- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2008

CHICAGO (AP) | Studs Terkel, the ageless master of listening and speaking, a broadcaster, activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose best-selling oral histories celebrated the common people he liked to call the “non-celebrated,” died Friday. He was 96.

Dan Terkel said his father died at home and described his death as “peaceful, no agony. This is what he wanted.”

“My dad led a long, full, eventful, sometimes tempestuous, but very satisfying life,” Mr. Terkel said in a statement issued through his father’s colleague and close friend Thom Clark.

He was a native New Yorker who moved to Chicago as a child and came to embrace and embody his adopted town, with all its “carbuncles and warts,” as he recalled in his 2007 memoir, “Touch and Go.” He was a cigar and martini man, white-haired and elegantly rumpled in his trademark red-checkered shirts, an old rebel who never mellowed, never retired, never forgot, and “never met a picket line or petition I didn’t like.”

“A lot of people feel, ‘What can I do? [It’s] hopeless,’” Mr. Terkel told the Associated Press in 2003. “Well, through all these years there have been the people I’m talking about, whom we call activists … who give us hope and through them we have hope.”

The tougher the subject, the harder Mr. Terkel took it on. He put out an oral history collection on race relations in 1992 called “Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About The American Obsession,” and, in 1995, “Coming of Age,” recollections of men and women 70 and older.

Mr. Terkel won a 1985 Pulitzer Prize for “The Good War,” remembrances of World War II; he contrasted rich and poor along the same Chicago street in “Division Street: America” in 1966; described the Depression in 1970’s “Hard Times”; and chronicled how people feel about their jobs in “Working,” published in 1974.

“When the Chinese Wall was built, where did the masons go for lunch? When Caesar conquered Gaul, was there not even a cook in the army? And here’s the big one, when the Armada sank, you read that King Philip wept. Were there no other tears?” Mr. Terkel said upon receiving an honorary National Book Award medal in 1997. “And that’s what I believe oral history is about. It’s about those who shed those other tears, who on rare occasions of triumph laugh that other laugh.”

For his oral histories, Mr. Terkel interviewed his subjects on tape, then transcribed and sifted.

“What first comes out of an interview are tons of ore; you have to get that gold dust in your hands,” he wrote in his memoir. “Now, how does it become a necklace or a ring or a gold watch? You have to get the form; you have to mold the gold dust.”

Andre Schiffrin - Mr. Terkel’s longtime editor, publisher and close friend who gave him the ideas for many of his books - said Mr. Terkel “liked to tell the story of an interview with a woman in a public-housing unit in Chicago. At the end of the interview, the woman said, ‘My goodness, I didn’t know I felt that way.’ That was his genius.”

In 1999, a panel of judges organized by the Modern Library, a book publisher, picked “Working” as No. 54 on its list of the century’s 100 best English-language works of nonfiction. And in 2006, the Library of Congress announced that a radio interview he did with author James Baldwin in September 1962 was selected for the National Recording Registry of sound recordings worthy of preservation.

He was born Louis Terkel on May 16, 1912, in the Bronx. His father, Samuel, was a tailor; his mother, Anna, a seamstress. The family moved to Chicago in 1922 and ran a rooming house where young Louis would meet the workers and activists who would influence his view of the world.

He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1932, studying philosophy, and also picked up a law degree. But instead of choosing law, he worked briefly in the civil service and then found employment in radio with one of his beloved “alphabet agencies” from the New Deal, the WPA Writers Project.

His early work as a stage actor led to radio acting, disc jockey jobs and then to radio interview shows beginning in the 1940s. From 1949 to 1952, he was the star of a national TV show, “Studs’ Place,” a program of largely improvised stories and songs set in a fictional bar (later a restaurant) owned by Studs. Some viewers even thought it was a real place, and would go looking for it in Chicago.

In 1939, he married social worker Ida Goldberg, a marriage that lasted the 60 years until she died even though she couldn’t get him to dance and always called him Louis, not Studs: “Ida was a far better person than I, that’s the reality of it.”

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