Studs Terkel, 1912-2008


photo by Ellen Shub

Louis Terkel was born May 16, 1912 in Bronx, New York. At the age of eight he moved with his parents to Chicago, Illinois, where he spent most of his life. 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, Paul (also known as Dan), who was named after Paul Robeson.

Terkel joined the Depression-era Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project, doing radio 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.

Terkel was well-known for his radio show "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 45 years. He was also the central character of "Studs’ Place" in the late 1940s and early 1950s, an unscripted television drama about the owner of a greasy-spoon diner in Chicago through which many famous people and interesting characters passed.

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 published his first book, Giants of Jazz, in 1956. He followed it with a number of other books, but he was probably 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 to 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, was also 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.

Terkel’s personal memoir Touch and Go was published in the fall of 2007.

On May 22, 2008, 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, stating: "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."

Terkel died peacefully in his Chicago home on Friday, October 31 at the age of 96. At his last public appearance in 2007, Terkel said he was "still in touch—but ready to go."


This memorial was compiled from various Internet obituaries and information from Wikipedia.