Mike Royko and Herman Kogan interview Studs Terkel
BROADCAST: Jan. 16, 1967 | DURATION: 00:54:30
In a rare turn of events, Mike Royko and Herman Kogan interview Studs Terkel about his book, "Division Street: America." Kogan is in awe of how Studs was able to get people to talk to him and give in-depth interviews. When asked by Royko, "What would you do if you were God?", Studs answered that he'd let man be man.
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Herman Kogan This is a very auspicious occasion. The day the publication of his book "Division Street: America." And as we pick him up off the floor --
Studs Terkel I am, I am floored. I have nothing to say at the moment.
Herman Kogan You're going to talk.
Herman Kogan This is a very auspicious occasion. The day the publication of his book "Division Street: America." And as we pick him up off the floor -- I am, I am floored. I have nothing to say at the moment. You're going to talk. One of these rare occasions. I'm inarticulate. I really am quite -- I expect Nancy Wilson Ross taped this. This happened just this very moment. Highly improvisational. I'm a little nervous. Mike Royko to my left. I mean that geographically, not ideologically. He's thinking over the program. Now we're going to take over the program, we're taking over the program.
Herman Kogan Just sit there! I know Studs doesn't like trite questions and in his preface to "Division Street: America" he talks about the fact that he did not ask many of the people in the book trite questions, but we're going, we're going to start with a very original and very untrite question, Studs. How did you come to write "Division Street: America"?
Studs Terkel Well, it came about accidentally. I'm beginning to believe more and more in chance than -- I always thought everything is worked out. And now we know the world of the absurd, yet I think man has some will. It came about because one day I met André Schiffrin and this was accidentally, here's a crazy story. The Establishment was in town, remember The Establishment, the young English players, and on the program were Johnny Bird and Eleanor Bron, who had become quite popular in England with another program, not a program, but a way of life, you know, and Eleanor Bron knew, went to Cambridge with a guy named André Schiffrin. His father was a great publisher in pre-Hitler Germany; Pantheon. And then I think he worked with Gallimard Press, his father did in Paris, the publishers of Camus and Sartre, and Pantheon came to America, it's now a subsidiary of Random House, and Andre always is looking for something different. And one day I think he had heard some of the interviews WFMT carries on the New York station WRVR, and was taking with them and had this idea. This is a long story, but I can shorten it.
Studs Terkel "A Report From a Chinese Village" is a book written by Jan, by Gunnar Myrdal's son, Jan Myrdal, and one day Andre calls, "How about a report from an American village?" And of course, here came the great difficulty: A small town in China, a revolution, an event, a fact. People put their hands on it. [Their life?] was not a political book, it was their life before and after, people of this village. Now, this could not possibly be done with a large American city with so many things happening at one and the same time, that which Bob Hutchins' committee in California calls "the triple revolution." So therefore it had to be there was no plan that had to be, had to find certain people, not a survey, not motivational research, just guerrilla journalism I call it. So some were accidental, finding a kid who drives a cab. Who says? This kid started one day, I was starting on the interview, just interviewed two Appalachian people who became very urbanized and rather seared and tough. I left them on Campbell Street. Campbell Avenue. It was a stormy night last year, took this cab and first this kid, kid sees this tape recorder that I was fooling around with and goofing up, and he says, "Did you see 'Lord Jim,' the movie?" And I said, "No." He said, "It's about courage. In fact, it's about me," and he starts talking and I see he's a member of the John Birch Society he tells me why he, he didn't tell me why he joined, but I wanted to know why, and so I met him the next day at a bar, I remember he had gin and squirt. I had something tougher and then we went into his car. He drives the cab part-time, has exterminator factory and he joined because he wants to be someone. And out of this came an interview. I felt he's very humane. It's easy to rap a John Birch Society member, that's not the answer. It's why does someone become that? And was he, then an ADC mother. I knew Bill Newman was doing a series on ADC and Robert Taylor Homes. And so I called up Bill one day. This woman attracted me, his ride up with this woman who I would call Barbara Hayes. We changed some names because it might embarrass some people one way or another, some seriously, some not, and so. There are some real names used. Mainly it was try to see what are people thinking of in a large city, the people who've never been asked what they think of before. If you notice in the preface, there's no journalists, so no Mike Royko, no Herman Kogan, no clergyman, no teachers, that is, no professors that write books, teachers of public schools, yeah. No celebrities, quote unquote, rather those who were considered inarticulate suddenly become articulate; and the portable tape recorder is terribly exciting. It becomes exciting not interviewing a movie actress or a professor, but on the steps of a housing project it becomes exciting, or in a car at one in the morning in the inner city it becomes exciting, because as you talk they suddenly open up and basically this is, I'm wandering now because I am a little, I must admit, stunned, by, well, I think my audience knows my feelings about Mike Royko.
Mike Royko You have any trouble getting them talking with a tape recorder?
Mike Royko These are people, most of them have never been interviewed before by anyone.
Studs Terkel Hardly had any been interviewed before, no, except Florence Scala, there were some, a few names that were used, Jessie Binford, Florence Scala, Barry Byrne, the architect, a very marvelous architect too long taken for granted, a few real names used. The diff-- interviewing? No, I find for some reason, when you talk. I think if you're not an interviewer, I think the word 'interview' was a thing. If it's con-- this sounds like a cliche, if it's conversation, Mike, if they feel you ask them a question that they think you're really interested. I think they feel you're really interested. I don't know, there's no one, I don't know, I have no technique that I can explain. It's just talking. What do you say? You know, I think sometimes I fall in, you'll notice I'm like a chameleon. I fall into a pattern sometimes of a tough kid as I talk, not deliberately but it just so happens, or if I'm talking to a pompous guy, I get pompous.
Studs Terkel Well, pretty good batting average.
Mike Royko These rep-- You had a lot more, what have you got here, 75?
Studs Terkel There are about 70, I think.
Mike Royko How many were these culled from?
