Omnibus: Studs Terkel’s Chicago

BBC portrait of Studs Terkel, the Chicago author. Features current interviews and footage of Terkel; archival footage of Terkel; footage of Terkel receiving the Pulitzer Prize for his book "The Good War" on May 20, 1985; Terkel's audio recordings of people's reactions to Chicago's Picasso sculpture at its unveiling; and a brief interview with Terkel's wife, Ida.

00:00Copy video clip URL Opening credits. Terkel talks about memory and truth, themes to which he returns later in the tape.

01:19Copy video clip URL Terkel’s longtime friend Blind John Davis, Chicago native and blues pianist, shares his early memories of music with Terkel. Segues into a portrayal of segregation in Chicago, layering sound bytes over images of the city. “Segregation is worse in Chicago than I ever knew in my life,” says activist Peggy Terry. “What we’re witnessing is the deterioration of the simple,” says another person.

04:32Copy video clip URL Footage of Studs Terkel for receiving the Pulitzer Prize for his nonfiction book, “The Good War.” A narrator lists Terkel’s works and the fascinating variety of careers he held.

06:40Copy video clip URL Terkel tells the history of his career as an actor in radio soap operas before he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He also explains his rise to prominence as the host of his own radio show on WFMT. Includes footage of Terkel conducting an interview for his show. “This is sort of a collective memory,” he says as the camera pans over shelves full of thousands of tapes from his show.

13:42Copy video clip URL Jazz music plays while the camera pans over shots of the city. Terkel interviews tenor saxophone soloist Bud Freeman. “People think that jazz came from New Orleans, but Chicago really had the clubs where jazz was supported,” Freeman says.

16:13Copy video clip URL Looking out his window at Lake Michigan, Terkel comments, “I suppose you want to capture, greedy as I am, as much of the history of the city as you can, but how many dimensions can you cover?” Black and white footage of Chicago’s gangster days plays as he says, “Chicago respectables are secretly proud of that reputation … It is the big daddy of corrupt cities.”

18:08Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about the chaotic 1968 Democratic Convention. He tells the firsthand story of his experience at the protest while walking the very grounds on which it occurred. Later, an argument about the disorder at the convention breaks out between Studs and a man in a liquor store.

22:06Copy video clip URL Calling Chicago a “seedbed,” Terkel introduces a segment about Chicago’s great achievements in arts, architecture and literature. Includes early 1970s video footage of Studs interviewing author Nelson Algren, peoples’ reactions to the famous Picasso sculpture at its unveiling downtown, and panoramic views from the top of the Sears Tower.

27:12Copy video clip URL Terkel interviews Florence Scala, an Italian-American community activist in the South Side area leveled to build the campus of University of Illinois-Chicago, who was portrayed in Studs’ book Division Street. Asked if she feels Italian or American, she says, “My loyalty is here [USA], but my love is Italy.” A brief interview with Terkel’s wife Ida follows.

31:30Copy video clip URL Low-quality footage of Terkel’s 1950s television show “Studs Place.” He says as he watches, “Sometimes it’s painful in that it’s not as good as you thought at the time, and yet there’s a crazy quality to this program.” He explains how he was blacklisted and the show was cut off for political reasons. The shot cuts to him casually discussing his book in a restaurant with other diners.

36:15Copy video clip URL Blues piano transitions into talk of the Great Depression and the civil rights movement. Terkel interviews Peggy Terry, a poor Southern white who came to Chicago seeking work and became a community organizer and vocal advocate for racial equality. A star of his book Hard Times, Terry says “Studs does such a wonderful job that it gives me a sense of who I am, and who I was, and my relationship with other people in this country.” They talk about how they met, on a train to Martin Luther King’s March on Washington.

42:48Copy video clip URL Footage of the 1963 March on Washington introduces a section on gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, a longtime friend of Terkel’s. “I think that if I can save you Studs, we’ve got it made!” she used to tell Terkel. In a voice-over, Jackson describes the everyday racism that even she feels, despite her celebrity.

46:15Copy video clip URL Terkel and African-American journalist Vernon Jarrett tour a port of entry for Black Chicagoans, 47th and Martin Luther King Drive in Bronzeville. “Chicago meant that regardless of how badly you may have been treated in the South … there was always Chicago, where you were always equal, where you were free,” Jarrett says. They cut to Terkel’s friend on the jazz piano to discuss the work of country soul musician Big Bill Broonzy, and show footage of Broonzy performing. Archival footage of Terkel in 1960 talking about Broonzy. Later, Jarrett says of the dreams of Chicago’s Black citizens, “Now someone has thrown a blanket over that dream, and boarded it up like this street corner.”

54:04Copy video clip URL Terkel explains a running theme of his work: “What is it like to be a certain person, ordinary so-called, living at a certain moment in history in a certain circumstance.” He interviews Ed Sadlowski, a steel-worker portrayed in Terkel’s book American Dreams: Lost and Found. Terkel watches home movies of himself talking about politics and the depression.

59:30Copy video clip URL Terkel lives his “ultimate fantasy,” delivering the First Inaugural address if he were elected President as the credits roll.


1 Comment

  1. Wendy says:

    Thank you so, so much for posting this fantastic documentary. So much material in here extremely rare and valuable.

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