[Television Academy interview with Studs Terkel, part 1]

This is a raw interview with Studs Terkel conducted by Television Academy. Studs talks in detail about his background and about his early days working in radio and television.

00:06Copy video clip URL Introduction by Karen Herman, who states that the date is July 19, 1999 for this interview with Studs Terkel in Chicago, Illinois.

00:20Copy video clip URL Terkel starts by stating that his given name is Louis Terkel and then telling the story of the origin of his nickname “Studs,” his family, and their move to Chicago in 1920.

04:00Copy video clip URL Herman asks him about his childhood interests.  Terkel mentions Charles Darrow, and his early desire to practice law, but that he “dreamed of Charles Darrow and woke up to Anthony Scalia.”

05:25Copy video clip URL Herman asks if he watched movies as a kid. Terkel tells about his love for movies and his heroes in film, such as Charlie Chaplin and Raymond Griffith. He also talks about his desire to have a regular 9-5 civil service job, and then goes on to talk about the WPA, the New Deal, and his introduction to acting through labor theater groups, which led to his work in radio as a soap opera gangster. During the war, he worked stateside in the army, then went on to be a disc jockey and became a pro-FDR commentator for the Chicago Sun.

13:25Copy video clip URL From there, Studs talks about his love of jazz and blues, which he developed as a result of walking through the “black belt” in Chicago. His love of music led to his working as a disc jockey on a program called “The Wax Museum” which had a small cult following and promoted a wide variety of musical genres, which Terkel helped bring to the audience with colorful descriptions and elaborations on the music.

20:00Copy video clip URL Studs talks about the birth of television, and the “laid back jazzy style of Chicago television,” which was developed by pioneers such as Burr Tilllstrom and Dave Garroway and Charlie Andrews.

22:41  He speaks of “Studs’ Place,” “Kukla, Fran, and Ollie,” and  “Garroway at Large” being the three main programs that represented the Chicago style of television.

23:28Copy video clip URL Studs talks about his history of signing anti-war, anti-Jim Crow, pro-labor petitions, which was called into question by the establishment during the “red scare.” He was given a chance to lie about signing these in order to preserve his career, but he chose to stand up and tell the truth, which caused Studs’ Place to be canceled. He speaks of how people called him hero for this, but says that he was “scared stiff” and that it was a “product of ego.”

25:34Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about getting a new program at the Civic Opera House, and retells a captivating story about one recording he did with with Burr Tillstrom, who puppeteered Madame Ophelia Oglepuss, the great opera singer, and made her come alive in the mock interview on the program.

29:30Copy video clip URL Change of tape.

29:31Copy video clip URL Tape continues with Terkel talking more about Burr Tillstrom, and his genius of blending reality and fantasy.  He goes on to discuss other influences in this arena, such as films.

31:55Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about the creation of Studs’ Place, the idea of the plot and stage setting, character development, and cast. Studs also talks about acting with a basic skeleton script–each episode of Studs’ Place gave credits for improvised “dialogue by the cast”–and the idea that the public thought of Studs’ Place as a real place.  He talks in detail about some particular episodes and scenes from Studs’ Place.

40:21Copy video clip URL Herman asks about how rehearsals went. Terkel says that they’d get together on Wednesdays for rehearsal, but most all of it was improvised. He notes how amazing it was that the timing always fit, and how the themes were very simple and about daily problems.

41:25Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about having Mahalia Jackson as a guest on the show and that this was one of the first times a black person appeared as an equal.

42:05Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about how Studs’ Place and other Chicago television shows had the “air of jazz, the air of improvisation, the air of spontaneity” versus the idea of canned, fake laughter to induce the audience at home to laugh. He equates this to sports, and that they are great because they are spontaneous.

43:05Copy video clip URL Studs tells about live television and mishaps on the set, such as the time that Chet Roble, during the commercial performed by the cast, mistakenly said the name of the sponsor’s competitor instead of the sponsor. He speaks about the thrill of live television, and the risk involved.

48:52  Herman asks about being blacklisted and how that affected him. Terkel talks about how he didn’t appear on the documentary “Red Channel” and feeling a bit disappointed by not being included with the likes of Arthur Miller, Lilian Hellman, and other celebrities. He also spoke of how he found work by lecturing and finding other means of supporting himself. He admitted that it was not pleasant, but that if not for that time, he never would have worked for WFMT and found his niche as an interviewer.

53:44Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about a program called “Assignment America” where he interviewed people along with George Will, Doris Kerns Goodwin, and Maya Angelou.

56:12Copy video clip URL He talks about another program that he was on called the “Great American Dream Machine” and another program called “Working” that came out on the heels of his book and the play by Steven Sondheim.

58:27Copy video clip URL End of tape.



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