Studs at 100: Friends remember a larger-than-life hero

A retrospective of film, video and documentary programming spanning the television career of Studs Terkel will be among highlights of a yearlong, citywide salute to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, activist, historian and broadcast pioneer.

The Studs Terkel Centenary Committee, an ad hoc group of friends, neighbors, associates and admirers, announced a wide range of plans Tuesday to honor the legendary free spirit and creative genius, who would have turned 100 on May 16 of this year. Terkel died at 96 in October 2008.

Of special interest to the media community will be the Studs Terkel Video and Film Festival, described by curator Tom Weinberg as “a free series of breakthrough events for people of all ages to see and enjoy both the remarkable man and his role as a TV pioneer.” Confirmed dates include June 2 at the Chicago History Museum and June 17 at the Claudia Cassidy Theater in the Chicago Cultural Center.

Weinberg, who was a close friend of Terkel and founder of the Media Burn Independent Video Archive, said the festival will include screenings of seven episodes of the landmark series Studs’ Place that have not been seen since 1951. Sixteen-millimeter kinescopes were discovered earlier this year in the basement of the Uptown home Terkel shared with his wife Ida, who died in 1999.

An essential component of the so-called Chicago School of Television, Studs’ Place was a network series produced here from 1949 to 1951 and noted for its ensemble cast and improvised dialogue. The unscripted drama ceased production after Terkel was blacklisted for his support of non-mainstream political and social causes. 

“Studs’ determination to tell people’s stories never waned in 43 years on his daily WFMT radio show nor in the more than 20 oral history books he wrote in the last 40 years of his life,” Weinberg said. “Perhaps ironically, 35 years after Studs’ Place ended, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters at the White House.”

Weinberg said the kinescopes are being digitally preserved for exhibition at the festival and for permanent viewing at, a repository of more than 300 films and videos of Terkel’s work, spanning seven decades.

Among other events planned throughout the year for Terkel’s 100th birthday tribute:

  • A rededication of the Division Street Bridge, which was originally named for Terkel in 1992. Division Street: America, published in 1966, was Terkel's first book of oral history. The ceremony is scheduled for May 12.
  • Special programming about Terkel on WFMT, and a birthday party at the Newberry Library, both on May 16.
  • A dramatic reading from the Terkel book Hope Dies Last at Steppenwolf Theater on May 21.
  • A Studs Terkel retrospective at the Chicago History Museum, a literary program at the Printers Row Lit Fest, and a music program at the Old Town School of Folk Music, with dates to be announced.
  • Publication of a commemorative map of Chicago, with notations of sites relevant to Terkel's life. 

Members of the centenary committee include:  Lois Baum, Paul Durica, Paul Engleman, Tom Geoghegan, Tony Judge, Rick Kogan, Martha Lavey, Sydney Lewis, Russell Lewis, David Murray, Steve Robinson, Elizabeth Taylor, Dan Terkell, Sandy Terkell, Jim Warren, Bob and Laura Watson, Tom Weinberg and Lawrence Weschler.

Tonight marks the 23rd annual Studs Terkel Community Media Awards program at Columbia College. Honorees are Maria Hinojosa, host of National Public Radio’s Latino USA, Chip Mitchell, a reporter in the Humboldt Park bureau of Chicago Public Radio WBEZ-FM (91.5), and Mick Dumke, political reporter for the Chicago Reader.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)