1 9 4 9 – 1 9 5 1 (USA)
Originally featured as a segment of NBC’s Saturday Square show, this unscripted series consisted of largely improvised stories and songs and was set in the (fictional) Chicago tavern (and later, barbecued ribs restaurant) of the title. The titular star was veteran radio actor and disc jockey Studs Terkel as the philosophical proprietor.
Studs would discuss the day’s events with neighbourhood characters, with the actors essentially playing themselves and making up their own dialogue to fit the situation and their own personalities. Most of the actors even used their own names.
Regulars included Grace, the warm-hearted, sympathetic and sensible waitress (Beverly Younger), a crotchety old-time actor named Mr Lord (played by crotchety old-time actor Phil Lord), “Horseplayer” (an avid student of the racing form, played by Norman Gottschalk), and confirmed hypochondriac Mr Dembry (Jonathan Hole).
Jazz pianist Chet Roble was played by Chet Roble, and guitar player and folk singer Win Stracke was played by Win Stracke (a guitar player and folk singer).
During rehearsals, the cast would meet with Charlie Andrews – who developed a story outline – and director Dick Locke. The performers would take notes and develop their own dialogue, and even when the show was broadcast (live) the lines had not been memorised.
While the performers had the plot scenarios firmly in mind, they relied on their natural ability to summon up the right dialogue once they were on the air.
Some of the dialogue was less than scintillating but occasionally had a bite no scriptwriter could put into it. There were no exciting plots or melodramatic action. There were, however, moments of warm companionship, moments of happiness, and moments of despair.
The show was cancelled when Terkel – an unashamed leftist – was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, but he returned to radio in 1953 and was syndicated all over America. He later became a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
Studs Terkel died at his home in Chicago on 1 November 2008, aged 96.
While the series was long assumed lost, four episodes of Studs’ Place were discovered by Studs’ son, Dan Terkell, on 16mm kinescopes in the basement of his father’s home in 2012.