Studs Terkel All of them, about 200. And there again it was arbitrary. Some very good ones are not in. Marvelous -- Well, every one was fascinating. This sounds like a gag, but everyone. I think what I did find out, Mike and Herman, what I did find out is that I was astonished, I myself. I was so surprised, so often. When Dennis Mitchell, if I could return, because there's a man in this book whose voice was heard on the non-played-yet-in-Chicago, Dennis Mitchell film, and this man whom I call Henry Lorenz, ends the film of Henry -- Of Dennis Mitchell, the film about Chicago banned, the establishment, without seeing it, and he says we're all human. Sometimes if a man stumbles, wait for him. I'm human, too. Wait for me. This is in the film, so I went to visit him, but I found someone I didn't expect to find: The same man, a good man, but a man of incredible fears and violently anti-Negro, though he would deny it. And the fear overwhelms him, the fear of the unknown. This is the same man, you see. And in fact he, if I were to choose the one example of my own astonishment, it's meeting Henry Lorenz for the second time, and really this time talked to him in depth. He -- Everyone in the world wants to be someone. In the preface, you notice, I speak of fear and face. Face.
Herman Kogan Face in the deepest sense, not in the Oriental sense of the word.
Studs Terkel The deepest sense. It's funny, we think of face as an Oriental word. But how universal it really is. And this is, again I was astonished throughout. Always surprised, continuously.
Herman Kogan Well, this is kind of a, you're able to get, I've read every word of this, and I read, as you know, some of it in manuscript, and you're able to get people who are relatively or considered inarticulate, to really talk, almost as if they were on a psychoanalytical coach. Of course, we all know this is one of your great gifts with people who are ordinarily articulate, actors, authors, and the like. But to be able to to to to get them to, to use the cliche, their innermost feelings, probably probably I have the feeling as I read this book, Studs, that they express to you things they probably have not expressed to hardly anyone maybe maybe not even themselves.
Studs Terkel You just hit something very fascinating, Herman, this is exactly what some of them said. They didn't realize what they really were thinking; when it was all over, oh, often this elderly lady, or the first helper open hearth at U.S. Steel. Others saying, you know, "I -- Wow. Is that the way I feel?" You didn't realize that, you know, some did not actually, were not conscious of their feelings 'til after our conversation. I was somewhere as astonished as I was. Astonishment I think, is the only word I could find to describe my own feelings after some of the interviews. But this matter of, I think everyone since you asked that question about probing people, inarticulate, everyone there's a key, I think. It's not the same key, not the same key. I'm not saying that, you know, we're all the same of course we're not, we each one is different but each one has a common attribute and that is to be recognized as somebody and the other the fears, each one has the common, not the same fears, each one has some fear in common, but not wanting to -- I think this primary thing of not realizing what he was thinking, all these years, and suddenly saying it, as it were blurted out, you know, and then he -- Sometimes I'd play back part of the tape, he could, someone'd say, "Could I hear part of?" Sure. And then I'd goof up the tape, too, 'cause I goof up the tape a lot. Not deliberately, but I'm not very good.
Mike Royko Yeah, I was going to ask you that. It said here in the Bill Newman story in the "Daily News" said you have trouble operating the [unintelligible].
Studs Terkel Well, Jimmy Unrath, who works -- Jimmy worked with me on "Born to Live," Jimmy's the best authority on that for sure. On my -- The tape and I, machines and I generally --
Mike Royko Important question, what kind of tape recorder is it?
Studs Terkel It's called a Ewer. It's --
Mike Royko Very expensive.
Studs Terkel A small machine that weighs about, weighs about 300 pounds, I was going to say. It costs about 300 dollars, pounds would be even more, but it weighs about 12 pounds and it's marvelous, you can take it anywhere. That's been in South Africa, that's been in Montgomery, Alabama. It's been in a Klan tavern --
Studs Terkel You didn't use anything outside of Chicago, did you, like the Montgomery -- No. These were Chicago only. No. These were -- Oh, on that point. Some people think these were interviews that have been on the air. No, only two: One involving a young boy, Jimmy, who was in the series "Joy Street," and Rose, whom we called Lily Lowell in this book, who I think has her own book to write. Rose is this girl everyone considered writes poetry and I think Rose herself will write her own book soon. But they're the only two. I played part of Jessie Binford, part of it at the time of her death recently at the age of 90. But the rest have not been. You know, this, these haven't been aired yet, no.
Herman Kogan Studs, are any common problems, common fears, common apprehensions, that all of them had? Can you generalize on that at all? I notice that a great many of the people, a great many of the people almost naturally got around at one time or another to the business of war, the business of the bomb. I notice in the preface you call yourself 'a stage mother' and had to urge some of them to say certain things about God.
Studs Terkel I was a stage mother for God.
Herman Kogan What about the bomb bit? I notice so many of the people, even the ones who aren't, don't even feel the presence, somehow or other get around to it.
Studs Terkel It comes up all the time. Sometimes I'd have to introduce it because it's there, as though you're waiting for the word, and it's hanging. I think they speak about a certain fear, it's hanging. And then you want to say, "Well, what is it, you know? Is it," and finally say, "Is it the bomb?" And they say, "Oh, yeah." Because sometimes they don't introduce it because the thought is too overwhelming, like civil rights, race, one way or the other, that would come up almost -- You'd almost know when it would come, you could feel it for this certain person. Anti-Negro or on integration. You don't -- You'd almost feel it. And so with Vietnam that would almost come up by itself with the troubles, what troubles? When it came to the bomb. It's so big, you know, that you'd have to kind of push it. Well, I notice I played, I said in the preface I played stage mother to God, hardly religion, hardly mentioned, except when I introduce it, and then it would come up. Martin Marty, I noticed, the theologian in the "Book Week" review, makes a point of that. Obvious that's on Dr. Marty's mind, too. But religion is such lips-- What's come out is a great deal of lip service has been paid to it. But people are not quite as -- Take it. They know it's almost ritual now, and that's why the young -- You know, it's the last part is called The Inheritors. One of the last sequences deal with the young, the variety and that is one of the reasons why I suppose they question so much. They sense the hypocrisy. But the people do themselves. But the point is they're not hypocrites, coming back to the subject of the book. It seems that I've seen three reviews so far, and all three I'm happy to note are favorable, but all three hit it from a different point of view from the reviewers' standpoint, like Martin Marty is not quite as optimistic about the world as Digby Whitman is in the Trib. And each one sees -- And maybe -- And they're both right! They're both right, you see. It's a fluid situation, a fluid time which we live in and it seems to me the crying need is for statesmanship. If I can go beyond the book for a moment instead of hacks, the idea of, they're all crying out for something. Everyone. No matter what their politics may be or lack of politics, what they have in common is, something is cockeyed and we're not too far away from whatever that good thing might be. And not too far away from the devastation either.
