The Chicago Tribune summarizes Studs Terkel as "author-radio host-actor-activist and Chicago symbol." He died today at home there, with his book scheduled for release next month, "P.S. Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening," at his bedside. Terkel was 96. The Tribune website has up video, a slide show, a condolence book and the obituary.
It is hard to imagine a fuller life.
A television institution for years, a radio staple for decades, a literary lion since 1967, when he wrote his first best-selling book at the age of 55, Louis Terkel was born in New York City on May 16, 1912. "I came up the year the Titanic went down," he would often say....
He attended the University of Chicago, where he obtained a law degree and borrowed his nickname from the character in the " Studs Lonigan" trilogy by Chicago writer James T. Farrell. He never practiced law. Instead, he took a job in a federally sponsored statistical project with the Federal Emergency Rehabilitation Administration, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal'' agencies. Then he found a spot in a writers project with the Works Progress Administration, writing plays and developing his acting skills.
Terkel worked on radio soap operas, in stage plays, as a sportscaster and a disk jockey. His first radio program was called "The Wax Museum," an eclectic gather of whatever sort of music struck his fancy, including the first recordings of Mahalia Jackson, who would become a friend.
When television became a force in the American home in the early 1950s, Terkel created and hosted "Studs' Place," one of the major jewels in the legendary "Chicago school" of television that also spawned Dave Garroway and Kukla, Fran and Ollie.
It was on "Studs' Place," which was set in a tavern, that large numbers of people discovered what Terkel did best--talk and listen. Terkel, arms waving, words exploding in bursts, leaning close to his talking companions, didn't merely conduct interviews. He engaged in conversations. He was interested in what he was talking about and who he was talking to.
TV didn't last for him, but Terkel had been on radio for more than a decade when, in his mid 50s, he began to write books. Among others, "Division Street: America," "Hard Times," "Working," "American Dreams; Lost and Found" and "The Good War," which won the Pulitzer Prize.
Chicago Tribune photo by Chris Walker / April 22, 1992