Today is the birthday of Louis “Studs” Terkel (1912-2008). Though born in NYC, he moved to Chicago when he was 8 – – and it’s hard to think of anyone more closely associated with Chicago than Studs Terkel. He got his start on radio during the Depression, but he would come to be most loved for his populist oral history projects, most of them released as books when he was fairly advanced in age: Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970), Working (1974), American Dreams: Lost and Found (1983), The Good War (1984) — these are just a handful of the body of work he wrote and released between 1958 and his death.
He has two points of relevance to this blog. One is that he is one of the best things about the 1997 PBS documentary Vaudeville. In the film he shares his memories of being a kid in the vaudeville audience, and all the great acts he loved to go see. His memories of A. Robins in particular stand out in my mind.
Two: I briefly got to meet him a little over ten years ago when he was doing some research at the New-York Historical Society. Do the math…Studs had to have been over 90 years old at the time. He was in one of those mechanized rolling chairs. And he still cared enough about his work to get out there and do it at that advanced age. And like I said, his last books came out the year of his death. He died at age 96!
Though he was famous for interviewing the common man, he also interviewed many celebrities over his long radio career. Here he is with Bob Dylan in 1963. As an added bonus you get to hear “Boots of Spanish leather”:
To find out more about vaudeville past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.