Herman Kogan Speaking of the bomb, I notice that one of the one of the many many memorable little passages that are very revealing, one of things is that occasionally in a sentence, in two sentence, there's a revelation of character in some of these people that is fantastic and there are people who are not concerned, who seem to not be concerned with the bomb and with its effects and yet I think really are, even in what they say. For example, there is one woman you remember, who, Mrs. R. Fuqua Davies, who you asked, "So many things happening today, this talk of the bomb, what does affect does it have on you?" and it's remarkable to hear her say, "Absolutely none. I hardly hear anybody talk about it. I think to let your life be frustrated and destroyed by some horrible thing that might happen I think that's just the way madness lies. I mean, you have to go along." You know, and even in how she says it. I notice little significant things, you say. She laughs, a very nervous laugh, as if she has almost a guilty feeling about not being concerned about what is going on.
Studs Terkel You hit about, I'm delighted you brought that up. You hit about three points there I think that should be talked about. Very gracious lady, one of the social leaders in town. She's saying something that another guy, I think, a steelworker said: same thing in different words. That is, if you'd go mad if you thought about it all the time, therefore you have this protracted coloration almost a camouflage, and the laugh is interesting. Not only her laugh, I notice very often, you may notice this in some of the interviews with Negroes. You hear this very often on radio or watching on TV someone speaking who is Negro. The laugh comes at a certain moment, not with a joke, the laugh comes at a bitter moment, you see. As though the laugh itself is a protection from going altogether mad, you know. And so the laugh very often is the opposite of joy. The laugh is "I must be sane." You know, I must laugh. So Mrs Davies and I think it was Bob Carter or one of the advertising guys, Ross Pelletiere, I think it was, who spoke of. He's a man who likes -- He liked his -- here's a very sad postscript to that, there are two advertising men in the book, one loathed his work, that's Charlie Landisfar, who was in the Panorama the other day, and Ross Pelletiere, who loves his work. The postscript is Ross Pelletier was laid off about a month ago and the team man, the new team man, came and said to him, "You know, we have a new team," and Ross Pelletiere, this is a pseudonym of course, so that's why I'm free in saying this, was so shocked, if you notice he was so devoted to his work, and the reason he was laid off, or rather, retired, which is euphemism for it here, was that he did his job very well. It isn't that, just a new team, didn't quite fit in with the new -- I says, "Wouldn't you rather have received a sock on the jaw than this way?" And we had lunch, and he said, "Oh, yeah, I would much rather." I didn't know, at first I thought he was cool, but he wasn't. He wasn't cool at all inside. But he used the phrase about "you get used about the bomb" if you work in a factory somewhere or in a steel mill you hear this sound, this tremendous -- You get used to it, eventually it no longer registers. And so the thought of the bomb no longer reg-- Which is a sad thing in a way because many, some of the others are a little more concerned than others, so yes, we should be conscious of this and thus maybe alter our whole attitude when it comes to ourselves and other countries.
Mike Royko Did he get another job?
Studs Terkel Not yet. Oh, you mean Ross Pelletiere? Not yet. Remember, he's a certain age, too. You have to remember that, he's 52 and they offered him another job and they said, "Well, how about working in adver--?" I'm sure I, I hope I'm free in saying that since he's protected by a pseudonym and they said, "You could work in public relations, but then you understand you are older than the new head of public relations, and you were getting more than he was." Obviously, it can't be. They were almost toying with him, you know. But he was the one who loved his work. That's the point, you see. That's not in the book because this happened, this event happened after the book.
Herman Kogan Studs, your reference a little earlier to Martin Marty's review in "Book Week" I think your listeners ought to know, if they haven't read it, that he says, and it's a very important statement to make I think because a lot of people may think of this strictly as a Chicago book, or strictly as a book maybe even about Division Street as we know it in Chicago. He does say that "This street, the metaphorical street in the hands of Studs Terkel, takes on macrocosmic dimensions and serves as a comment on the human condition." I don't know how that can be used in a good selling ad to sell books, but it's very true. I think this is the the great value of this particular book again, if I may like your press agent, is that it's it's not, you know, Division Street literally, Division Street Chicago, nor is it Division Street America necessarily. It's just Division Street the world.
Studs Terkel This is the idea I was trying to get across. You remember, Herman, I remember I was showing you some galleys once, there was a, there was a battle with, not between me and the publishers, but just a question of what names to choose, and finally they liked the original choice, Division Street, even though it wasn't. This is the confusing aspect to many Chicagoans, perhaps to clarify now. This is as Herman said, the metaphor, the division in us, and the division in our society and it's more, I hope more, than a book about Chicago. That's the whole purpose of a book about any large city at the moment in America, but almost could be, I would guess, 10 years from now assuming no madman pushes a button. Ten years from now, unless those who work for joy and beauty and try to save those 800 trees. I mean 800 trees in every city of the world this may be any large city anywhere in the world or societies, the bigness. So it is thoughts of people who have never been publicly quoted before with a few exceptions. And that was deliberate because of Florence Scala's and Jessie Binford's interest in the inner city.
