60 minutes: Studs Terkel

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2:56Copy video clip URL Harry Reisner reports on the Energy Crisis. He says that some people believe that there is a miracle fuel that could solve our energy crisis: natural gas. The history of its usage and the issue of whether or not there is a shortage is discussed by various experts. “I believe that natural gas is the bridge fuel to the 21st century and we can use it until we are able to use the new fuels that I’m sure we will develop by the 21st century.”

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18:45Copy video clip URL Dan Rather interviews Studs Terkel. Footage of Terkel at the Green Mill, WFMT, and with Civil Rights activist Will Campbell.

DAN RATHER: He’s an American folk hero, a philosopher of the common man. Studs Terkel, who lives in Chicago, goes around feeling the pulse of America and writes best-selling books about the folks he interviews, most of them of humble beginnings. Studs started out with a law degree, but never went into law. He acted gangster roles in radio soap operas, but kept getting killed and kept losing his job. He’s been a disc jockey and a sportscaster, and for the last 27 years he’s had his own special brand of radio show. Studs Terkel listens to everybody, big or small, and in his neighborhood tavern he talks–he certainly does talk.

STUDS TERKEL: There was a guy named Patty Bowler. He was an alderman in Chicago. Not exactly the most honest alderman, but find an honest alderman and you got something. What Patty Bowler would always say, when it’s all over just about, he’d say, “Let’s all have a little drink.” And so, let’s all have one–on me. A round on me.

RATHER: Studs holds court in a neighborhood Chicago tavern, The Green Mill. Everybody knows Studs.

TERKEL: Post time! (Laughter) Post time. Okay.

RATHER: Post time is ten AM, when he goes on the air. He is 68 years old. No signs of slowing down.

LOCAL ANNOUNCER: We welcome you now to the Studs Terkel…

RATHER: He might do an interview, read an essay by Mark Twain or a story of Ring Lardner-whatever he feels like.

TERKEL: This morning I thought we’d hear some voices, artists who possess the—what might be called the tragic sense-Claudia Muzio and the letter reading aria from Traviata.


Billie Holiday and “God Bless the Child.”

(Billie Holiday singing)

Good jazz, good folk music, good Mozart and Bach, good combinations of all–a kid grows up hearing all those, he will choose the best after a time.

RATHER: What’s happened to laughter? I don’t find many people laughing any more.

TERKEL: Well, without a sense of humor we’re dead. I mean, we got to have sense of humor.

RATHER: Studs has been a household word in Chicago for decades, but over the last 15 years his fame has spread through his books, five of them so far. You might say they’re all about extraordinary ordinary people. The way he drew them out is what we tried to do with Studs.

What makes you happy?

TERKEL: What makes me happy is certain humans I meet, and there’s adversity, there are difficulties, but that something inside them-the juice that flows-keeps me going to some extent.

RATHER: Studs, what angers you the most?

TERKEL: Banality, shallowness, angers me the most. Not someone who may be racist, may be violent; he/she doesn’t anger me the most. That person can be argued with, I think. Indifference, perhaps. Indifference. I would rather have opposition, vocal, fiery, wild, than indifference.

RATHER: The kind of people Studs Terkel talks to are seldom indifferent. Take Will Campbell, a Baptist minister and an old friend of Studs. He lives in the Tennessee hills away from city life. Will Campbell was one of the earliest civil rights activists. Studs talks with Will the same way he talks with everyone.

TERKEL: Will D. Campbell, you call yourself a preacher, you know. You have no congregation, you have no steeple overhead, you have no prestigious-looking Genevan gown. What sort of preacher are you?

WILL CAMPBELL: Well, you know what a preacher does, don’t you? He buries people and marries people and visits people in jail and tries to get them out of jail.

And when you say I’m a preacher, what more do I need to say. I don’t need a steeple. They get in the way, but–

TERKEL: How come, Will? You went to Yale Divinity School. You’re from a Southern working family. You went to Yale Divinity School. How come you didn’t behave yourself? You could have been- you could get a nice posh congregation somewhere.

