Studs Terkel

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Studs Terkel
Studs Terkel - 1979-1.jpg
Terkel in 1979
BornLouis Terkel
(1912-05-16)May 16, 1912
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedOctober 31, 2008(2008-10-31) (aged 96)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Pen nameStuds Terkel
OccupationAuthor, Historian, Radio Personality, Actor
Alma mater University of Chicago (Ph.B., 1932; J.D., 1934)
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, 1985
SpouseIda Goldberg (1939–1999)

Louis "Studs" Terkel (May 16, 1912 – October 31, 2008) [1] was an American author, historian, actor, and broadcaster. He received the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1985 for The Good War , and is best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans, and for hosting a long-running radio show in Chicago.

<i>The Good War</i> book by Studs Terkel

"The Good War": An Oral History of World War II (1984) is an oral history of World War II compiled by Studs Terkel. The work received the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

Oral history collection of information about something recorded through interviews

Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews. These interviews are conducted with people who participated in or observed past events and whose memories and perceptions of these are to be preserved as an aural record for future generations. Oral history strives to obtain information from different perspectives and most of these cannot be found in written sources. Oral history also refers to information gathered in this manner and to a written work based on such data, often preserved in archives and large libraries. Knowledge presented by Oral History (OH) is unique in that it shares the tacit perspective, thoughts, opinions and understanding of the interviewee in its primary form.


Early life

Terkel was born to Russian Jewish immigrants, Samuel Terkel, a tailor, and Anna (Annie) Finkel, a seamstress, in New York City. [2] At the age of eight he moved with his family to Chicago, Illinois, where he spent most of his life. He had two brothers, Ben (1907–1965) and Meyer (1905–1958). He attended McKinley High School. [3]

Jews in Russia have historically constituted a large religious diaspora; the vast territories of the Russian Empire at one time hosted the largest population of Jews in the world. Within these territories the primarily Ashkenazi Jewish communities of many different areas flourished and developed many of modern Judaism's most distinctive theological and cultural traditions, while also facing periods of anti-Semitic discriminatory policies and persecutions. The largest group among Russian Jews are Ashkenazi Jews, but the community also includes a significant proportion of other non-Ashkenazi Diasporan Jewish groups, such as Mountain Jews, Sephardic Jews, Crimean Karaites, Krymchaks, Bukharan Jews, and Georgian Jews.

Illinois State of the United States of America

Illinois is a state in the Midwestern and Great Lakes region of the United States. It has the fifth largest gross domestic product (GDP), the sixth largest population, and the 25th largest land area of all U.S. states. Illinois is often noted as a microcosm of the entire United States. With Chicago in northeastern Illinois, small industrial cities and immense agricultural productivity in the north and center of the state, and natural resources such as coal, timber, and petroleum in the south, Illinois has a diverse economic base, and is a major transportation hub. Chicagoland, Chicago's metropolitan area, encompasses over 65% of the state's population. The Port of Chicago connects the state to international ports via two main routes: from the Great Lakes, via the Saint Lawrence Seaway, to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, via the Illinois Waterway to the Illinois River. The Mississippi River, the Ohio River, and the Wabash River form parts of the boundaries of Illinois. For decades, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport has been ranked as one of the world's busiest airports. Illinois has long had a reputation as a bellwether both in social and cultural terms and, through the 1980s, in politics.

McKinley High School is a former Chicago public school. It opened in 1875 as West Division High School, was renamed in honor of President McKinley in 1904, and closed in 1954. Since 2009, the building has been the site of Chicago Bulls College Prep.

From 1926 to 1936, his parents ran a rooming house that also served as a meeting place for people from all walks of life. Terkel credited his understanding of humanity and social interaction to the tenants and visitors who gathered in the lobby there, and the people who congregated in nearby Bughouse Square. In 1939, he married Ida Goldberg (1912–1999), and the couple had one son. Although he received his J.D. degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1934 (and was admitted to the Illinois Bar the following year), he decided instead of practicing law, he wanted to be a concierge at a hotel, and he soon joined a theater group. [4]

Rooming house

A rooming house, also called a "multi-tenant house", is a "dwelling with multiple rooms rented out individually", in which the tenants share bathroom and kitchen facilities. Rooming houses are often used as housing for low-income people, as rooming houses are the least expensive housing for single adults, with rents in the $300-$425 CAD range. Rooming houses are usually owned and operated by private landlords. Rooming houses are better described as a "living arrangement" rather than a specially "built form" of housing; rooming houses involve people who are not related living together, often in an existing house, and sharing a kitchen, bathroom, and in some cases a living room or dining room. While there are purpose-built rooming houses, these are rare.