Mike Royko You mentioned, do you worry about the bomb, Studs?
Studs Terkel Well, that's a very funny question. That's a very tough one to answer, Mike. Yes, I do, I guess I do, do I think about it every day? No. Because if I did I'd go mad. I often ask this of Negroes, by the way. Are you conscious of being a Negro every moment of the day? And of course you know it's there. But to be conscious every moment would drive him mad. But events make it clear to him that he is many times. Lou Gibson in the book, another pseudonym, Lou Gibson's been around. He's a steward at the packinghouse workers and he's worked in a packinghouse for a long time. He said, "I've got a funny feeling. Here I am a city man. In fact, I'm the steward. I'm in charge of many young white guys but if I go into a new town involving union work or organizing going to a motel I get the butterfly all over again." There's that butterfly. I thought it was over that. So coming back to the bomb, I draw this parallel because I think there is one, if I were to think about it every moment I suppose I would go crazy. But it's all -- I think it's on all our minds, but how we push it back. You know, the human mind is marvelous.
Mike Royko You know, I found I talk to a lot of high school editors and kids who are writing term papers or something like that that come up. They're always assigned to interview someone on a newspaper if they're in a journalism course. And I ask them about this, I keep hearing you ask, and the answers are interesting, so I started asking them, and most of them seemed surprised that I'd even mention it. They're not worried. They don't seem [unintelligible]. I guess it's always been there in their lives and they just don't think -- But like this woman, who is this lady? She's -- Kentucky. "Ever hear of the bomb?" And she says, "I've heard tell of it. Don't worry about it. I got no time to worry about it. I got too much work to do."
Studs Terkel Of course, there's Bonnie Dawson, who is an Appalachian lady, her husband is ill. She's got these six kids, she works in a factory in Des Plaines, gets a lift every morning, she gets up about five, comes home about eight. And how could she worry about the bomb, she's worrying about the bad teeth of her kids, one kid might have TB, taking -- Sunday is her great day of relaxation, that's when she cleans the house and does everything and straightens everything out. Naturally she has, you mention the kids, Mike. Of course it's not on there. Again, the book is full of paradoxes and contradictions throughout. I guess they were born under the bomb. They've lived with it, you know. It's like someone who's lived in poverty and in despair all his life and knows no other way, "Maybe that's the way God meant it," you know. And so these kids live except, of course, for the protesting kids who are different; now they're somewhat different. You know, the minority. Those who I like, you know, perhaps you and I, I think Mike and I agree on so many things on this one we may not agree all together. I happen to admire these kids very much. And some of them, perhaps, are joining just for the purpose of being part of something celebrated, but there are some I think who are, perhaps to quote Churchill, whom I do not love to quote, I think it was an overestimated man of our century --
Herman Kogan Over-quoted.
Studs Terkel Over-quoted, but "our last best hope" in that sense. The thing about, if I can just wander a bit. Churchill is voted and he's on March -- He's on "Time" magazine, which means God has decided. He's "Man of the Century" and he lives in the same century that Gandhi has lived in, that Einstein has lived in. Now, he was a remarkable man of war, he was brilliant and he saved -- Indeed, he was a great figure in the fight against Nazism, but as a man of peace he was bush league, and it's peace that's the problem. War is easy and I think these young kids would vote for Gandhi or Einstein rather than Churchill. But this is a side comment of mine.
Herman Kogan There's a good quote, too, Jessie Binford talking about youth, remember, Studs, it's "I feel most sorry today for our young people that are growing up just at the time at this time and the current despair they feel about lots of things. They're rebellious against they know not what but I've come to feel especially out here that our great hope is in them. The youth I think are concerned, even the ones who are confused, they're getting a feeling something that may affect the whole world. I don't know, I just feel it." It's remarkable that Jessie Binford who was then, what? Ninety years old is much more in tune with what what's happening, baby, than the older people.
Studs Terkel Here's something right here. Herman's point. Jessie Binford, age 90, knows what that 16-year-old kid is thinking of far more than a 40-year-old father of that kid. It would seem, too, to me, this is another discovery perhaps not as a result of the book but generally, that the very young and the very old have something in common, that it's the middle of the established middle, that is so unimaginative and that is the perhaps the core of dehumanization. Now, they're not bad people. This is, again I don't want to be this Pollyanna. I don't want to be Will Rogers now, because I hope not. I mean, the idea of "I've never met a bad" -- There's good and bad in all of us. There is the instinct for survival. There is exploitation but everyone in there is this one aspect, now Jessie Binford at 90, at 90 was far, was much more young than so many who are 40 and 30. But she pointed out these kids, some of these kids are middle-class kids who could, who voluntarily choose a life of relative poverty voluntarily to join those who involuntarily are the -- This is why that Mike writes so many columns about and so beautifully exposing the phoniness in the war against poverty, you know. But these kids are interested in that war. The politicians may not be but they are. Someone like Jessie Binford was. It's the --
Mike Royko What would you do? Another question you like to ask is, what would you do if you were God? Give us a -- I want a program. Would you have put out the fire in McCormick Place?
Studs Terkel You know, I just heard about the fire in McCormick Place.
Mike Royko Where were you last night?
Studs Terkel I read the headline that there is no McCormick Place, and first thought is, well, nobody's hurt, okay, that's the first thing, okay, then. My next --
Herman Kogan You thought the Sun-Times had [warned its fight?], right?
Studs Terkel My next thought, I was thinking of Mike's columns and I'm thinking suddenly, gee, the day seems stormy. Snow outside, but the sun is shining, isn't it.
Mike Royko It was hard to get in
Studs Terkel and out of there without being seen. I was home, I have this cold, so I have an excuse. Where were you? Where was Mike Royko? That's one of the questions.
