It’s A Living

A video documentary inspired by Studs Terkel's book "Working," featuring six different workers talking about their lives and their jobs, in addition to Studs himself.

0:08Copy video clip URL Studs Terkel introduces the show. While getting out of elevator, he describes his feelings on celebrity: “Remember, you said, ‘What happens to people who are in the book?’ Remember that their relationship to their friends has altered (and is that good or bad?) and they become sort of celebrities in a way – from the book or that ‘being televised.’ Well, it occurred to me: that’s bad. But is it? It’s bad if you do, but suppose 200 million people were photographed (I don’t mean, privacy invaded, not that). I mean, suppose they were voluntarily in something, then all 200 million would say, ‘That’s me. I’m recognized,’ you see? So then there is no celebrity, you see? We’re all celebrities. I’d like that. That’d be kinda good.”

0:55Copy video clip URL Onscreen intro to show. “This program inspired by Studs Terkel’s best-seller, Working. In the book, people talk about what they do all day and how they feel about it. For the next hour, we explore what its actually like to be on the job with some of these people. And we spend a few working days with Studs as well. As experimental video journalists, we hope to demonstrate that new small-format television equipment allows people to speak for themselves, simply and directly and that real people in real situations make good television.”

1:34Copy video clip URL Low angle shot of the Elevated train (the “El”). On a cold early morning, we meet Alfred Pommier, a parking lot attendant. A true showman, Pommier does his job with gusto. “This is the greatest parking lot in town. I’m known from the Peking to the Hong Kong, from the West Coast to the Pecos. Call me Wheelin’ Lovin’ Al.” Regular customers express their allegiance.

6:28Copy video clip URL Segment with Marcia Stocking, a receptionist (or as she proudly calls it, “information services”) at Chicago’s WFMT radio station, where Studs Terkel does a daily one hour program. We see her hectic work day and hear her complaints about the lack of respect given to women in her profession. “The word receptionist, I don’t know, I think it has a lot to do with TV, because every receptionist you ever see on TV is dumb, stupid, you know, witless… and because now that I am a receptionist I think it’s something special and I don’t think anybody should put it down. Cause I don’t think I’m dumb, witless, stupid, and I don’t think anybody else should think I’m dumb, stupid, witless.”

9:42Copy video clip URL Studs Terkel in the sound booth at WFMT, concluding the day’s program. He describes the phenomenon of being on live radio as an amazing experience.

11:38Copy video clip URL Segment with Bernard Passmore, a Chicago barber in the Wrigley Building. He talks about how he became a barber and talks about the fading away of his profession. He also tells videographer Skip Blumberg about how he makes his customers comfortable so he can do a good job. “You gotta know what you’re doing, because if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can really ruin a man’s hair. “

17:39Copy video clip URL Studs Terkel in the storage room at WFMT showing his large collection of recordings and talking about his admiration for the people who made them, including Big Bill Broonzy and Mahalia Jackson. “I admire artists, simple as that. I admire gifted people who are devoted to their art or their crafts…and I don’t admire slovenliness, simple as that. I don’t admire the superficial news commentary that I see on the TV – shallow, empty dull, at the same time given with the voice of authority.” He then plays a clip of Richard J. Daley responding with outrage to charges of nepotism. “Nepotism! What kind of society is this where you’re afraid to appoint your nephew or your son or your relative… for fear of what might be said? Who creates the fear? Who creates these phony issues?” He is greeted with resounding applause. Studs remarks, “That’s the city council–trained seals–all clapping.”

21:39Copy video clip URL Segment with William Farrell, a Chicago piano tuner. He describes his interest in the study of harmonics and the behavior of sound. “There’s something about music, it’s almost undefinable…it’s like reaching out for infinity and making it…That’s what makes it what it is.” He talks about how he used to tune the pianos between set breaks for jazz performers and had to learn to reliably finish in under 14 minutes.

26:45Copy video clip URL Studs Terkel at Riccardo’s Italian restaurant in Chicago with his friend Roberto, a server there for 35 years. Terkel describes Roberto as a performer who is always acting when he is on the job. He then talks about the relationships he forms with the people he interviews for his books. He and Roberto then discusses the beauty of the Italian language. Roberto (Bobby) tries to resolve their differences by saying “You like’a whiskey, I like’a scotch.”

29:31Copy video clip URL Segment with Margie Robbins, a Chicago fashion model. She talks about the way she endlessly picks apart her appearance. Her physical statistics are shown onscreen. “It’s fun, because you’re always doing something different.”

34:06Copy video clip URL Receptionist Marcia Stocking again. She describes how difficult it is for her to not be able to leave her desk throughout the day. “You feel like you actually have a ball and chain.” She talks about her horror she feels at her constantly buzzing phone.

38:18Copy video clip URL Studs Terkel in the sound booth at WFMT: “I like my work…and if someone enjoys it, that’s good… But I do it because I like my work.” He talks about the tragedy that so many people are stuck doing jobs they don’t like and can’t control.

41:21Copy video clip URL Wheelin’ Loving Al again with his “assistant” Jason. Al describes how the most important thing in his life has been remaining independent. “Why do they call you ‘Lovin’ Al’?'” “Cause I’m a ball of love.” An old Chicago Maxwell Street blues guitar player pays a visit to Lovin’ Al.

49:42Copy video clip URL Studs Terkel at Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern. He describes the things he learns from his books about people that he had not imagined. “The possibilities interest me, the possibilities not yet tapped.”

51:25Copy video clip URL Segment with Yolanda Leif, a waitress at Chicago’s Erie Cafe. “So when I started out, I had two dollars to my name and all kinds of debts, and I didn’t know beans from shinola about waitress work, but somehow it worked out.” She talks about how demanding customers can be and how the most important thing is to get them their bread right away. “You gotta give them something to put in their mouth, otherwise adults are like kids in the highchair.” She talks about the dismal paycheck of a waitress. “When waiters or waitresses are getting paid it always looks like they’re getting a lot of money, but they’re really not…When people ask me how much I get paid, I just say, oh, I forgot.”

56:38Copy video clip URL Studs Terkel closes the tape as he exits the building by describing the situation of a researcher whose funding was cut on the same day the House approved $3 billion for military spending.

57:45Copy video clip URL Credits.

58:30Copy video clip URL End.



  1. J Roman says:

    Thank you for this video. It’s an important nugget of history.

  2. Rhapsody Farrell says:

    Found this archival footage after doing a internet search for my father (William Farrell). 23 years after his death in 1989, this was such a blessing to see him in motion; his mannerisms, to hear his voice again…

    • Media Burn Archive says:


      We’re so glad you found this footage of your father! Just wanted to make sure you also saw the other tape of more footage with him–

  3. Roger A. De Vito says:

    Just by accident I saw the segment with Yolanda Leif at the Erie Cafe. I knew Yolanda in the late 50’s and early 60’s as a dear friend and a most fabulous waitress. After having Yolanda as your server any other server was never up to her style.She didn’t just serve food, she gave philosophy, commented on the universe, and made dining at the Erie Cafe a very special experience.Patrons would wait at the bar until Yolanda was available.That obviously made the others servers unhappy, to say the least.

  4. Roger A. De Vito says:

    Not by accident this time. I was actually browsing to see if if the Erie Cafe segment was still available. I can only repeat what I said eight or so years ago. Yolanda was a fabulous person and waitress. No one could navigate the Erie like her. She made dining there a very special experience. Rest in peace very dear Yolanda.

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