The story of Studs Terkel and Nelson Algren

“Let’s Get Working: Chicago Celebrates Studs Terkel” at U of C

Tom Weinberg

founder, Media Burn Archive
independent producer

Studs Terkel

at Lawry’s Tavern, 1991
photo by Matthew Gilson

One Sunday afternoon in 1975, a group of about eight young video experimenters finished editing a version of the first “It’s a Living” documentary, based on Studs Terkel’s best-selling book, “Working.”

Studs came over to Videopolis on Clark Street (now the Metro), the space we had been working in, to see the videotape for the first time.

We were nervous about how he’d react. Nothing like it had ever been done on video before.  We consciously and deliberately modeled this new style of Chicago video after the way Studs created oral/audio history.  His non-judgmental process, getting people to say real things, and edit them into a piece with integrity, was the inspiration for the way we did it.  What people had to say and how they did it always trumped fancy technical production techniques.

To everyone’s surprise, Studs walked in with his pal, Nelson Algren.  Fortunately for all, we had wine, beer and various other relaxants available.

We hooked up the monitor and played it. “It’s a Living” was based on the idea of showing what people do all day and how they feel about it… just like the book.  The “show” included segments with three of the people who were in the book, three others whom we chose somewhat randomly, and Studs himself.

I think it was the first time he saw himself on a candid videotape.  Needless to say, he loved it.

The video that follows shows what happened immediately after the screening…

At the time, Judy Hoffman, Anda Korsts and I knew we had been part of a rare historical moment.

—TW, 5/14

Join us for a screening of “It’s a Living” on Friday, May 9 at 8pm as part of “Let’s Get Working: Chicago Celebrates Studs Terkel.”

Media Burn’s Terkel collection contains more than 300 hours of footage with Studs from seven decades. It was restored and digitized through the support of the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission in 2008 and 2009.

Let's Get Working: Chicago Celebrates Studs Terkel

MAY 9-11
Friday 4pm-11pm; Saturday 9am-11pm; Sunday 1:30-3:30pm

Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts
University of Chicago
915 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL
Full schedule at



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