Mike Royko Don't dodge the question. What would you do if you was
Studs Terkel God? Well, of course, I'm thinking of a column. If I could just transfer this Mike's column, marvelous, about some of the tough kids being asked questions by certain commentators, you know, "What are your thoughts?" I know of one who asked that question, what would you do if you were God, and some of the kids came up with, I felt, very beautiful answers. Now you're asking me the question, I can't come up with an answer. I don't know. What would I do if I was God? I don't know. I'd let man be man. I'd let man be man. For whatever that may mean. Let man be man.
Mike Royko I like that. You understand it, Herman?
Herman Kogan No.
Studs Terkel I don't know what it means, but I think, I don't know what it means. On that same theme, by the way, not knowing what it means, sometimes in coming back, I'll come back to God, 'cause I always [wanted to? wander?] -- In asking the questions, sometimes the answer is not direct. The answer is indirect and I come back to it again. And then I realize they have answered it in that indirection, you know. That sometimes they don't answer a question directly, it's very difficult. Now if I was God, when I asked that question, you noticed I received a variety of responses like Mrs. Davies said, "Most pretentious thing I ever heard," and someone else said, "Oh, if I was God " Jimmy said, "I think I'd have weapons people would shoot that would never go off." You know, each one would say something perhaps involving his own life and his own experience. Now you got "let man be man," I don't know what that means but I think I think what I mean is let man be able to fulfill whatever possibilities there are in him.
Mike Royko Sort of what [Shriver?] said.
Herman Kogan that's it, then. You mean man with a capital 'M' and man with a small 'm.'
Studs Terkel Small 'm.' I think everyone who is born to have a chance for better or for worse. None of us -- Well, we know we're not all born equal, but to use that old cliche, but to have an equal chance to fulfill whatever may be in him one way or another.
Herman Kogan And one of the answers to that specific question in the book, one of the most fascinating people in this book is, of course, Kid Pharoah, who is a -- Well, he speaks for himself. I wonder if, Mike, if it wouldn't be a good idea for Studs, for example, to read one section. His answer when he -- When Studs asked Kid Pharaoh "Do you believe in God?"
Studs Terkel Oh, "Do you believe in God?" "I really don't know, I'm a dedicated agnostic," and this comes after the time he was saying, you know, about how, he's always calling on God all the time. "Oh, so help me God, if I go to a high court, I swear I'll never do a day's honest work in my life."
Herman Kogan This is, what's some of his background?
Studs Terkel Kid Pharoah was a prizefighter, a pretty good club fighter, by the way.
Mike Royko He says he says he's an ex-prize fighter by profession.
Studs Terkel By profession. Well, Kid Pharaoh is someone I had met, perhaps a word about how I met him because some of these subjects, you know, were people I had known vaguely, some I'd never known, some were tipped by someone, and Pharoah was standing outside his hot dog stand. He's since left town, not because of this book, he left town things were bad here. He didn't tell me why they were bad, but he left town. And he's, "Ey, Studs!" I said, "Ey!" I call him by his real name. And I had met him before because he hangs around theater people a lot. I'd met him once backstage, I forget what -- He hangs around theater people and he uses phrases, you know, now and then that are very interesting. And so he's always talking about, "I'd take an oath before the high court or before God, I'll never do an honest day's labor in my life." And now I say, "You believe in God." Oh, here, before this, I asked, "Do you have to step on people?" He says, "I'm really, a man can go as high as he wants as long as he wants, be aggressive enough." And I say, "Even if, even if he has to step on others?" "He must, he must. In our society you must do it. Don't work any other way, it doesn't, people will kill you, they'll kill you and then take an oath before a high court and God. We do it. Oh, me," he's talking about his brother and himself. "To me the most important thing is helping someone who is in need. Financially, if I have the currency in any way, shape, or form, I can help people and I do. I take an oath before court and before God, we do it." And I said, "You believe in God?" "I really don't. I'm a dedicated agnostic. Who was Jesus Christ?" This is Kid Pharaoh talking. "He was an excellent, I would say, con man. He learned hypnotism in India and [unintelligible] Israel they wanted to shaft him because he was causing all this nonsense and riots. He said he was a Son of God. Today they wouldn't kill 'im. They would offer him psychiatric supervision because the dear boy was in need of this. When he fed the multitude the fish, he hypnotized a half a dozen. They carried on the word. Who'd he feed, he fed nobody." I'm trying to recreate Pharoah's intensity, too, and "He fed nobody! Who'd he cure of leprosy? He hypnotized the people. They got up and they walked. He got himself killed at 32 years of age." He says, "He couldn't keep his big bazoo shut. Did you know that Pontius Pilate offered to give this man a number?" Now, of course, Mike and Herman know the meaning of this. This means, put him in the pokey, give him a number, if you refer to a pokey, give this man a number. "He said, 'Now, look, Jesus, you're a marvelous boy. Why don't you go off on a well-dez and cut this nonsense out and go about your business? Quit causing all these riots.' This man wanted to be killed." Oh, by the way, Kid Pharaoh also believes in psychoanalysis and psychiatry. He was quoting Freud and he's saying, you know, "Freud and Jung and Adler. The three -- Long may Freud live! I work under Freudian theory. People are biologically insecure." And so Kid Pharoah is saying all the big shots will make it the hard way. He likes people who make it the hard way because that's the way he hopes to make it. "Boss Tweed in New York, what's-his-name in Boston, Curly. These were the giants that built the cities. These are the guys that built our country. They are like presidents. All these guys came up the hard way, shoeshine guys and bust-out crap shooters, shoot a shot against blackjack. These are the guys who -- Who needs college-educated mooches? The greatest mayor of the 20th century" and here comes the big surprise, "The greatest man of the 20th century in my opinion, and I hope I don't offend anybody, is Mao Too Sung [sic]. He did something the world could never do. He feeds the multitude. It's amazing about Peking. Like myself, the average layman in business for himself, in the hot dog business, I'm always having trouble with flies. An ordinary fly is a pest. Now Mao Too Sung [sic] come up with a chemical. They come up with something which even us in a capitalistic system does not have. There are no flies in Peking. He's a guy come up so hard." So I say, "You admire Harry Truman and Mao Tse-Tung and Momo Giancana." He earlier expressed admiration for Momo Giancana, "And Daley! Greatest mayor Chicago has ever had. Here is a man dedicated to civilizing the city. He takes his paycheck. He sits home trying to think of how to do something for the city. He's smart enough intelligent enough and he fell into, I must say, luck though qualified when called upon." 'Qualified' is a word that Kid Pharoah uses very often. "Who's qualified in our society? You name these one percent. So my my work is to take away the money from these non-qualified people." And so he goes on. So the four people he admires are those, and he goes on thinking about his friend Terrence Ignatius Boyle.