Juris Doctor The Juris Doctor degree (J.D. or JD), also known as the Doctor of Jurisprudence degree (J.D., JD, D.Jur. or DJur), is a graduate-entry professional degree in law and one of several Doctor of Law degree

The Juris Doctor degree, also known as the Doctor of Jurisprudence degree and sometimes erroneously rendered as "Juris Doctorate," is a graduate-entry professional degree in law and one of several Doctor of Law degrees. The Juris Doctor is earned by completing law school in Australia, Canada, the United States, and some other common law countries. It has the academic standing of a professional doctorate in the United States, a master's degree in Australia, and a second-entry, baccalaureate degree in Canada.

University of Chicago Law School law school

The University of Chicago Law School is a professional graduate school of the University of Chicago. It employs more than 200 full-time and part-time faculty and hosts more than 600 students in its Juris Doctor program, while also offering the Master of Laws, Master of Studies in Law and Doctor of Juridical Science degrees in law. It is consistently ranked among the top law schools in the world, and has produced many distinguished alumni in the judiciary, academia, government, politics and business.


A political liberal, Terkel joined the Works Progress Administration's Federal Writers' Project, working in radio, doing work that varied from voicing soap opera productions and announcing news and sports, to presenting shows of recorded music and writing radio scripts and advertisements. His well-known radio program, titled The Studs Terkel Program, aired on 98.7 WFMT Chicago between 1952 and 1997. [5] The one-hour program was broadcast each weekday during those forty-five years. On this program, he interviewed guests as diverse as Martin Luther King, Leonard Bernstein, Mort Sahl, Bob Dylan, Alexander Frey, Dorothy Parker, Tennessee Williams, Jean Shepherd, and Big Bill Broonzy.

Liberalism in the United States is a broad political philosophy centered on what many see as the unalienable rights of the individual. The fundamental liberal ideals of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion for all belief systems and the separation of church and state, right to due process and equality under the law are widely accepted as a common foundation across the spectrum of liberal thought.

Works Progress Administration largest and most ambitious United States federal government New Deal agency

The Works Progress Administration was an American New Deal agency, employing millions of people to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. It was established on May 6, 1935, by Executive Order 7034. In a much smaller project, Federal Project Number One, the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. The four projects dedicated to these were: the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), the Historical Records Survey (HRS), the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), the Federal Music Project (FMP), and the Federal Art Project (FAP). In the Historical Records Survey, for instance, many former slaves in the South were interviewed; these documents are of great importance for American history. Theater and music groups toured throughout America, and gave more than 225,000 performances. Archaeological investigations under the WPA were influential in the rediscovery of pre-Columbian Native American cultures, and the development of professional archaeology in the US.

Federal Writers Project United States federal government project to fund written work and support writers during the Great Depression

The Federal Writers' Project (FWP) was a United States federal government project created to provide jobs for out-of-work writers during the Great Depression. It was part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal program. It was one of a group of New Deal arts programs known collectively as Federal Project Number One.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Terkel was also the central character of Studs' Place, an unscripted television drama about the owner of a greasy-spoon diner in Chicago through which many famous people and interesting characters passed. This show, along with Marlin Perkins's Zoo Parade , Garroway at Large and the children's show Kukla, Fran, and Ollie , are widely considered canonical examples of the Chicago School of Television.

Greasy spoon

A greasy spoon is a small, cheap eatery – either an American diner or coffee shop, or a British cafe – typically specializing in fried foods and/or home-cooked meals. The term "greasy spoon" has been used in the United States since at least the 1920s; and is sometimes used in the United Kingdom to refer to a cafe or caff, which is not to be confused with the European term café which may mean coffeehouse or bar. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term "greasy spoon" originated in the United States and is now used in various English-speaking countries.

Marlin Perkins American zoologist

Richard Marlin Perkins was an American zoologist best known as a host of the television program Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom from 1963 to 1985.

Zoo Parade is an American television program broadcast from 1950 to 1957 that featured animals from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. The program's host was Marlin Perkins, the Zoo's director. Perkins went on to host the program Wild Kingdom. Jim Wehmeyer has described the show: "A precursor of sorts to the regularly featured animal segments on The Tonight Show and other late-night talk shows, Zoo Parade was a location-bound production during which Perkins would present and describe the life and peculiarities of Lincoln Park Zoo animals."

