Raw footage for Studs on a Soapbox. Producer Tom Weinberg and cameraman Skip Blumberg visit Studs Terkel in his home in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. Composed mostly of behind-the-scenes material, they carry on a revealing chat about life, death and baseball.
00:00Copy video clip URL Color bars. Jazz music plays.
01:10Copy video clip URL Picture comes in to find Weinberg and Blumberg driving down Lake Shore Drive, headed to Terkel’s house. We learn that the music, playing on the car stereo, is a cut from Terkel’s long-running WFMT show, rebroadcast on a different station.
02:01Copy video clip URL They arrive at Terkel’s home and the crew members introduce themselves.
04:04Copy video clip URL “I was a Giants fan since I was a kid,” Terkel begins to explain, launching the crew into a rousing round of baseball talk in his kitchen. He excitedly recalls that one of his favorite players—Bill Wambsganss, who made a jaw-dropping unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series—was a huge fan of his TV show “Studs Place” and even sent Terkel fan mail. In true Chicago fashion, they reminisce about Cubs of yesteryear and Comiskey Park’s famous exploding scoreboard. (Audio is hard to hear at times.)
13:08Copy video clip URL Blumberg asks why baseball holds such power over the hearts of its devotees. “It’s a game that does not buck the clock. It’s the only one,” Terkel says, relishing the fact that baseball gives its fans time to reflect on the game. “It’s slow by the standard of today’s 30-second sound byte.” He and Weinberg share anecdotes about Bill Veeck, former Chicago White Sox owner and promoter, famous for his outrageous publicity stunts.
22:53Copy video clip URL Moving from kitchen to couch, Terkel talks about his latest project, Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith. “We never talk about death unless someone close to us is in a coma or dying and it’s grief or guilt that does it. We should talk about it in a matter of course,” he says, before picking up his mail.
26:07Copy video clip URL Back to the couch to discuss his book. Terkel opens his mail while he smokes a cigar. “This is about what is the one experience none of us have had, but all of us will have, and that’s death. That’s the ultimate experience,” he says. They also mull over peoples’ differing use of the words “spiritual” and “religious.” Terkel himself is an agnostic, “a cowardly atheist” he says. Audio again is inconsistent.
32:25Copy video clip URL He briefly talks about another book idea, a chronicle of his DJ years at WFMT. He also talks about the detachment he as a writer must maintain from interview subjects. Once, interviewing his wife about her painful experiences as a social worker during the Great Depression, he found inspiration for his book and exclaimed, “That’s great!” “You dog!” his wife fired back. “I say ‘You bet.’ A famished dog gnawing at the bone of truth.” He uses an example from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to illustrate his job to seek out not simply “truth” but “their truth,” the truth as real people experience it. “In a sense, their truth becomes our truth after a time.”
39:30Copy video clip URL Calling himself a “guerrilla journalist,” he shrugs off the title of “oral historian” so often applied to him. He explains his drive to capture the lives of the “anonymous millions and billions” quoting Bertolt Brecht’s poem “Questions from a Worker Who Reads.” “When the Chinese Wall was built, where did the masons go to lunch?” he asks.
44:05Copy video clip URL “One day a certain kind of publisher called me up,” Terkel says, telling the story of how he became an author. “His name was Andre Schiffrin, and he changed my life.” He shares part of the multifaceted history of his careers as a DJ, author, radio soap opera personality, TV actor and law student.
47:50Copy video clip URL The team begins to head outside to tape the official interview to be used in the final cut. The tape abruptly stops.