Mike Royko When you say he's talking about how he made it. Or people who made it. Earlier in the piece he explains what he's made, which I like. It sort of sums that kind of guy up. He said, "I live at the Belden-Stratford, I I managed a new car every year. I take my steam baths three times a week. I take a manicure and a pedicure."
Studs Terkel By the way, Mike has pointed out something very graphic. By the way, he does not, I mentioned Belden-Stratford and I hope the people at Belden-Stratford don't mind. This is again a change of pace, at a hotel nearby. I didn't want to identify him too closely. Oh, he wouldn't have minded too much, but again I felt I had a word, I had to keep a certain word with the subject, so he doesn't live at the Belden-Stratford, a hotel near it. But this matter of pedicure and manicure and you get this picture. Earlier he speaks of during the Cuban missile crisis. Everybody was worried, he wasn't worried, 'cause Louise the manicurist, you could see him leaning back in his chair getting a manicure and a pedicure, and the girl Louise, "I'm worried about, you know, Khrushchev." "Don't worry, sweetheart. Don't worry, Louise, sweetheart. Uncle'll make them turn back, and he made a U-turn." And you can just see that picture.
Herman Kogan One of the interesting things about this particular passage or the interview with Kid Pharoah is that it's in many ways it's very poetic in a rough way. As a matter of fact, Digby Whitman in his review in "Books Today" in the "Tribune" makes a great point, and he uses one of the extracts from the Pharaoh interview to point out that, as he puts it, "a rich and unconscious poetry flows through these pages, the richer for being unconscious. This aspect of the book sounds a harmonic to a great work by another great Chicagoan, Carl Sandburg's 'The People, Yes.'" Did you feel this is, I don't want you to rap a reviewer or disagree with a review, how do you like the comparison?
Studs Terkel Well, I'm flattered, of course.
Herman Kogan Of course, you see, Mike and I in talking about the book, interminably it seems, of course, I've made great comparisons not so much to Sandburg, but to our mutual friend Nelson Algren. And although this is a book that has broader scope than Chicago, it is also, I think, one remarkably -- The best book written about Chicago since since Algren's "Chicago: City on the Make," which was 14, 15 years ago.
Studs Terkel Which I quoted from in the preface, because I think, as Herman Kogan and Mike Royko both know that I share these feelings about Nelson Algren, of courses, who is a poet. He's really a poet. And even though he writes prose it's poetry. In "Chicago: City on the Make" certainly is that. In the beginning I [pulled? polled?] him in order to [rap? wrap?] a city. Oh, never a lovely -- It's something like being married to a woman with a broken nose. How's it go? I like that -- I've always liked that quote of his, and I thought I'd use that and put it in a sentence, a challenge to me to find out. Herman knows where it is better than I do. Yeah, Nelson Algren may have said it more succinctly and poetically 14 years ago.
Herman Kogan Feelings about Chicago.
Studs Terkel Speaking about ambivalence about our city. My own ambivalence. I'm quoting Algren, "It isn't so much a city as a vast way-station where three and a half million bipeds swarm with a single cry, 'One side or a leg off, I'm getting mine.' It's every man for himself in this hired air. Yet, once you become part of this particular patch, you'll never love another; like loving a woman with a broken nose. You may find lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real." And that's quite beautiful and quite true, I think. And might I add, to determine how real or surreal this lovely is today, some 14 years after Nelson's prose poem was the purpose of my search.
Herman Kogan And this also is applicable, I suppose, to the world again, the world generally.
Studs Terkel Yeah. I hope that, several times you've said this, Herman, I'm delighted. I hope that that's what people outside the city see. Outside Chicago. That Chicago is really a metaphor itself, just as Division Street is, so is Chicago. It's probably the ideal city for it because it is in what chamber of commerce men describe as the heartland of our country, the industrial city. How muscular it is today. I don't know how much of a hog butcher it's less than that, butchers in other ways perhaps, which is the spirit. It's not Chicago alone, but it's a large city. I found this even to some extent in Rome when I was there for a brief moment, you know, in Johannesburg in a different way, of course. But Johannesburg has the added problem of official apartheid. And ours is unofficial apartheid.
Mike Royko Do you think the tone of the book, the people would have been there would have sounded this way, there would have been less tension, less hopelessness in some of them, and more joy if this was done 15 years ago?
Studs Terkel That is something several people in the book have implied. That's a point, too. That's a fascinating one. People speak of even 30 years ago, the Depression, they speak of the difference in poverty. Whether it's Russ -- Tom Carney, I'm sorry. Tom Carney, the policeman, the very literate and sensitive policeman, saying and Lou Gibson, the Negro packinghouse man, both said almost identical thing in different ways about the Depression, how there was a helping, and so did Eva Barnes here. The former tavern-keeper who's a remarkable woman, a huge lady, she's sort of like Hemingway's Pilar, all three spoke of a certain period in the Depression when people were poor, that is they were poor financially, but spiritually something -- They helped like, a guy would get off the streetcar and give the next guy a transfer. "You can use the transfer." Or they speak of choking the cigarette, choking the butt, and giving the next guy the butt. Or often off the 'L' handing the guy the newspaper. And, now would this be so today? Now we come to this overused word, 'alienation.' This in each one, I think his own problems overwhelm him, the world does that he's for himself alone. There is that feeling, some have implied. Some have hope. It's strange. Digby Whitman's review and Martin Marty's, you notice, are different.
