I Remember, episode #115

Jim Peck, host of "I Remember" for Milwaukee Public Television, interviews Studs Terkel for a second installment. Terkel talks about his early days as an actor and broadcaster in Chicago and describes the interviews that influenced him the most.

00:00Copy video clip URL On-screen graphic. Cold open: Picture cuts to Terkel, saying, “My interviewing was all accidental. I didn’t mean to. I was a disc jockey.” After trying an on-air interview one day, a listener called to compliment him, and urged Terkel to do another. “It sounds like I’m hearing actual conversation that I’ve never heard before, and I’m eavesdropping,” Terkel remembers the caller saying. “That’s how it all started.”

00:39Copy video clip URL Host Jim Peck introduces Terkel as his guest in a voice-over, and the opening credits roll.

01:25Copy video clip URL Cuts to footage of Terkel speaking at a bookshop about his latest book, “Will the Circle be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth and Hunger for a Faith.” A female voice-over speaks over a photo montage about the book and gives a brief summary of Terkel’s long and varied career.

03:57Copy video clip URL Sound byte of Terkel explaining the title of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Good War.” Voice-over continues.

04:29Copy video clip URL Interview with Peck begins. “That hotel at that time was my college,” says Terkel, explaining his experiences of being raised in a men’s rooming-house that his mother ran. He also spoke of his disappointment in attending law school. “I hated it. … I dreamed of Clarence Darrow and woke up to courses like Real Property and Corporations.”

06:45Copy video clip URL Terkel explains how he—by accident—became an actor during the Great Depression, when he won a role by filling in for a sick actor at an audition. Terkel’s gravely voice later won him “dumb gangster” roles on radio soap operas. “You say that with pride,” Peck laughs. “I know, I was a good dumb one,” Terkel says, sharing more stories from his acting days.

10:17Copy video clip URL He describes his later jobs in radio and television, painting a picture of the early days of Chicago broadcasting. He also explains his McCarthy-era blacklisting. “I would sign all these petitions—anti-Jim Crow, anti-poll tax … I never met a petition I didn’t like,” he says. “I didn’t apologize for what I did,” he says but denies he was a hero. “I was scared crapless. However, my ego was at stake. It was my vanity that got me blacklisted.”

13:08Copy video clip URL Talking about his days as a DJ for WFMT in Chicago, Terkel explains his career as an interviewer started. Repeats sound byte from top of the show.

14:01Copy video clip URL Peck asks Terkel what interviews through the years have “stood out.” Bursting with lively, fascinating detail, Terkel unfolds the story of his most exciting interview ever—a tale of redemption about  Clayton P. Ellis, a former Grand Cyclops of the Klu Klux Klan. Forced by his son’s school district to work side-by-side with a black woman he had once persecuted, Ellis eventually broke free of his prejudices and transformed into an impassioned organizer for a black labor union. “To me, that story is biblical,” he concludes.

20:23Copy video clip URL “The human voice, the vox humana, that’s our instrument,” Terkel says, responding to a question from Peck. He tells the story of interviewing a mother of four living in a poverty-stricken housing project whose children wanted to hear their mama’s voice on his tape recorder. As he played back the tape, the woman gasped. “She put her hand to her mouth, listening to what she just said. She says, ‘Oh my God, I never knew I felt that way before.’ That was a wonderful moment,” he says. He tells another story about the power of “laughing to keep from crying” and about interviewing Martin Luther King, Jr.

23:13Copy video clip URL Peck asks him about his writing technique, which others tried to replicate with little success. “In the first place, it’s listening. Listening is the number one thing. … That person has to know that you are interested, that he [or] she counts,” he says. He begins to tell another anecdote about interviewing a member of the anti-communist John Birch Society in Appalachia before Peck cuts him off and ends the episode.

27:01Copy video clip URL Roll credits over footage of Terkel at a book signing.

 

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