CAMPBELL: I don’t know. I guess the Lord woke up one morning mad at me, and so He put me out there and He– I don’t know. I can’t explain that. – I don’t- I don’t have any idea.

TERKEL: Yeah, but you- you- you always get in trouble. You were in trouble a lot here during the time of- before the civil rights movement began, even, as far as integration’s con-

CAMPBELL: Well, you know, I do- I don’t like being in trouble. It- that happens.

It’s not something you- you court and you- you flirt with it in- in the- in the process of trying to be faithful to the things you believe.

RATHER: People making themselves count.

TERKEL: People making themselves count. To count is what it’s all about. So, when somebody is active in a community, whatever the issue might be–stopping a high-rise or the expressway or inequitable taxation; the bungalow owner paying from the nose, the big realtor getting a break–that person suddenly comes alive. They’re of that group, not away from it.

They have a way of talking, a certain insight that enables them to say things all the others feel but can’t express. The same people who don’t think they’re important.

When they– they say sometimes they never heard their voice on a tape recorder before; say, “Play it back to me.” So I play back the voice, and the person says, “I never knew I felt that way before.” It’s also self-revelation.

PEGGY TERRY: One thing is beginning to understand black people and see them as human beings the same as you are, rather than being n—–s, because that’s all I ever saw them as. I never saw them as just people. And it was through knowing some black people that I found myself.

RATHER: People need to feel needed.

TERKEL: Yeah. Well, that’s what it’s about. That is the same as to count. People in a community–so-called ordinary people, who are quite extraordinary. And I find them everywhere.

Oh, God.

WOMAN: Tip your head up.

TERKEL: Oh, I want to look half Spencer Tracy-

WOMAN: Close your eyes.

TERKEL: -and half John Cabran, and a little Marcello Mastroianni too.

RATHER: Studs is preparing for a television interview in Nashville.

TERKEL: All my friends on the block, what’d they say if they saw this? “What happened to the kid?”

RATHER: He talked about his latest book, American Dreams, Lost and Found. It contains the personal stories–oral histories, if you will–of a hundred people he interviewed.

TERKEL: That was- oral history is what? It’s long- it preceded the printing press by centuries, but it’s basically people telling of their lives. And to me, one of the horrible aspects of our history or the history of the world today, there’s been a break in continuity. We speak of so many of the young as being anti-historical or ahistorical. One of– it’s true. They don’t know of– what happened before the Depression. When- when a- when a former President says “put Vietnam behind us,” he means forget history. And remember what Santayana said, you know: ‘~you forget the past, you’re doomed to live it in the future.” And– so, one of the horrors is not knowing our past. If you don’t know where you’re from, you’re not know where you’re going. And so, I avoid the celebrated, except with certain exceptions.

RATHER: But Studs Terkel has become a celebrity himself.

TERKEL: And alas. That’s me. R-O-B-B. Robb. How about, “Take it easy, but take it”?

RATHER: Along with autographing his bestseller, he’s one of the guest speakers at the annual Nashville Book and Author Dinner.

TERKEL: We live at a time that people speak of as apathetic, as bleak. It is all this, it’s true. But there’s something else not captured on six o’clock news, something not captured by that which we call the media. You can report what is, and that’s very simple and very dull and very banal. But to report what can be is what it’s all about.

RATHER: One comes away with the feeling–an increasing feeling–that you’re overly optimistic about this country.

TERKEL: Well, that’s- that’s a- that’s a good question. That’s a danger. I’m not, though. I don’t think I am. I wake up, I read the headline, I see the news, and I say,

“Oh, God, we’re not going to make it!” I don’t mean us. I mean the human species ain’t going to make it. And then I run into these people.

RATHER: But Studs, you’re too idealistic. What do you make of this talk that it’s already a– a narcissistic age that has run wild on the side of narcissism. You’re talking about people- self-realization, people– “I count.” But hasn’t it gone too far the other way?

