Louis "Studs" Terkel, 1912 - 2008

portrait of Studs Terkel

Born: 16 May 1912, New York City
Died: 31 October 2008, Chicago, Illinois

Terkel's family moved to Chicago in 1920 and he rarely left. His parents had a boarding house and hotel from 1926 to 1936 and Terkel credits the residents' Depression-era conversation in the lobby as being a major part of his education, along with the gatherings at "Bughouse Square" nearby. To emulate his hero, Clarence Darrow, he earned his Juris Doctor at the University of Chicago Law School in 1934 but learned that freshly-minted Jewish lawyers weren't in demand. He did a little acting, and at one point he was in a cast with another actor named Louis and to avoid confusion the director called him Studs, after Studs Lonigan, the part he was reading. He signed on with the Works Progress Administration's Federal Writers' Project, continued occasional acting, and for two years was the host of "Stud's Place", an unscripted television show based in a "greasy spoon" diner. TV, and the possibility of movie work, were eliminated by the blacklisting of that era and he landed at WFMT hosting The Studs Terkel Program, featuring some music but mostly interviews. His guests included Chicago luminaries and just about anyone that interested him that came to town, the show ran for an hour a day for 45 years (1952 - 1997). Through this he became fascinated with oral history and carried a tape recorder everywhere, short walks about town could take hours as people approached him to talk, and he promptly interviewed them. Sometime in the 1990s he lost most of his hearing and interviewing became difficult, he compensated by speeding up his writing.

Biography from Wikipedia and Chicago Tribune obituary

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