What a life, what a voice, what a legacy. Studs Terkel, who died Friday at age 96, was known for many things in his long career as a reporter, raconteur, documentarian, radio broadcaster, activist, social commentator and everything else you’d expect from a guy called Studs.
“Working,” Terkel’s opus on the invisible blue-collar superheroes around us, ought to be required reading for every high school senior in America. With the exception of Aaron Copland (and maybe Jimmy Breslin at his best), nobody ever wrote such a rousing fanfare for the common man.
A lesser known chapter of Terkel’s working life is the TV series “Studs’ Place,” which ran in various forms from November 1949 to January 1952 on NBC and later ABC. The show is described as something like “Cheers” — set in New York with Terkel playing an affable bartender with a bunch of colorful regulars — but apparently the show was mostly improvised by Terkel and a cast that included folk singer Win Stracke and Beverly Younger (who brings an Audrey Meadows quality to the role of waitress Grace).
Although the show was set in New York it was produced out of NBC’s studio in Terkel’s home turf of Chicago (as Studs tells the audience after the end credits). I learned all of this thanks to a great website documenting the history of early TV in Chi maintained by a devoted son of the Windy City TV biz, Rich Samuels.
Here’s a link to a streaming vid one of the few segs of “Studs Place” that still exist. There’s barely a discernible plot to the half-hour that originally aired June 6, 1950, but the barroom banter about opera, jazz, short ribs and the state of American culture is to die for. (Thanks to Rich Samuels and his efforts for this link and for the still from “Studs’ Place” at the top of this post.)
Here’s also a link to the first of a three-part interview that Terkel did with the Archive of American Television, talking about his early days in radio and TV, including his appearances on another famed early Chi TV production, “Kukla, Fran and Ollie.”