Revision Street: Dan Terkell, mid 60s

November 1, 2010

Dan Terkell is a polite but intense man with a contented smile that belies a rigorous nature. He starts by asking me something.

I have a question about the title, Revision Street: America. Has anybody else mentioned it? Maybe it can be considered a play on words, revision/division, but the thing that really concerns me about that title is what might come to mind, at least among academic folks, is revisionist history. Which isn’t exactly positive. I guess I don’t need to elaborate.

No, I understand what you’re saying. I can also see where it would also be read as snarky.

It sounds like we’re on the same wavelength. I can see something a little less ah—snarky, the word you used—just maybe Division Street: Revisited, you know?

I was thinking for a while I might use “Union Street” as the central metaphor for the project.

I like the idea of Union Street too. But the reality is there’s still that metaphorical division in many ways.

True. Now, to signal your agreement to be taped, I wonder if you’d mind spelling your name for me into the microphone.

My first name is Dan, not Daniel, but Dan. Plain old Dan. That’s the way it is on my birth certificate. And the last name is spelled T-E-R-K-E-double L, Terkell, so there you have it. It’s official.

Do you find yourself spelling your name for people a lot? Correcting the record, as it were?

I will sometimes, in a very diplomatic way, correct the record, as you say. But it always works out…

I was actually interviewed for Division Street under an assumed name, but frankly I wasn’t real stoked on the interview or on the choice of name, which I didn’t choose. I did use a slightly revised name for a follow-up interview with Sydney Lewis, who you probably have had contact with. She did a sort of follow-up back in 1997, I believe, a profile for the Chicago Tribune Magazine. She re-interviewed ten people, including me, who were actually in the book Division Street: America. I think a few of them have since passed on.

I’m very enthusiastic about the book. I think it’s a historical document. My only misgiving was that I wasn’t pleased with my own role, but the book overall I think was terrific.

I wonder if your relationship with the interviewer doesn’t give you a different sense of the book than most people might have?

Maybe a little. We weren’t on the best of terms at the time. It wasn’t by any means an adversarial relationship, but we did have our differences about a lot of things, politics not being one of them. I’ve always made it a point of saying, I like to believe I would have reacted the same way he did to the Red Scare and the toxic effect that it had on a lot of folks. Of course he was very brave, he really was, and he was never in a position where he was pressured to name names. But it could have happened, and I think he would have resisted. He did resist attempts to have him sign a loyalty oath, so as a result, he lost his job and other opportunities as well.

Personally, I have no regrets about that, but the upshot is that, had he gone along, it’s possible he would have become much more of a success than he was in the '50s.

I use that term very advisedly, Success. I think he was a success in many respects, doing what he did, doing what he decided to do in the '50s. Just not in the more conventional meaning, as in financial success. The upshot was, he had was a co-creator of a very renowned pioneering TV show, Stud’s Place, which you’re probably familiar with, and as a result of the political decisions my father made, and the rest of the cast were very much in sync with it, the show was dropped.

Thereafter he had a hard time finding other work for quite a few years until WFMT came along…

Studs Terkel died two years ago yesterday. We’ll continue talking to Dan about growing up with the Chicago legend, in the city he helped define, tomorrow.