Terkel, Louis

Terkel, (Louis) “Studs”

(1912–  ) interviewer, actor, writer; born in New York City. His studies at the University of Chicago culminated in a law degree (1934) but after failing the bar exams, he took a job with the federal government as a statistician. He returned to Chicago in 1935, joined the Federal Writer's Project, wrote weekly radio shows for WGN, and also played the villain in several radio soap operas. In the late 1930s he acted with the Chicago Repertory Theater, where he continued through the 1940s and the 1950s while renaming himself "Studs" after the James T. Farrell character, Studs Lonigan. In the 1940s he broadcast news and sports, and as a disc jockey, he promoted, among others, Mahalia Jackson. From about 1949–53 he hosted Stud's Place, a Chicago television program where he played a bartender who interviewed various distinguished guests. He was blacklisted in 1953 for "signing an anti-Jim Crow petition," and, unable to get work, he turned to a socially progressive radio station, WFMT. Practically a volunteer in the beginning, he developed the hour-long radio program that became the Studs Terkel Show and which in 1962 won the prestigious Pre-Italia Award. In 1967 his lifelong fascination with "the man of inchoate thought" yielded the first of his oral histories called Division Street: America. It was followed by a series of edited interviews, including Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970), Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974), and Race: How Blacks and Whites Feel and Think About the American Obsession (1991).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.