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Gay history podcast has new host: Studs Terkel
by Joshua Irvine
2020-09-29

This article shared 1270 times since Tue Sep 29, 2020
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For four years, Eric Marcus has been the voice of Making Gay History, introducing listeners to both the infamous and the overlooked of LGBTQ history through his extensive personal archive of audio interviews.

But for the podcast's eighth season, Marcus will cede interview duties to a more seasoned personality: the late Chicago broadcaster and friend of the LGBTQ+ community Studs Terkel ( 1912-2008 ).

For the latest season, Making Gay History has partnered with the Studs Terkel Radio Archive to produce eight episodes featuring Terkel's interviews with LGBTQ icons such as Lorraine Hansberry, Quentin Crisp and Jill Johnston. The first episode, featuring a 1977 interview with author Christopher Isherwood, debuts Oct. 1.

The extensive use of the audio archive is a first for the podcast, which has pulled most of its content from tape recordings made by Marcus while working on his 1992 oral history of the gay rights movement, Making History.

Recent seasons drew on outside sources for episodes featuring Baynard Rustin, Ernestine Eckstein and a 1970 interview with trans icons Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. However, this season will be the first to pull entirely from someone else's archive.

Marcus will still introduce and close out each episode, but he plans to cede the majority of each episode's 20 minutes to interviewer and subject.

"My goal here is to introduce the episode, get out of the way and let Studs and his interviewee present themselves," Marcus said.

The season will also offer a new perspective on the history of LGBTQ persons. While Marcus' interviews were recorded entirely in the late 1980s and early 1990s and featured interviewees reflecting on the social upheaval of the past decades, Terkel's interviews were either recorded concurrent to or even predate the gay liberation movement. The earliest, with a then-26-year-old Hansberry, was recorded in 1959.

Marcus found many of these older interviews fascinating in the way their subjects reckoned with their identities in a pre-Stonewall environment. He singled out one episode featuring a "professional female impersonator" named Les-Lee, who Terkel interviewed in the performer's Paris club in 1967.

"To hear how Les-Lee talks about impersonation, about his personal life... He never mentions the word 'gay," but it's clear that in talking about being different, he's talking about being gay," Marcus said.

Other interviews touch on world history in unexpected ways—like Isherwood's encounters in 1930s Berlin with Magnus Hirschfeld, a German sexologist later targeted in the Nazi book burnings.

It's unsurprising that many of Terkel's interviews feature LGBT persons: He was a longtime ally of the community. In the 1940s, he ran the aldermanic campaign for his friend Pearl M. Hart, a civil rights lawyer who fought for gay victims of entrapment and harassment. He aired one of the first interviews with representatives from Mattachine Midwest, Chicago's first successful gay rights organization. A shortened version of that interview will appear on the new season.

A famous anecdote, included in Terkel's entry in the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, notes how in the 1970s Terkel came across a picket line outside an alderman's ward fair that had refused to include a gay organization's booth. Terkel spontaneously joined the picket line and then entered the fair, hosted by a local church, to denounce the exclusion of gays.

"He had a vested interest in those who were oppressed and those who were fighting for their voices," said Allison Schein Holmes, director of media archives at WTTW and WFMT, who distribute Terkel's tapes.

His leftist politics cost him his television show in the 1950s when he was blacklisted by U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and the FBI kept an active dossier on Terkel for more than 40 years.

Terkel's oeuvre is partially responsible for Making Gay History. Making History, Marcus' book, was commissioned by an editor who told him he wanted an oral history like Terkel's 1974 account of working Americans, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.

Terkel later interviewed Marcus about Making History on the former's radio show and provided a quote for the book jacket.

Production is nearly wrapped on season eight, but the podcasters are already looking forward. Next, the podcasters aim to return the focus to Marcus as he documents the AIDS crisis from his perspective as a gay man living in New York in the 1980s. He pointed out he was now the same age or older than many of his interview subjects from 30 years previous.

That season is set to debut in June 2021, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the New York Times' first article documenting what would become known as HIV/AIDS.


This article shared 1270 times since Tue Sep 29, 2020
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