Paul P. Meyers
From: Detroit, MI
Registered: Aug 2003
posted January 20, 2009 05:28 PM
UP plans events this summer to mark 50th anniversary of 'Anatomy of a Murder"
(note: for all you non midwesterners, UP stands for the Upper Pennsula of Michigan)
The movie that put Ishpeming on the map
BY JOHN MONAGHAN
FREE PRESS SPECIAL WRITER
January 20, 2009
Anatomy of a Murder Article
In the former banquet room of the Roosevelt Supper Club in the
tiny Upper Peninsula town of Ishpeming, a white wall yellowed by
age and varnish bears nearly 70 signatures in red and black
paint. Jimmy Stewart, Duke Ellington and Lee Remick signed the
wall. So did Otto Preminger, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, Ben
Gazzara and George C. Scott.
They arrived in the area around Ishpeming half a century ago to
make "Anatomy of a Murder," and in many ways, they've never left.
The Roosevelt closed long ago, but the wall, now part of a
downtown print shop, is still a key attraction for tourists who
make regular pilgrimages to sites related to the movie.
"The film put our sleepy little town on the map," says Stacey
Willey, whose Globe Printing serves as a local repository of
images and stories related to "Anatomy of a Murder." Willey
produces an annual calendar devoted to the movie, and, like many
residents, she'll be participating in events this year to mark
its 50th anniversary. The film is showing this weekend at the
Redford Theatre in Detroit.
Shot in the spring of 1959 and released that July, "Anatomy of a
Murder" continues to leave its mark on the UP. Based on a
real-life Michigan murder trial in 1952, "Anatomy" began as a
1958 book by state Supreme Court Justice John Voelker, who wrote
under the pen name Robert Traver.
The book was a huge best-seller, and it was quickly snapped up by
Hollywood. Once work on the film began, it was producer-director
Preminger who decided to make it at or near the sites where the
1952 killing and trial took place. Scenes were shot in Ishpeming,
Big Bay, Marquette and Michigamme.
Made in black-and-white but full of local color, the 2-hour,
40-minute film is mostly set inside the still-vital Marquette
County Courthouse. Stewart plays Paul Biegler, a small-town
lawyer who takes the case of a soldier (Gazzara) who's heading to
trial for shooting a local bartender, in sight of several
witnesses, after he allegedly raped the soldier's wife (Remick).
That the woman might have been a less-than-reluctant participant
complicates the trial. In the end, Biegler uses every lawyer's
trick imaginable to prove temporary insanity and win against a
big-city prosecutor (Scott) brought in to clinch the case.
Joan Hansen, 76, worked as dining room hostess at the Mather Inn
in Ishpeming, where most of the principal actors stayed. She was
enlisted to play a waitress in a scene with Stewart, but her
scene was filmed at the Thunder Bay Inn in Big Bay, one block
from the still-in-business Lumberjack Tavern, site of the 1952
She was walking with Stewart on the way to the shoot when three
little girls came up and asked for autographs. "I mumbled
something like, 'Not me, I'm not a star,' " Hansen remembers.
"But Jimmy said in his delightful drawl: 'Sign your autograph,
Joanie. You're the star of the picture.' So I did, sheepishly."
Though Hansen's speaking lines were cut from the finished film,
she was still paid $90, the wage for actors with speaking parts,
and is visible in one scene. Many area residents appeared in
small speaking roles or as $10-a-day extras during the seven-week
shoot in spring 1959.
Lou Chappell, 72, was an announcer for a Marquette TV station
when he was tapped to play a soldier who is interviewed about
events leading up to the bar slaying. Chappell was expected in
the makeup room at 5 a.m. and then on the bar set, which was
constructed from a storefront in Michigamme.
"Preminger was a very demanding individual, so we had to rehearse
it six or seven times," Chappell remembers. "So I'm sitting there
drinking beer at 6 o'clock in the morning, and I'm not used to
it. So by the time he finally said cut/print, my stomach is
churning. I went to the back of the building and barfed. I laugh
about it now, but it was very serious at the time."
