A 1998 one-on-one interview between Chuck Taylor, host of the Stock Market Observer, and Studs Terkel. The two discuss a variety of subjects, including Terkel's career progression, from his experiences in early radio and television up to his work as a writer.
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00:12Copy video clip URL Interview between Chuck Taylor and Studs Terkel on “The Stock Market Observer.” Taylor begins the interview by asking Terkel about when and where he was born, when he moved to Chicago, and how he got involved in broadcasting. “The Titanic sank and I came up, but then again, who said life was fair?” “I was born in New York City, but I was eight years old when I came here, folks came around in a little hotel, rooming house hotel. I had asthma in New York and I lost it the first day I came to Chicago. There was a big south wind blowing from the stockyards and that did it.” Taylor then asks Terkel about his experience at University of Chicago and his receiving a law degree. Terkel responds by saying it was a big mistake and that law was not for him. He then explains how he made his way into broadcasting through a theater group that performed radio soap operas. Terkel then talks a little bit about his early disc jockey experiences.
03:09Copy video clip URL Taylor asks Terkel about when he became involved with television. Terkel talks about the first three television shows he had taken part in, including the critically acclaimed Studs’ Place. Terkel speaks fondly of all of those involved with those projects, especially Studs’ Place. He mentions Pat Weaver, Sigourney Weaver’s father, and credits him for conceiving the idea of daytime TV, which did not exist at the time. Terkel on Studs’ Place: “We made up our own dialogue. … It was improvised. We’d have a little plot line. Charlie [Andrews, key figure in early Chicago TV] and I would put it together, one page, and then we’d begin. I’d say rehearsals on a Monday and then by Friday we had it, but the language is from the people themselves. At the end it would say, ‘Dialogue by the cast,’ but they’d never do that today in a million years.”
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05:21Copy video clip URL Terkel then talks about his temporary blacklisting during the McCarthy era because of his political stances on civil rights issues and tells a funny story about meeting with big New York TV executive to talk about these issues.
07:11Copy video clip URL The video cuts to a stock graphic on Soybean and Cotton, but the audio from the interview can still be heard. This lasts for a few minutes. Terkel continues to talk about his political stances and the kind of personal problems that have resulted from his outspokenness over the years. He then remarks on the lack of informed dissent in our country. “The whole idea of our society is to have healthy dissent, which we lack today so often, and on the contrary, the whole idea of the First Amendment, the whole idea for the Bill of Rights is what this is all about, what are country is about, you see.”
08:02Copy video clip URL Taylor asks Terkel about when he first began to write. Terkel explains that he first began writing at WFMT as a disc jockey in 1952. He had met a publisher named Andre Schiffrin of Pantheon Books through his work at the station. Schiffrin apparently really liked Terkel’s interviewing style and thought that it would transfer over into print form quite well. Taylor then asks Terkel what his best book is and Terkel responds, “That’s like saying who’s my favorite child.” He then goes on to speak about the stock market crash of 1929 and makes a comment about how we as a society forget our past. “We forget history. That’s the part that disturbs me, our erasure of the past as though we’re suffereing from a national Alzheimer’s disease.”
10:19Copy video clip URL Taylor asks Terkel whether he prefers radio, television, or print. Terkel responds in an enthusiastic cackle, “Remember my whole life is called an accretion of accidents. Remember law school wasn’t right, and I want a civil service job. All Depression children–I was a young man then–want something nine to five, security, but that wasn’t the key to my life. The key to my life was doing something I like, and I’ve been fortunate in that through these accidents I’ve been doing this stuff.” Terkel continues, “I prefer radio to TV, because in radio you can call upon the imagination of the audience. You’re on your own. You’re not in the hands of technicians, who are good doing their job, but I want to be more independent, outside of one engineer and I, so I can put in music. And the audience itself, you use words, and as they hear words the audience takes part, and so they do not become couch potatoes. They become participants themselves.”
11:30Copy video clip URL Taylor recalls the first time he met Terkel, coming out of a restaurant on Lawrence Ave., as Terkel was going through a domestic crisis. Terkel needed to get home rather quickly, so Taylor gave Terkel a ride because he did not, and still does not, know how to drive. Terkel then tells a story about a small role he had in a movie in which the director had to bring in a stand-in to drive a car for Terkel in one of his only scenes.
13:25Copy video clip URL Taylor asks Terkel about his recent visit to the White House to recieve the Humanitarian Award. Terkel talks a little bit about his experience at the White House with the Clintons. Terkel also talks about how the media had just been focusing on the Monica Lewinsky scandal instead of pointing out the more serious issues that were affecting the country at the time. This is the only time in the interview where Terkel gets a little heated. “The important thing I disagree with is the real stuff. Signing a welfare reform bill. A Democratic president signing a bill put forth by the troglodytes of Congress that takes away the safety net that protects the most vulnerable of us: children to the poor. I object to this vindictive embargo on Cuba as though Fidel Castro today is a threat to us. We deny them medical aid. We hurt the kids again. My question is: who is being hurt? When somebody’s being hurt, most vulnerable, I object to it.” Taylor then asks Terkel about the sanctions on Iraq, and he proceeds to get even more heated. “Well, there again that should be open for debate right now. … There has to be open debate, instead we have the most respectable of our pundits, so called, going, ‘did he tell the truth about Monica?’ as though that were it.”
15:32Copy video clip URL Taylor asks Terkel about his recent departure from radio, specifically WFMT. Terkel talks about his work with the Chicago Historical Society (now the Chicago History Museum) in preseving his thousands of hours of audiotape, which were appearing on WBEZ at the time.
16:02Copy video clip URL Taylor asks Terkel what he has learned about human nature from his years of interviewing. Terkel responds, “I’m curious about the human comedy. … What I’ve learned is not to have a rule of thumb, whether this guy’s right or left. It has very little meaning. How a person behaves toward other human beings is basically the key, and does he think about the world outside himself.” Terkel then talks a little bit about the sixties and how young people back then had causes outside of themselves.
17:13Copy video clip URL Taylor asks Terkel what he plans to do with all of his old tapes at the Historical Society. Terkel explains that he is trying to save and catalogue all of his tapes, but that he hopes to write a book or two in the coming years. Taylor then gives Terkel a lengthy handshake and refers to Terkel as a “national treasure.”
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19:09Copy video clip URL Tape ends.