Herman Kogan Very different.
Studs Terkel In their approach. Digby Whitman feels there is hope. Marty says, speaking of Sister Evelyn, the Glenmary nun, and myself, these two have hope. I don't know whether I do or not. Again, here is my ambivalence. I think I have to. To use a Robert Lowell phrase, "to survive the day," he writes poetry to survive the day. I suppose I have to have hope "to survive the day." But Mike's question 15 years ago, there might have been more more of a sense of actual joy because the more things the things overwhelm more, remember the TV commercials we see, you know, bang, bang, bang, the tribute to things, the things, I don't think Right Guard is that important. And if I want to take it off, take it all off with Noxema to the rhythm of that guy, I'd rip my skin to ribbons, you know. But it's this, it's this, the way we use the commercials. The phony ersatz sexual approach to everything, the things, the value of the things and thus the value-less-ness by comparison of the man. So the things become more important and this in a way to me helps explain Gage Park and Marquette Park, too. These are not basically evil people who threw the rock at King, who offered those obscenities. There are people who become terrified by something outside but the horse, some have a horse. The color TV set, the well-kept lawn the status. That becomes the important thing, he himself is [really?] and because his life is joyless. It's like the little kids I saw in Montgomery, Alabama. I mean the white kids, the National Guardsmen with the Confederate emblems. They were bewildered by that march because the myth is shattered, that myth there's someone less than they. So in order for the people at Gage Park or Marquette Park or the kids on the sidewalks of Montgomery or the furious car dealers in Montgomery or even the guys that joined the Klan, in order for them to survive a life without joy, a life that is rather bleak and wretched, they must be told there is someone less than they, or if that someone less than they suddenly says, ""I'm not less than you!" then the myth is shattered and they must explode. So it's a question of shattering of a myth.
Herman Kogan Mike's bringing up the point about whether 15 years ago they would have, in relation to this city, would have spoken differently with more joy, I think, I think one of the evaluations of this book that bears on this particular point and also stands in the middle between the view that Digby Whitman has in the "Tribune's" "Books Today" and Martin Marty's review, is part of a little paragraph and Bill Newman's, I thought absolutely beautiful profile of of Studs in the current "Panorama," which incidentally kicked off the, in effect, serialization of "Division Street: America" in the "Daily News" when he says this, he says, "'Division Street: America' is a lament for a lost dream of a shining city. And it's true that these people do that." He also writes, "It also may be the story of a new city being born in pain, for it bears Terkel's strong impact and he is a man of joy and sorrow." I think it's important I think to point out maybe that the book is is not, you know, there's a lot of lusty joy in this book. These people are not all, you know, haunted by fear alone.
Studs Terkel I think this I hope that this is so, I wanted it to be so. I remember when we were working on the book when Cathy Zmuda was doing some of the typing for me, and she was quite marvelous at it. I was saying, "How is this balance? I'm detached, you know, but am I overemphasizing one thing?" and we felt pretty sure that there was a sort of balance kept. Of course there's humor. There's a great deal of humor in it. That's why the dedication came after the book. I know Jane Addams would be in it, the [very?] idea of Jane Addams, and Louis Sullivan, who [had the city of man?], but Ring Lardner, too, and Ring Lardner because many of the people speak like Ring Lardner wrote. Incidentally, I've always, as listeners know, I love Ring Lardner and read his stories on occasion thanks to the consent by his son, Ring Lardner, Jr. But Lardner was so fantastic 30, 40 years ago, he caught the way people talk. They still talk that way, some do. And there's a lot of lot of funny stuff in it. And there is this joy in the midst of all this adversity. There is this individual seeking of joy throughout. You feel as almost you could bust through. You know, Mike, talking about Bill Newman's piece, just a word about, if I could talk about some of the "Daily News" news people, they know how I feel about Mike Royko and about Georgie Anne Geyer and Lois Willie and Bill Newman deceives you, he looks like he's not listening to you. In fact he seems we were asleep, he seems, and you realize he captures nua-- Oh, there's Bill Newman, I didn't notice who's
Studs Terkel sitting behind me here. He was half asleep. A most incredible -- That that that profile of me threw me for such a loop, I still haven't recovered from it. I wasn't aware that he was listening. And of course, all the nuances just threw me for a complete [goal?], you know, or as you say as kids, 'throw me for a [ghoul?].' But it's a matter of joy and sorrow. I love that phrase of Sean O'Casey, "What is life? What is life?" He says, "Life is a song in one ear and a lament in the other." You know? I subscribe to that.
Herman Kogan I'd like to quote again from Bill's piece in which he summarizes who the people are that are being talked to here. You said earlier that they are not the consciously articulate people like writers and clergymen and speakers and teachers. He says, "Here are the half-choked, half-poetic voices of taxi driver and Appalachian immigrant, swinging bartender and street gamine, landlady and salesman, philosophic cop and well-to-do socialite viewing the harshness of city life with candor and longing, despair and defiance," and he adds, "And joy, too. In Studs' words, most of them are not celebrated, their identities matched by pseudonyms but all are profoundly recognizable as human beings." I think this is a very important point. These are these are very vibrant people, no matter how mundane their lives and tasks and jobs are. Studs, did you have any, this is an inevitable question, too, did you have any quote 'favorite' endquote among the people you interviewed, from any viewpoint?