Terkel published his first book, Giants of Jazz , in 1956. He followed it in 1967 with his first collection of oral histories, Division Street America with 70 people talking about effect on the human spirit of living in an American metropolis. [6] [7] [8]

He also served as a distinguished scholar-in-residence at the Chicago History Museum. He appeared in the film Eight Men Out , based on the Black Sox Scandal, in which he played newspaper reporter Hugh Fullerton, who tries to uncover the White Sox players' plans to throw the 1919 World Series. Terkel found it particularly amusing to play this role, as he was a big fan of the Chicago White Sox (as well as a vocal critic of major league baseball during the 1994 baseball strike), and gave a moving congratulatory speech to the White Sox organization after their 2005 World Series championship during a television interview.

Terkel received his nickname while he was acting in a play with another person named Louis. To keep the two straight, the director of the production gave Terkel the nickname Studs after the fictional character about whom Terkel was reading at the time—Studs Lonigan, of James T. Farrell's trilogy.

Terkel was acclaimed for his efforts to preserve American oral history. His 1985 book "The Good War": An Oral History of World War Two , which detailed ordinary peoples' accounts of the country's involvement in World War II, won the Pulitzer Prize. For Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression , Terkel assembled recollections of the Great Depression that spanned the socioeconomic spectrum, from Okies, through prison inmates, to the wealthy. His 1974 book, Working , in which (as reflected by its subtitle) People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, also was highly acclaimed. Working was made into a short-lived Broadway show of the same title in 1978 and was telecast on PBS in 1982. In 1995, he received the Chicago History Museum "Making History Award" for Distinction in Journalism and Communications. In 1997, Terkel was elected a member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters. Two years later, he received the George Polk Career Award in 1999.

Later life

Studs Terkel before his 95th birthday party at the Chicago History Museum Studs Terkel.jpg
Studs Terkel before his 95th birthday party at the Chicago History Museum

In 2004, Terkel received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College. In August 2005, Terkel underwent successful open-heart surgery. At the age of ninety-three, he was one of the oldest people to undergo this form of surgery and doctors reported his recovery to be remarkable for someone of that advanced age. Terkel smoked two cigars a day until 2004.

On May 22, 2006, Terkel, along with other plaintiffs, including Quentin Young, filed a suit in federal district court against AT&T Inc., to stop the telecommunications carrier from giving customer telephone records to the National Security Agency without a court order. [9]

Having been blacklisted from working in television during the McCarthy era, I know the harm of government using private corporations to intrude into the lives of innocent Americans. When government uses the telephone companies to create massive databases of all our phone calls it has gone too far.

The lawsuit was dismissed by Judge Matthew F. Kennelly on July 26, 2006. Judge Kennelly cited a "state secrets privilege" designed to protect national security from being harmed by lawsuits. [10]

In an interview in The Guardian celebrating his 95th birthday, Terkel discussed his own "diverse and idiosyncratic taste in music, from Bob Dylan to Alexander Frey, Louis Armstrong to Woody Guthrie". [11]

Terkel published a new personal memoir entitled Touch and Go in fall 2007. [12]

Terkel was a self-described agnostic, [13] which he jokingly defined as "a cowardly atheist" during a 2004 interview with Krista Tippett on American Public Media's Speaking of Faith . [14]

One of his last interviews was for the documentary Soul of a People on Smithsonian Channel. He spoke about his participation in the Works Progress Administration.

At his last public appearance, in 2007, Terkel said he was "still in touch—but ready to go". [15] He gave one of his last interviews on the BBC Hardtalk program on February 4, 2008. [16] He spoke of the imminent election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, and offered him some advice, in October 2008. [17]

Terkel died in his Chicago home on Friday, October 31, 2008 at the age of ninety-six. He had been suffering ever since a fall in his home earlier that month. [18]

Legacy and audio recordings

External audio
Nuvola apps arts.svg Louis Daniel Armstrong talks with Studs Terkel on WFMT; 1962/6/24, 33:43, Studs Terkel Radio Archive [19]
Nuvola apps arts.svg Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks talks with Studs – Poetry Month; 1967, 45:01, Studs Terkel Radio Archive [20]
Nuvola apps arts.svg Studs Terkel's Music Interviews, includes excerpts of interviews with Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Oscar Petersen, and Memphis Slim. Library of Congress [21]

In 1998, Terkel and WFMT, the radio station which broadcast Terkel's long-running program, had donated approximately 7,000 tape recordings of Terkel's interviews and broadcasts to the Chicago History Museum. In 2010, the Museum and the Library of Congress announced a multi-year joint collaboration to digitally preserve and make available at both institutions these recordings, which the Library of Congress called, "a remarkably rich history of the ideas and perspectives of both common and influential people living in the second half of the 20th century." "For Studs, there was not a voice that should not be heard, a story that could not be told," said Gary T. Johnson, Museum president. "He believed that everyone had the right to be heard and had something important to say. He was there to listen, to chronicle, and to make sure their stories are remembered." [22] In 2014 WFMT and the Chicago History Museum announced the creation of the website, (see, which will house the entire archive of Studs Terkel interviews.

