Louis "Studs" Terkel (May 16, 1912 October 31, 2008) -- a well-known progressive American author, historian, actor, and broadcaster who lived in Chicago. He is best known as the pre-eminent oral historian of his time, and a chronicler of the lives and travails of common Americans. Terkel also hosted a long-running radio show in Chicago.
Terkel was born in New York City on May 16, 1912 to Robert and Anna Terkel, who were Russian-Jewish immigrants, but at the age of eight his family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he spent most of his life. His father was a tailor and his mother, the former Anna Finkel, was a circus performer. Studs Terkel had two brothers, Ben (19071965) and Meyer.
From 1926 to 1936, his parents ran a rooming house that became a home where Terkel met a wide variety of personalities. Terkel often credited his knowledge of the wider world to the tenants who gathered in the lobby of the his family's rooming house and other people who he met in nearby Bughouse Square. In 1939, Studs Terkel married Ida Goldberg (19121999) and they had one son, Paul (also known as Dan), who was named after progressive activist Paul Robeson.
Terkel received his J.D. degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1934, but he left the legal profession to join a theater group.
Studs Terkel joined the Works Progress Administration's Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s, worked in radio, doing everything from voicing soap opera productions and announcing news and sports, to presenting recorded music, writing radio scripts and creating radio advertisements.
He was well-known for his radio program titled The Studs Terkel Program that 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 and Leonard Bernstein.
But of course, Studs Terkel is best remembered as an author, and he published his first book, Giants of Jazz, in 1956. He followed it with a number of other books (see below), most focusing on the history of the United States people, as told through their own storis in oral histories. He also served as a distinguished scholar-in-residence at the Chicago History Museum. He appeared in a movie based on the Black Sox Scandal, Eight Men Out, 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 who was named, Louis. In order to keep the two straight, the director of the production gave Terkel the nickname Studs after the fictional character which Terkel was reading at the timeStuds Lonigan, of James T. Farrell's trilogy.
Perhaps, Terkel was best known for his oral histories, such as the 1970 book, Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, for which he assembled recollections of the Great Depression that spanned the socioeconomic spectrum, from Okies, through prison inmates, to the wealthy. His 1974 book, Working: 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.
Terkel won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for The Good War, which challenged the prevailing notion that, in contrast to the Vietnam War era, World War II was a time of unblemished national solidarity, goodwill, and unified purpose.
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.
Studs Terkel died on October 31, 2008 at the age of 96.
Bibliography of Studs Terkel (partial)
Giants of Jazz (1957)
Division Street: America (1967)
Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970)
Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974)
Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times (1977)
American Dreams: Lost and Found (1983)
The Good War (1984)
The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream (1988)
Race: What Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession (1992)
Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Whove Lived It (1995)
My American Century (1997)
The Spectator: Talk About Movies and Plays With Those Who Make Them (1999)
Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth and Hunger for a Faith (2001)
Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Difficult Times (2003)
And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey (2005)
Touch and Go (2007)
P.S. Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening (2008)