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Studs Terkel Paul Meredith Heard Times Studs Terkel Listens to Show Business Folk BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN THE SPECTATOR: Talk About Movies And Plays With Those Who Make Them. By Studs Terkel. The New Press. 364 pages. $26.95. volume of interviews with show business people might be an invitation to fluff and puffery. Contemporary colloquies with celebrities tend to be as ritualistic as ancient invocations of the oracle, but without much enlightenment. A session arranged with Barbara Walters is often promotion disguised as revelation. Is there any question that Demi Moore has not yet heard, any lasting truth she is prepared to bare? At eighty-seven, Studs Terkel has still not quenched the curiosity that drives thousands of extraordinary conversations on the one-hour radio show he has been broadcasting five days a week for forty-five years from WFMT in Chicago. Syndication has made its exuberant host, as much a local landmark as Wrigley Field, a national treasure. When Terkel talks, people listen. But so does he; every question is a follow-up, an informed response to what his guest has just been saying. Before speaking with authors, Terkel even makes a point of reading their books, and he knows the oeuvre when he chats with an actor. When he casually recalls that Bruno Ricci is the little boy whose father’s bike is snatched in The Bicycle Thief, director Vittorio De Sica exults: “I am so enthusiastic over you because you remember the name of my characters.” Though born Louis Terkel in New York, De Sica’s interlocutor is universally identified with Chicago and as “Studs,” the nickname he inherited from James T. Farrell’s fictional Studs Lonigan. The affection felt by those who chat with him is infectious, and, though I have met him, briefly, only once at a fundraiser in Austin for the Observer it seems priggish to call this fellow anything else but Studs. No sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest, he is the Walt Whitman of the radio waves. Through eight books of oral history, Studs has coaxed out collective memories of the Depression, World War II, race relations, and work, among other weighty subjects. But The Spectator, which collects interviews with more than three dozen movie and theater people that Studs has conducted throughout his career and throughout the world, is cast in a lighter key than Working, Race, Hard Times, “The Good War,” and Division Street: America. The volume has some of the feel of filler, of recycled miscellany that could not find a home in My American Century, the 1997 anthology of what Studs considered his best interviews. An “Overture,” in which he rambles through his own early memories of theatre and movies in Chicago, is a bit too self-indulgent. And the book itself meanders sometimes brilliantly, as when Alan Schneider’s memories of directing the American debut of Waiting for Godot at a dinner theatre in Miami are immediately followed by Gilbert Moses’ recollections of performing the same play for black audiences in rural Mississippi and Rick Cluchey’s of performing it in San Quentin. The text jumps around in space and time, and it is sometimes difficult to determine who is speaking, when. Yet for all that, it is a fascinating fugue performed by men and women whom Studs respects. A former actor, he is well aware that performing, directing, and writing, too, are work, and The Spectator constitutes compelling oral history of a field that has shaped the culture more than have most others. This is a more specialized sequel to the 1974 collection Working, in which now, instead of an unsung skycap, welder, and gravedigger, it is James Cagney, Moms Mabley, and Zero Mostel who explain how they earn their living. A marriage of form and content, this DECEMBER 24, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25