Louis Terkel Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Louis “Studs” Terkel (TUR-kuhl) was a broadcast journalist and author of several books. His father, tailor Samuel Terkel, and mother, seamstress Anna (Finkel) Terkel, emigrated from Bialystok, Poland, to the Bronx, where Louis, the youngest of three boys, was born and grew up with people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds.

When Terkel was nine, his family moved to Chicago, where his parents ran a rooming house. He enjoyed observing and conversing with the renters there, and he credited his career as an interviewer in part to his interaction with those guests. Terkel acquired his nickname from his fascination with novelist James T. Farrell’s character Studs Lonigan in Young Lonigan (1932). “Naturally I identified with (Lonigan) because we had nothing in common,” he said. He spoke constantly of Lonigan to his friends, who consequently dubbed him Studs.

In 1939 Terkel married Ida Goldberg, a social worker of Ukrainian descent who was raised in Wisconsin. The two met through a theater group and discovered their common interest in progressive politics and similarities in other areas of their lives. They had one son, Paul.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1932 and a J.D. from its law school two years later, Terkel realized his career was not going to be as glamorous as that of his lawyer-hero, Clarence Darrow, so Terkel began seeking work elsewhere: in the civil service; as an actor in Chicago; in the radio division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Writers Project; and, because a perforated eardrum prevented him from serving in combat when he was called up for military duty, as an entertainer for the military.

In the 1940’s he began working with radio, doing radio commentary and later hosting Studs Terkel’s Wax Museum. In 1950 he began his own television show, Studs’ Place, featuring himself as the manager of a small café, three actors as café workers, and different people as guests each week. The program’s dialogue was spontaneous and informal, and the show helped define the genre of Chicago-style television.

Then in 1953,...

(The entire section is 897 words.)