Awards and honors

In 1982, Terkel was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Illinois at Chicago. [23]

In 1985, Terkel received the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book The Good War .

President Clinton awarded Terkel the National Humanities Medal in 1997. [24]

The National Book Foundation awarded Terkel the 1997 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. [25]

In 2001, Terkel was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame as a Friend of the Community. [26]

In 2004, Terkel was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the State's highest honor) by the Governor of Illinois in the area of Communications. [27]

In 2006, Terkel received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the first and only annual U.S. literary award recognizing the power of the written word to promote peace. [28] [29]

In 2010, Terkel was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. [30]

Terkel was a recipient of a George Polk Career Award and the National Book Critics Circle 2003 Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award. [31]

Terkel, despite not being black, was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Black Writers at the insistence of Haki Madhubuti. [32]

Selected works

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  1. Rick Kogan (31 October 2008). "Studs Terkel dies". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2008-11-13.
  2. William Grimes (31 October 2008). "Studs Terkel, Listener to Americans, Dies at 96". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-17.
  3. Studs Terkel (2012). Studs Terkel's Chicago. New York: New Press. pp. 46–47. ISBN   9781595587183.
  4. Jane Ammeson. "Storytelling with Studs Terkel". Chicago Life . Archived from the original on 2007-08-08.
  5. Richard Sisson; Christian K. Zacher; Andrew Robert Lee Cayton (2007). The American Midwest: an interpretive encyclopedia. Indiana University Press. p. 498.
    Previous Terkel radio work included WENR (1944 Wax Museum), WCFL (beginning November 30, 1947). A TV show (Stud's Place, beginning November, 1949) lasted to 1951.
  6. "Division Street America by Studs Terkel" . Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  7. Peter Lyon (February 5, 1967). "Chicago Voices". Books. New York Times . Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  8. "Studs Terkel, Recordings from Division Street". Chicago History Museum. Retrieved September 27, 2016. 23 original audio recordings as aired by Terkel
  9. "Author Studs Terkel, Other Prominent Chicagoans Join in Challenge to AT&T Sharing of Telephone Records with the National Security Agency". Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  10. "Judge Drops Studs Terkel NSA Lawsuit". July 25, 2006. Archived from the original on January 20, 2008.
  11. Gary Younge (January 23, 2008). "Let Me Tell You A Story". The Guardian .
  12. "Terkel records life in a 'Touch and Go' way". USA Today . December 19, 2007. Retrieved October 15, 2017.
  13. Jay Allison; Dan Gediman, eds. (2006). This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women.
  14. "Studs Terkel — Life, Faith, and Death -". Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  15. Rick Kogan (2008-10-31). "Studs Terkel dies". Chicago Tribune .
  16. "Studs Terkel". BBC News. February 4, 2008. Retrieved April 1, 2010.
  17. Edward Lifson (November 23, 2008). "Studs for Obama". Huffington Post .
  18. Wikinews-logo.svg American prize-winning author Studs Terkel dead at 96 at Wikinews
  19. "Louis Daniel Armstrong talks with Studs Terkel on WFMT; 1962/6/24". Studs Terkel Radio Archive. June 24, 1962. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  20. "Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks talks with Studs – Poetry Month; 1967". Studs Terkel Radio Archive. 1967. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  21. "Studs Terkel's Music Interviews". Library of Congress. 2014. Retrieved September 27, 2016. Includes excerpts of interviews with Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Oscar Petersen, and Memphis Slim.
  22. "Library Collaborates With Chicago History Museum To Preserve Radio Icon Studs Terkel's Historic Recordings". Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  25. Studs Terkel Accepts the 1997 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters The National Book Foundation
  26. "Inductees to the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame". Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on October 6, 2010.
  27. "Laureates by Year". The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Retrieved 2016-03-07.
  28. "Dayton Literary Peace Prize – Award Winners". Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  29. "Studs Terkel to receive first Dayton literary prize". USA Today. AP. July 19, 2006.
  30. "Studs Terkel". Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. 2010. Retrieved 2017-10-15.
  31. Studs Terkel National Book Foundation
  32. Touch and Go: A Memoir. 2007. p. 86n.