Communications and Marketing Assistant at the Greater Ishpeming-Negaunee Area Chamber of Commerce
60 years ago today, the renowned film, Anatomy of a Murder, premiered for the very first time. On June 29, 1959, the film premiered at the Butler Theater in Ishpeming and the Nordic Theater in Marquette, just weeks after production had finished. On July 1, 1959, the world premiere was held at the United Artists Theater in Detroit.
The film was an instant hit. It ended up getting nominated for 7 Academy Awards and then won a Grammy Award. It’s been rated one of the twelve best trial movies of all time, and called “probably the finest pure trial movie ever made” by UCLA law professor, Michael Asimow. Anatomy of a Murder brought stars like Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott, and Duke Ellington to Marquette County, and brought fame to Ishpeming-native author and lawyer, John Voelker.
John Voelker wrote the book (of the same title as the film) under the pen name Robert Traver. Voelker was the actual defense attorney for the murder case that happened in Big Bay in 1952, which inspired the book.
If you grew up in Ishpeming, it’s highly unlikely you don’t know the backstory of this murder case, book, and movie. However, for those unfamiliar with it, here’s a quick run-down of the case: U.S. Army Lieutenant Coleman Peterson shot down Big Bay bar-owner Maurice “Mike” Chenoweth because his wife, Charlotte Peterson, claimed that Chenoweth had beaten and sexually assaulted her. Voelker, an experienced defense attorney, defended Peterson and said he could not be charged for what he did (despite all the witnesses at the bar) because he was plunged into temporary insanity. After a six-day trial, Peterson was found not guilty.
Film-director Otto Preminger decided to bring the increasingly popular book to life. He did this on location in Marquette County over an 8-week period. 60 years later, its legacy lives on in many locations around the towns where filming took place.
There are many things to be proud of in our little speck on the map, and this is certainly one of them. Anatomy of a Murder being filmed completely on location meant it involved the whole town. Step back in time and envision the West End as it was when the film-crew and stars were roaming the streets.
The Anatomy of a Murder cast arrived in Ishpeming by train in March, 1959, greeted by half of the town’s residents just waiting to see the stars, or if they could get so lucky, an autograph. Today, Bell Forest Products is in a new building where the railroad station once was.
Catch a glimpse of history in downtown Ishpeming. Grab a walking tour brochure from the Greater Ishpeming-Negaunee Area Chamber of Commerce, or click file below to download, and get started.
Head west of Ishpeming to Michigamme to dive even deeper into the history of this cultural classic. Mt. Shasta Lodge, located at 290 US 41, is where many of the nightclub and dancing scenes were filmed. You can find photos and relics from the movie on their wall. Also be sure to check out the Michigamme Museum to see the display dedicated to Anatomy of a Murder, featuring original writings, photographs and memorabilia from the film.
Click here to find out where to go and what to do in Marquette County for more Anatomy history.
Did you know?
To commemorate the 60th Anniversary, there will be an Anatomy of a Murder Scrapbook for sale, courtesy of Globe Printing and GINCC. Also, John Voelker prints will be for sale at the Festival of Treasures in Ishpeming on July 3rd, from 10am – 5pm.
It’s not often that a whole crew of Hollywood stars come to Marquette County to film an entire movie. I haven’t fact checked this, but this may actually be the only time it has happened! Once you start diving deeper into the history of the film, it’s clear that it has made a lasting mark on the people and places of Marquette County.