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Studs Terkel

Terkel at a universal health care rally, 2007
Born Louis Terkel
16 May 1912(1912-05-16)
New York City, New York, USA
Died 31 October 2008 (aged 96)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Occupation Author, Historian, Radio Personality, Actor
Alma mater University of Chicago (J.D., 1934)
Spouse(s) Ida Goldberg (1939-1999)
Official website

Louis "Studs" Terkel (16 May 1912 – 31 October 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.


Early life

Terkel was born to a Russian Jewish tailor, Samuel Terkel, and Anna Finkelin in New York City, New York.[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).

From 1926 to 1936, his parents ran a rooming house that was a collecting point for people of all types. Terkel credited his knowledge of the world to the tenants who gathered in the lobby of the hotel and the people who congregated in nearby Bughouse Square. In 1939, he married Ida Goldberg (1912–1999) and they had one son, Dan. Terkel received his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1934, but he said that instead of practicing law, he wanted to be a concierge at a hotel and he soon joined a theater group.[3]


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. The one-hour program was broadcast each weekday during those forty-five years. On this program, he interviewed guests as diverse as Bob Dylan, Leonard Bernstein, and Alexander Frey. 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 and the children's show Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, are widely-considered canonical examples of the Chicago School of Television.

Terkel published his first book, Giants of Jazz, in 1956. He followed it with a number of other books, most focusing on the history of the United States people, relying substantially on oral history. 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 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 in 1978 and was telecast on PBS in 1982. 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

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.

On May 22, 2006, Terkel, along with other plaintiffs, filed a suit in federal district court against AT&T, to stop the telecommunications carrier from giving customer telephone records to the National Security Agency without a court order.[4]

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.[5]

In 2006, Terkel received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize's first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.[6]

Terkel completed a new personal memoir entitled, Touch and Go, published in the fall of 2007.[7]

Terkel was a self-described agnostic,[8] which he jokingly defined as "a cowardly atheist" during a 2004 interview with Krista Tippett on NPR's Speaking of Faith. Movie critic Roger Ebert claimed that Terkel was an atheist.[9][10]

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". [10] He gave one of his last interviews on the BBC Hardtalk program on February 4, 2008.[11] He spoke of the imminent election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, and offered him some advice, in October, 2008.[12]

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 in October 2008.

Selected works

  • Giants of Jazz (1957). ISBN 1565847695
  • Division Street: America (1967) ISBN 0394422678
  • Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) ISBN 0394427742
  • Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974). ISBN 0394478845
  • Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times (1977) ISBN 0394411021
  • American Dreams: Lost and Found (1983)
  • The Good War (1984) ISBN 0394531035
  • Chicago (1986) ISBN 5551545687
  • The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream (1988)
  • Race: What Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession (1992). ISBN 978-1565840003
  • Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It (1995) ISBN 1565842847
  • My American Century (1997) ISBN 1595581774
  • The Spectator: Talk About Movies and Plays With Those Who Make Them (1999) ISBN 1565846338
  • Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth and Hunger for a Faith (2001) ISBN 0641759371
  • Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Difficult Times (2003) ISBN 1565848373
  • And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey (2005) ISBN 1595580034
  • Touch and Go (2007) ISBN 1595580433
  • P.S. Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening (2008) ISBN 1595584234


External links

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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I'm celebrated for celebrating the uncelebrated.

Louis "Studs" Terkel (1912-05-162008-10-31) was an American author, historian and broadcaster.



  • Something was still there, that something that distinguishes an artist from a performer: the revealing of self. Here I be. Not for long, but here I be. In sensing her mortality, we sensed our own.
    • On seeing a 1956 performance by Billie Holiday, Talking to Myself Bk. 4 (1977) Ch. 4
  • Doris Lessing: We simply have no idea of Chicago ... We never think of you as being on a lake, or of the city being beautiful. We think about the gangsters. You do still have gangsters, don't you?
    Terkel: Yes, but these days they're mostly in business, or politics.
  • At a time when pimpery, lick-spittlery, and picking the public's pocket are the order of the day — indeed, officially proclaimed as virtue — the poet must play the madcap to keep his balance. And ours.
  • Chicago is not the most corrupt American city, it's the most theatrically corrupt.
    • The Dick Cavett Show (9 June 1978)

The Guardian interview (2002)

I like quoting Einstein. Know why? Because nobody dares contradict you.
Online interview: "Voice of America" by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian (1 March 2002)
  • I'm celebrated for celebrating the uncelebrated.
  • For the first book, I interviewed one mother of four little kids, skinny, pretty, bad teeth — meaning no dental care — and the kids are jumping around, 'cause they want to hear their mamma's voice played back... and so I play it back, and she listens to what she said on the tape and she says, 'Oh my God,' she says. ' I never knew I felt that way before' ... That's pretty hot stuff, isn't it? That's hot stuff. That's the stuff.
  • A man comes from New York. He says, "These petitions, your name is on all of them: anti-poll tax, anti-lynching, friendship with the Soviet Union.... don't you know the communists were behind them?" And he said, "Look, you can get out of this pretty easy. All you got to do is say the communists duped you. You were dumb. You didn't mean it." I said, "But I did mean it!" To this day people say, "Oh, Studs, you were so heroic." Heroic? I was scared shitless! But my ego was at stake. My vanity. "Whaddya mean, I'm dumb?"
    • On his blacklisting in 1953
  • You know, "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely"? It's the same with powerlessness. Absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely. Einstein said everything had changed since the atom was split, except the way we think. We have to think anew.
  • I like quoting Einstein. Know why? Because nobody dares contradict you.


  • Think of what's stored in an 80- or a 90-year-old mind. Just marvel at it. You've got to get out this information, this knowledge, because you've got something to pass on. There'll be nobody like you ever again. Make the most of every molecule you've got as long as you've got a second to go. That's your charge.
    • David R. Brower, in an interview with Terkel, but much of it is sometimes misattributed to Terkel himself.

Quotes about Terkel

  • Terkel has built a career on the hunch that pretty much everyone might be worth trying to talk to: the rich and famous, certainly, and burglars and murderers and Ku Klux Klansmen — but most of all the teeming, unexamined mass of American life in between. Armed with a tape recorder, he has interviewed hundreds of people, producing a series of books that tell the story of the American century verbatim, and from the ground up: day-labourers, poor farmers and gangsters for Hard Times, his book about the Depression; everyone from steelworkers to hookers for Working, about the realities of employment in America; and his Pulitzer Prize-winning chronicle of the second world war, The Good War. They are the sound of a nation spontaneously unburdening itself to the first person who had thought to ask.
  • Redemption, he says: that's what this book and all the others are really about. His favourite interview was with CP Ellis, a former Ku Klux Klan leader who ended up fighting for the union rights of black janitors alongside his partner, an African-American woman. "Anybody can be redeemed. I've seen it."
    • Oliver Burkeman, on Terkel's views about Will the Circle be Unbroken? and his other books, in "Voice of America" in The Guardian (1 March 2002)]

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

Studs Terkel
File:Studs Terkel
Terkel at a 2007 rally about health care
Born May 16, 1912(1912-05-16)
New York City, New York,
United States
Died October 31, 2008 (aged 96)
Chicago, Illinois,
United States

Louis "Studs" Terkel (May 16, 1912–October 31, 2008[1]) was an American author, historian, actor, and broadcaster who lived in Chicago. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for his work The Good War.


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