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THE SPECTATOR by Studs Terkel

THE SPECTATOR

Talk About Movies and Plays with Those Who Made Them

By Studs Terkel

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1999
ISBN: 1-56584-553-6
Publisher: New Press

Drawing from his many years of radio as well as some early magazine pieces, Terkel (Coming of Age, 1995, etc.) looks at his first loves, film and theater, as explicated by some of their most famous creators. One of the best parts of visiting or living in Chicago is hearing Terkel’s radio program, a beacon for how intelligent, compassionate, and interesting talk radio can be. Terkel, who has dabbled in acting himself, is as fascinated by the art and craft of acting as he is by the many crafts explored in his classic Working (1974), a book to which he compares the current one. Terkel is the kind of guy who, by his own admission, is as riveted by watching a talented short-order cook juggle burgers as he is by a Eugene O’Neill play, and he brings that seemingly endless wide-eyed enjoyment to these interviews. The book has some wonderful moments. A ruthlessly frank Agnes De Mille talks about the difficulty of being taken seriously as a choreographer in the early days of her career and about the shock of seeing modern dance for the first time (“Our eyes were innocent”). Marlon Brando, reluctantly plugging his latest film, The Ugly American, begins to interview Terkel. Arthur Miller admits that his original ambition was to be a Russ Columbo’style crooner. And when the book is focused on craft, it is riveting. Unfortunately, Terkel is a bit more awed than usual by his interview subjects and some, like Federico Fellini, really don’t have much to say. The result is a bit disappointing, with gems scattered amid too much dross. A regrettable oddity—a Studs Terkel oral history that has dull patches.