Studs Terkel That's a tough -- Each one -- No, I don't think I could really answer that. In a different way. Naturally, I like the Kid, I like Eva Barnes with her joy. At the same time, this Mexican guy who I call Jesus Lopez, here is a man and he almost was the key, here's a man who used to be a Golden Glove fighter years ago, was very bright in school and now he lives in a suburb, it's a middle -- Lower-middle-class suburb. He's the aristocrat of steel you know, the first helper open hearth gets about 10 grand a year, and they had long vacations but he has no joy, he says, "I just wreck cars now." But since he came back from World War II, strange things happened, like he used to get in fights often, he'd knock a guy down, the guy'd get up, they shake hands. This time, he knocked a guy down and two other kids [unintelligible] jumped on the guy who was down. He couldn't understand this. He asked the kids why, they didn't answer. This kind of a zombie violent feeling, and so he says he cuts himself out of the world. He says, "I don't care what happens." So, I say, "You don't care?" "Of course I care. Of course I care," as he takes another long swig out of the beer can. He's important. The elderly lady who has lived in the same home, Elizabeth Chapin, that's her real name and she should be proud of it, she's quite a woman. Her thoughts of joy and beauty, she still looks for it. Barry Byrne, whose real name was used, the architect speaks of his search for delight. And of course there's Lucy Jefferson. I can't leave her out, the feeling tone. She's the Negro lady who works as a therapeutic aide at one of the very fashionable hospitals. I use another name of a hospital in the book, just changed it, and she has a tremendous vibrance and joy. She says in the feeling tone, you know, it's either hostile or it's or it's friendly. You haven't got it, baby, you're dead. And it's the lack of feeling, too, as that girl who works for a popular cool young women's magazine. She's this girl whom I call -- I better not use her name, I'm going to make a slip here because she's been in magazines before, talking about a friend of hers who's very popular.
Herman Kogan Jan. You call her
Studs Terkel Jan. The new philosopher of --
Studs Terkel Jan Powers. And she says she has no feeling. She says it directly. In fact, her own, "I don't feel anything." I've come across no one quite like that, who was so direct about it. But I had no one. And of course among the kids, Lily Lowell and Jimmy. No one single person. And of course, the couple, the Carters, Bob and Therese Carter, in a way, and Bob Carter to me, you see, all the decency of a man who wants to be independent, who is anti-status, [frozen? throws him?] and wants to build his own place, even though the house is no good. It's his and he's he's a great craftsman, he's a marvelous foreman at an auto body shop, and his wife Therese who wants to go back to school. She says, "Don't laugh." I said, "Well, I'm not laughing." She says, "Well, I read even matchboxes." She's curious about things. Those two. No one rule; I had no one -- No, I can't put my finger on a single. Of course, Florence Scala and her prologue. In a way she might say she was not -- There was no spokesman. I was about to say she was the spokesman, there wasn't any, really, but she spoke of the ambivalence in her discovery. What she calls 'the ugliness in nice people.'
Mike Royko Speaking of Bill Newman's piece, the stuff I like best in there was stuff about Studs, like here it says, this is where Bill had said you had won a prize for a moving documentary, "Born to Live." Then he says he, meaning you, Studs, "He had come a long way from the time in 1948 when he conducted a jivey record column full of such homey thoughts as 'One man's sugar is another [geeze?] cyanide."
Herman Kogan Did you say that?
Studs Terkel I'm embarrassed.
Herman Kogan Well, he has come a long way. As a matter of fact, one of the reviewers --
Mike Royko That's a good line.
Herman Kogan One of the reviewers points out that in his preface to this book, "Division Street: America," Studs writes so beautifully, says, "It's so beautifully written as to prompt the wish for more of his own prose." What about that, Studs? What go, what goes from here on? Now that you've got, now that you've had the needle. Stay on the habit.
Studs Terkel Yeah, I've got it. I don't know, It's difficult. There's a play, as you know, Herm, Herm's been aware of this play for a long time, called "Amazing Grass," as Norm Pellegrini says, we play the song so often, that's as a possibility. Not on Broadway, which is quite natural. It's not that sort of play. There's a possibility and Andre Schiffrin was speaking of another project, but I don't know at the moment, I'm just -- I'm very, I must say if I can make a personal comment about the visit of these three gentlemen here, Herman Kogan, Mike Royko, and Bill Newman, I'm very, very moved.
Herman Kogan Well, our favorite, of course, you must know that our favorite character in this book is Studs Terkel, because the reviewers have pointed this out, there's a great, Bill again mentioned in the piece, in all of the the presence, Terkel's presence in all the interviews is very, very moving, very obvious. And that's what I think gives great great point to.
Studs Terkel And I try. Here's the challenge to me. As you know, as Bill points out, how excited I get and involved, the idea here, the book would be of no value at all if my point of view were in, my point of view is in the preface, my observation, not point of view, just observation, but if it were in any way impeding upon or impinging in what they were saying, the subjects, that'd be of no value. It had to be they themselves talking freely. And I hope that was accomplished. Now I was astonished, I say, at myself, too, for my restraint, I think. You know, it's a question of being detached, and no man is fully objective. You know, Hazlitt, the great critic of the 19th century, spoke of he himself was an egalitarian, but he loved Coriolanus, the autocrat, and he wrote of Coriolanus because he was a dramatic figure and so Hazlitt was a man who was both detached and involved. And that is something to be sought, obviously.
Mike Royko I'd just like to say before I finish it. It looks like a good book, its pages are glued in, 381 pages, there's a lot, lot of pages for the money, and it looks very sturdy.
Studs Terkel It's physically sturdy.
Herman Kogan I think we can end I think with a commercial note by saying, as one of the reviewers said, that it's a great book to start the year with, and that the highest compliment we probably could pay Studs Terkel as this reviewer did, is to say that it's probably not really his book at all, it's the people's book, and it's going to sell like hell.
Studs Terkel Herman Kogan and Mike Royko and Bill Newman seated here are in the studio with me. This is a surprise to me. Very much indeed. I thank you very much. I'll tell you more after the show but I'm very, I'm overwhelmed. Norman knew of this. Thank you very much.