TERKEL: To some extent it– it’s true. I think we’ve been taught, even now, as we watch the incredible jean– designer jean ads, you know. We watch these ads again and again and again that speak of these little self-indulgent things we do not need at all. That has to play a role in this narcissism. What are some of the best-selling books: How to Win Through Intimidation. Think of it, the meaning of that! How to Win Through Intimidation! Well, the very fact that these books are best-sellers indicates the conditioning we have: to make it no matter what.

RATHER: What people young and old realize is it is a dog-eat-dog world. Now, is—is that what has led to what many people perceive to be the increasing level of violence in this country?

TERKEL: Ah, violence. Yeah, well, there we are. Are we more violent than we were years ago? That’s a good question. We assume we are. I think maybe violence came out of the closet.

RATHER: What do you mean?

TERKEL: Maybe it was always there, but never recognized. We have television that enlightens us to this extent–of things happening. Violent events happen. For good or bad, it– it does it to us. But may be more aware of it than we are then. And then we start thinking, what makes for violence? Maybe power– you know, people speak of power corrupting. Lord Atkins says, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I think powerlessness corrupts, and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely. Because if you’re powerless– let’s take- let let’s- let’s forget the code words. Crime on the– means a black kid, a black teenager kid, a gang of kids on the street. Now, there is violence. Maybe people think that, the guy walking by or the Latino kids, or the poor white kids, or the ethnic kids. Okay, now who are those kids? They are young humans full of animal energy. Now, if there’s no job, right? There’s no job, there’s no self-esteem. If there’s no job, the enemy ha– the– the enemy–interesting– the ener– the energy has to go somewhere, so it goes antisocial. So I can’t understand people in high positions always saying full employment is a dream, we can’t do it. Without full employment, without job, there will be violence. The very nature of work alone will take away some energy.

RATHER: Well, I want to know about- you- you- you don’t reveal much of yourself. You reveal– reveal much of other people, but not so much of yourself.

TERKEL: You know what I call myself? A radical conservative. Now, I’m going to explain that. Now, I am a radical conservative. A radical means you get to the root of the matter, to the root. I want to know what causes something. A conservative–I want to conserve the Bill of Rights, by God. I want to conserve them, especially the First Amendment. I want to conserve clean and fresh air. I want to conserve whatever semblance of sanity we have.

Say bleeding heart. I say bleeding heart? How did that phrase come to be? Bleeding heart is a reference to Christ, you know. Bleeding– in many Catholic homes you find a- a- a painting–Renaissance or something–of Christ and a bleeding heart.

So, I say, “So you’re putting down a bleeding heart? In other words, you’re anti-Christ.” ”I beg your pardon! I’m a member of the Moral Majority!” he’d say, or something like that. See? You say I’m an idealist. I’m not. I’m very practical. I think the idealists–the wild idealists–are those who are thinking in terms of unreality.

There must be a new way of thinking to make this democracy work in a way that perhaps the Founding Fathers had in mind; but even beyond them, because the age is different. The technological jumps are quantum in nature. And I think to me, to me, there are challenges not yet met, and there are possibilities in all of us not yet tapped, and that’s what I’m talking (about). We have to beat that time clock. And we’ve got to now look at our society–the world; it can’t be us alone, it’s the whole world-and I– I think we’re ready for it. I really do. The only thing I’m afraid of is that tick-tick-tick of that clock.

31:35Copy video clip URL Commercials, including an Orson Welles champagne commercial.

33:47Copy video clip URL Mike Wallace reports on the growing worldwide trend toward cremation. The focus of this report is the fact that many people are drawn to it due to the substantially lower cost compared to traditional burial.

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48:50Copy video clip URL Morley Safer introduces Mickey Rooney segment. Rooney shows us all the strange items that have been sent to him by fans.

51:04Copy video clip URL Mike Wallace reads letters from viewers discussing previous show topics, then signs off.

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56:02Copy video clip URL End credits.


1 Comment

  1. christelle le faucheur says:

    Hi, I am the news media historian here at the Briscoe Center for American history. I am working on a project on Dan Rather and It would be great if you could digitized the 60 minutes: Studs Terkel. We would add a link to our website to feature the clip. We have a transcript of the interview and would add it too.


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