Probably the most eccentric bit of casting came when real-life
lawyer Joseph N. Welch was chosen to play the judge who presides
over the courtroom in "Anatomy." Welch is still remembered as the
attorney who, during the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings, famously
asked U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy: "Have you no sense of decency,
sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" He agreed
to take the role after Preminger cast his wife as one of the
A grand premiere
Like the recent "Gran Torino," which was shot in the Detroit area
last summer and premiered in December, "Anatomy of a Murder" had
an astoundingly quick turnaround time. It was playing in previews
only a month after shooting wrapped in the UP.
Though the movie had its first showing in Marquette, its official
world premiere took place July 1, 1959, at the United Artists
Theatre in downtown Detroit. Stewart, the star, didn't attend,
but almost everyone else associated with the film was there,
including filmmaker Preminger, novelist Voelker and costars
Remick, O'Connell and the Welches. Scott, who grew up in Detroit
and performed often on Detroit stages, appeared with family
A short promotional film from the studio suggests what a grand
production the premiere was. There was an early-evening parade in
Detroit featuring floats and dignitaries, including then-Gov. G.
Mennen Williams and Mayor Louis C. Miriani. It was led down
Woodward by the Detroit Police Motorcycle Corps and the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police.
"Anatomy of a Murder" won a Michigan Product of the Year award
and was nominated in 1960 for seven Academy Awards, including
best picture, actor and director. "Ben Hur" ended up sweeping the
Oscars that year, but Duke Ellington's celebrated sound track
copped several Grammys. (Ellington appears briefly in the film as
a piano player named Pie Eye.)
Over the years, the movie's reputation has grown. Many movie
buffs believe that its frank talk and adult subject matter (along
with that of "Psycho" and "Some Like It Hot") challenged the
censorship guidelines the film industry followed at the time. The
American Bar Association and the American Film Institute rate the
movie high on lists of the greatest trial movies ever made.
"It shows so many parts of the system," says Alan Saltzman, who
regularly used the film in his classes at the University of
Detroit Law School, where he taught from 1976 to 2007. "It goes
through all the parts of a criminal trial, from the point of view
of the defense, from the beginning to the end."
A summer full of memories
This summer, special events are planned in and around Marquette.
"Anatomy of a Murder" will be shown in area theaters, while a
stage version will be performed at Marquette's Lake Superior
Theatre from July 22 through Aug. 1.
"Anatomy '59," a feature-length documentary by John Pepin of
Munising, uses clips from the film along with rare 8mm footage
and photos to chronicle the making of the movie. Locals involved
with the film were interviewed, along with surviving actors from
the cast, including Gazzara. The documentary will air on public
TV station WNMU on June 29 and will be available on DVD soon
Other events are still in the planning stages. A local historical
society is helping UP residents share and document their memories
of the film, and a symposium is planned at Northern Michigan
University in Marquette with literary, film and legal scholars.
Visitors to Big Bay this summer will likely be drawn to the
Lumberjack Tavern, which is decorated outside with a sign
featuring the familiar crime-scene cutout that was used
extensively in the movie's advertising campaign. The same cutout
can be found on the floor inside the tavern in the exact spot
where the shooting victim fell back in 1952. There's also a
preserved bullet hole behind the bar from that shooting.
Jack Bourgeois, owner of the Lumberjack for the past five years,
has grown up with "Anatomy of a Murder." He was only 2 years old
when the killing occurred and only 9 when the movie came out.
"I'm still surprised that there is so much interest in it," he
says, noting that this summer will see historic reenactments of
the murder along with the usual batch of tourists who ask to have
photographs taken while lying on the bar's floor.
Is it morbid?
"Maybe a little," he acknowledges. "People come in. They have a
few drinks, ask a lot of questions and look at the scrapbooks I
have around of crime scene photos. Fifty years later, it still
generates a lot of excitement."
To watch the promotion film mentioned in the article use this
link: Such venues as United Artists Theater and the Statler
Hilton ballroom are featured as well as Woodward Ave.
http://www.archive. org/details/ Anatomyo1959
Contact freelance writer JOHN MONAGHAN at madjohn@earthlink. net
<mailto:madjohn@earthlink. net> .
Additional Facts 'Anatomy of a Murder' will be shown at
8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat.
17360 Lahser (at Grand River), Detroit
313-537-2560 or www.redfordtheatre. com
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