcases, bedspreads, Turkish towels."

    Returning to the subject of recorders, he said, "Nixon and I were empathetic, neo-Cartesians. I tape therefore I am. I'd never destroy my tapes. I have 9,000 hours. That's why I'm leaving WFMT after 45 years to work with the Chicago Historical Society. I'm hearing these voices, like Joan of Arc."

    Occasionally he talked to jazzmen and folk singers on his radio show. "Then a woman called and said, 'You should do more of those.' More of what? 'The way you talk to people. It's as though we're hearing something we hadn't heard before.'"

    So he started regular interviews, gathering a wide spectrum of celebrities but also talking to the noncelebrated, and they later became the foundation of his books.

    His conversational curiosity had first been awakened at his mother's hotel in Chicago, the Wells-Grand, so named because it was on the corner of Wells Street and Grand Avenue. In the lobby, he talked to railroad firemen and labor organizers as well as loyal company men, and he nurtured a penchant for seeking out "unofficial truth."

    As a hotel keeper's son, he said, his fantasy was to become a concierge like Henry Daniell in the movies. "The snob of snobs, leading the vulgar rich down the garden path. Or like Jim Hawkins in 'Treasure Island.' He ran the Benbow Tavern in Bristol, and all those pirates came in. That was me, Jim Hawkins

    "So when it comes to talking to people who are called ordinary but could be extraordinary, who do I choose? People who articulate what others feel but can't say."

    One secret of his talent is his lack of pretension. "I'm not someone from Olympus, from '60 Minutes.' As a result, they're relaxed. When in doubt, play trump: call on childhood. The dam bursts. What I do is listen, listen."

    It was a publisher, Andre Schiffrin, who suggested he write a book. Having published Jan Myrdal's "Report from a Chinese Village," he thought Mr. Terkel should do a report on an American village, Chicago. The result was "Division Street," and that was followed by "Hard Times," about the Depression, "Working" (which became a Broadway musical) and books about World War II and aging. In each case, a collage of people, most of them unknown, speak up about their lives and their aspirations. His new book, erican Century," to be published this summer by the New Press, is an anthology of introductions and interviews from his previous works.

    The books begin as oral journalism but turn into richly populated canvases of Americana. Studiously, Mr. Terkel keeps himself off tape, but he remains a presence as he guides his subjects into revealing themselves and, later, as he edits them so that their stories become as dramatic as fiction. He is always on the alert for stories of "redemption and revelation.''

    One of his models is Henry Mayhew, who wrote about the common man in Dickens's day. Mayhew was the Studs Terkel of the 19th century. With her documentary monodramas about public events, Anna Deavere Smith could be regarded as one of Mr. Terkel's progeny.

    He continued: "There's a Brecht poem that asks, who built the Pyramids? The Pharaoh? He didn't lift a finger. In a sense, these people are my heroes and heroines. In a way, I celebrate them."

    One complaint about radio:: "I happen to like call-in programs, but not the way they're run today. It's not just Rush Limbaugh. The line of demarcation between news and entertainment is no longer there. Like Gresham's law, bad stuff puts good stuff out of existence. Hannah Arendt spoke about the banality of evil. What's taken over is the evil of banality.''

    In anticipation of a question, he said, "Now we come to the Big One. What am I? My wife says I'm a chameleon."

    Speaking to a friend or a stranger, he often takes on the coloration of the other person. He is a natural mimic. "My wife can tell me who I'm talking to on the phone. Nelson Algren had a slow way of talking. She'd hear me, and she'd say, 'Give Nelson my best regards.'"

    Although Mr. Terkel was born in New York City (as Louis Turkel), he has lived in Chicago since he was 8, and he is known, along with the columnist Mike Royko, who died in April, as the voice of that city.

    Mr. Terkel's equivalent in New York was Murray Kempton. They both won Pulitzer Prizes in 1985, Mr. Terkel for his book "The Good War," and each was a great admirer of the other. In contrast to Kempton's ornate writing style, Mr. Terkel is improvisatory, like jazz and Chicago theater, from Second City to Steppenwolf.

    "That's how I work," he said "Free association, everything happening at the moment. I don't quite know how it's going to come out."

    Warming to the conversation, he added, "As Fats Waller said, 'Give me another drink, and I'll tell all.' "  And then he settled back, and began to talk.

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