A 2003 book release party at Raffi's restaurant in Naperville for the then 91-year-old Studs Terkel, who had just published a book entitled Hope Dies Last. The majority of the video is made up of Terkel, still sharp as a tack despite a bit of hearing loss, doing what he does best: entertaining the entire crowd, who are there in support of his newly published work.
00:00Copy video clip URL Tape begins with Studs Terkel enjoying a glass of wine at what appears to be a book release party for his new book, Hope Dies Last. A woman named Carol, who works for Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, the host of the party, introduces Terkel.
00:24Copy video clip URL Terkel takes the microphone and begins to thank the people involved in putting the party together. “Well first of all, you have no idea how good and hopeful this makes me feel to see you here.” Terkel goes on to talk about why he wrote the book. Once he starts, he doesn’t stop, and lets loose by leading off with a funny story and a joke. He describes the specific thoughts and notions that inspired him to write this book, and moreover, all of his books. “In any event, why’d I do this book now? Every other book has dealt with a visceral experience, hard times, the great American Depression of the 1930s, the crash of 1929. What was it like to be a small boy or a small girl seeing his or her father come home with a tool chest on his shoulder at ten o’clock in the morning, and doesn’t work for the next eight years, you know, until the government of Franklin D. Roosevelt came along, the New Deal, and saved him. And that was a time when the wise men of Wall Street, and we have them now again telling how great our boom is when we know more and more people are being laid off. They were saying things are going to be great, and then when the crash happened, I asked one, in the book Hard Times, ‘What happened?’ He says, ‘I don’t know.’ And I looked at myself, ‘Well if you don’t know, who does?'” Terkel goes on to make his main point about what drives him to write. “This in a sense has driven me, through all these books, I have a firm belief in the innate intelligence of the American people, in the innate decency of the American people, in you in other words. I have so much faith, that I’ll stake everything on it, but right now there’s an assault taking place. I know 9/11 was obscene and horrendous, but the assault now is much more insidious and worse. It’s an assault upon our intelligence. It’s an assault upon our memory. It’s an assault upon our sense of decency, and every book has had that as a subtext.” Terkel elaborates on the central theme that is prevalent in all of his books. He also tells an amusing story about a character from his book Working and quickly outlines a few of his other books.
10:42Copy video clip URL Terkel to talks about his current book, Hope Dies Last, and explains to the audience how he came up with the title. “This book is about the heroes and heroines who have been the dissenters down through the years, and some of them, most of them, it’s about today’s dissenters.” He then goes on to tell a story about a woman named Kathy Kelley, a protester who Terkel wrote about in Hope Dies Last. Among the clicks and clatter of wine glasses and silverware, Terkel’s story about the woman enthralls the crowd into a quiet hum. He finishes the story and begins to take a few questions from the crowd.
17:57Copy video clip URL An audience member asks how long the interviews were for the books. Terkel responds by saying that it depends on the circumstance. He describes his interviewing style as fairly “improvised” and that he never interviews people the same exact way. He then tells a story about interviewing an anti-communist, fundamentalist cab driver in Chicago. He also notes a major theme within his interviewing style and his writing. “All of these books tells me there is no rule of thumb.” “The human race excites me.”
21:15Copy video clip URL An audience member asks Terkel about the possible backsliding of the democratic nominees in the 2004 election and whether or not the younger generation will become more politically active in the future. Terkel gives his opinion on a few of the 2004 democratic nominees and admits to leaning more towards Howard Dean, but also really liking Dennis Kucinich. He also speaks critically of the mainstream media and says that he believes that they cloud the important issues a lot of the time. Terkel goes on to emphasize that he is not “anti-Republican” either.
25:31Copy video clip URL An audience member asks when there may be another production of his play, Race. Terkel answers the question by saying, “Well, I’m for it anytime.” Terkel than closes out his talk by saying, “People ask me, ‘why are you doing this matter of hope?’ ‘Maybe hope subsides slightly,’ a friend of mine said, ‘hope subsides, but curiosity remains, curiosity about the human race, especially my fellow Americans.’ And so I know what my epitaph is going to be. Here’s my epitaph: ‘Curiosity did not kill this cat!'” Terkel receives a nice round of applause. He then begins to sit down, but ends up giving a toast instead, and keeps working the crowd before hors d’ouvres are served. Terkel tells a story about a time in which his name got him in trouble, and the audience laughs. He then takes a few more questions.
30:13Copy video clip URL A woman from the audience asks Terkel how to get the younger generation involved in the political process. Terkel answers the question by speaking a little bit about how to connect with the younger generation through different forms of media.
32:36Copy video clip URL A man from the audience asks Terkel when the American people are going to stop listening to and accepting the lies that are coming from Washington. Terkel responds talking about the fallacy of the term, “liberal media.” He also gives an amusing visual representation of the current political spectrum by adjusting his posture in certain ways to convey the definition of being left, right, and moderate. “The term insults our intelligence. Even our language is being insulted.”
36:04Copy video clip URL A woman from the audience asks Terkel to describe his interview with Wallis Rasmusen, whom he included in Hope Dies Last. Terkel talks in great detail of the interview and the subject of corporate practices and ethics.
38:20Copy video clip URL An audience member asks Studs to compare and contrast the character of Chicago today to the Chicago of his day. Terkel responds, “Chicago always was a city of hands. Carl Sandburg’s city, you know, the city of big shoulders. Chicago is a blue collar city primarily. … The big change to me is the loss of identity. The city is still the archetype of of an American city, but you get out of the airport, you don’t know what city you’re in. In the old days, you got off of a train, you knew this was Chicago.” Terkel then tells a funny story about a time when he had been staying in Cleveland, and had no idea he was actually in Cleveland.
41:31Copy video clip URL An audience member asks Terkel to talk about the term “conservative” and how it has been misconstrued. Terkel then talks a little bit about how the term has been misused over the years and labels himself as a “radical conservative,” being conservative in the sense that he wants to preserve what’s good about America.
43:19Copy video clip URL A woman from the audience asks Terkel to talk about the next book he plans to write. Terkel talks a little bit about his plans to write a book on music, specifically how musicians approach their art from a human point of view. He then tells a story about a funny conversation he had with his cardiologist about cholesterol and cigar smoking.
45:14Copy video clip URL Someone asks Terkel about his fascination with the color red and his signature red shirts. Terkel answers briefly (“It’s the color of life, I get a kick out of it.”) and then comments on an event in which the Clintons honored him with a humanitarian award. He then attempts to sit down to take a break. Hors d’ouvres are finally served. The camera stays focused on Terkel as he snacks on a couple of hors d’ouvres, takes photos with audience members, and signs copies of his latest book. Terkel stays in very jolly spirits.
01:01:01Copy video clip URL Tape fast forwards for a couple of minutes.
01:03:00Copy video clip URL Terkel stands up and speaks about his roots in Chicago, what his parents did for work, and how he lost his asthma when he came to Chicago for the first time due to the stockyard winds. He then goes on to speak about the effects of the Depression on many working individuals at the time. Terkel ends up quickly outlining his career in media as well, beginning with his introduction to acting, through his work as a gangster in radio soap operas, through his work on early Chicago television, specifically Studs’ Place, and all of the way up to his work with WFMT. Terkel recounts many amusing stories along the way, and ends up outlining almost his entire career.
01:19:00Copy video clip URL Tape ends.