Raw footage of an interview for the program "Studs On A Soapbox." Tom Weinberg interviews Studs Terkel on his back porch at his residence in Chicago. The two discuss a variety of subjects including but not limited to: Terkel's early days in Chicago, Terkel's driving work ethic, author Nelson Algren, and Terkel's current projects at the time.
00:00Copy video clip URL Tape begins with color bars and tone.
00:30Copy video clip URL Cut to a shot of Terkel sitting on what looks to be his back porch. It is a cool October afternoon in Uptown. Yellowed leaves gently descend down from the trees in the background as Terkel and producer Tom Weinberg prepare themselves for the interview. Terkel takes a puff or two from his cigar and adjusts his hearing aid as Weinberg quickly briefs him on a question about his time spent at the Wells-Grand Hotel as a young boy.
00:42Copy video clip URL Weinberg asks his first question about Terkel’s early life at the Wells-Grand Hotel in the 1920s. Terkel begins to answer the question rather quickly, but is interrupted by Weinberg, who asks Terkel to clarify a few things about his living at the Wells-Grand for the viewing audience. Terkel then proceeds to answer the question and emphasizes the hotel’s importance to his development. “That was one of the key moments of my life. That in a sense may have been more educative to me than the University of Chicago and everything else put together.”
01:43Copy video clip URL Weinberg quickly switches gears and asks Terkel about his book “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War II and its intense popularity among many readers. Terkel responds, “I think people care about certain moments in history if they know about those moments of history.” Terkel talks about the importance of WWII to those that lived through it and states that it was one of the key moments in American history. He also states that WWII and the Great Depression are interconnected. Weinberg then asks Terkel to explain the title “The Good War,” which is presented in quotes in the book title. Terkel responds by stating that the title simply explains the conflict against fascism, but goes on to say that the quotes prevent the phrase from being an oxymoron. “It’s in quotes because no war is good. The object and the noun never match.”
04:13Copy video clip URL Weinberg then asks Terkel about his friendship with Mike Royko, the famous Chicago newspaper columnist. Terkel’s facial expression immediately changes from one of seriousness to one of joviality. He begins to talk about Royko’s extreme talent for writing. “Mike in writing for The Daily News struck a chord immediately. You knew that he was talking about flesh and blood humans. You knew that he had a sardonic sense of humor. You knew that he had a strong moral sense of what is right and wrong, in the best sense. You knew that he hated power abusing, that powerful people abusing defenseless people was something he had to fight. We also knew that he was a very funny guy, and also had a remarkable style in writing, that was seemingly simple, yet very very well thought out, thought about. The right word, he would choose the exact word that was needed. Mark Twain once said the right word and the nearly right word is like the lighting bug compared to lightning, and Mike chose the right word.” Weinberg then asks Terkel about how he came to know Royko. Terkel goes on to talk about Royko’s character. He states that Royko had a very strong sentimental streak, but had also been plagued by a number of demons in his life. “There was a self destructive nature to Mike, but that very demon that was hurting him so much is the one that also created him.” Terkel goes on to talk about the tenacity of Royko’s writing.
06:20Copy video clip URL Weinberg then begins to ask Terkel about his drive in seeking truth. Terkel quickly responds by emphasizing the need to showcase what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes. “All these books about certain periods in our history, certain situations in our history: depression, the war, white/black, growing old. What is it like to be a certain person in a certain time in a certain circumstance? What’s it like to be that other?” Weinberg then goes on to ask Terkel about Nelson Algren, the famous American writer and novelist, and his departure from the city of Chicago. Terkel explains that although Algren loved Chicago, he did not feel very appreciated here. Terkel and Weinberg then talk about an instance in which the two of them were at a party with Algren in 1975. They both recount their memories of the party and Terkel goes on to refer to Algren as a “clown who speaks truth to power,” in reference to his sense of humor.
11:27Copy video clip URL Weinberg pauses for a minute and gathers himself before asking Terkel to answer about eleven questions in more of a rapid fire manner, only allotting one minute answers for each question. Weinberg then asks Terkel how he would like to be remembered. With his cigar casually resting in between his index and middle fingers, Terkel nods his head from right to left and seems to be a little flabbergasted by the question. He states that he has no idea but gives Weinberg his epitaph: “Curiosity did not kill this cat.”
12:11Copy video clip URL Weinberg then asks Terkel how he decides what’s good material for his books. Terkel responds, “How do you decide what’s good? How do you edit? Well this of course is nine tenths of the battle.” Terkel highlights the importance of actually listening to what your interviewee has to say. He also emphasizes the need to be inquisitive in interview settings. In relation to editing, Terkel calls himself a “gold prospector,” and gives an analogy relating his editing style to the gold rush in the 1800s. In the middle of giving his analogy, Terkel and the crew stop and wait for a plane flying overhead to pass by. Terkel then talks about the heartache in having to leave some of the material out. “The tragic part, the toughest part, is leaving people out. How do you leave people out? They’re just as good as the other person. It’s almost as though your directing a play, and they’re two good actors, equally good, but you think of the other actors as well. You have to think of balance sometimes.” In the middle of Terkel’s next sentence, Weinberg combats Terkel’s statement and says that the comparison between directing a play and editing a book are not the same. Terkel then talks about acting as both director and editor when writing his books.
17:16Copy video clip URL Weinberg then begins to talks with Terkel about some of his archived work at the Chicago Historical Society (now the Chicago History Museum). Terkel talks about his dealings with the CHS and explains that there is a lot of categorizing work to be done with all of his recorded material from WFMT and from all of his one-on-one interviews with the characters from his books.
20:27Copy video clip URL Weinberg asks Terkel about his work ethic. Terkel responds, “I don’t know what the word work ‘ethic’ means.” He goes on to talk about the current book he is working on and his work at the Chicago Historical Society. He explains that he doesn’t have much of a set schedule and that he kind of works when he pleases, which is a good amount of the time. Weinberg then refers to Terkel as “possessed” when it comes to working. Weinberg states that Terkel is a model for someone who doesn’t quit. Terkel answers the question by saying that when there is a job to do, he simply just does it. He also states that he is only a role model for himself when it comes to his drive. Weinberg then asks Terkel about the people that influenced him over the years. Terkel mentions a couple of names, including Nelson Algren and documentary filmmaker Dennis Mitchell.
24:41Copy video clip URL Weinberg takes a moment to assess whether the sounds of the planes flying overhead are disrupting the audio at all. Weinberg then asks Terkel about his regrets in life. Terkel’s demeanor immediately changes to a more melancholic state, as he ponders the many regrets that weigh heavy on his mind. “Oh I have so many, too many regrets, I don’t know–letters I never answered, people I did not come through for. They’re too many. I have so many regrets. Do I have guilt about them? Well of course, so many I can’t even enumerate them. Too many regrets.” This is quite a somber moment.
26:03Copy video clip URL Weinberg talks a little bit about the program he is making and goes on to ask Terkel two more questions regarding his feelings for Chicago and his thoughts on WFMT and WTTW. Terkel talks about some of the Chicago-oriented programming he has taken part in. He goes on to talk about Florence Scala, a Chicago activist who Terkel interviewed for Division Street. He goes on to talk about many other important Chicago natives whom he interviewed for different books and emphasizes the importance of speaking with the common man and woman. Right afterwards, the camera operator, Mirko Popadic, states that he has to change the tape and the interview pauses. Terkel and Weinberg then make a little small talk before the video ends.
30:56Copy video clip URL Tape ends.