‘Extra’ remembers Anatomy experience

by Pam Christensen

8af4fd8eMarquette County will be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the filming of Anatomy of a Murder beginning May 7 and 8 with activities at Mt. Shasta in Michigamme. Activities in Ishpeming, Marquette and Big Bay will follow. Many area residents have fond memories of the filming of the movie, seeing big name actors, getting autographs, playing extras or working for Carlyle Productions.

One of those residents with a ringside seat to all of the movie-related activities was Ishpeming native Joan Hansen. “Joanie,” as she was known to John D. Voelker, author of the bestseller Anatomy of a Murder, recounts the making of the movie in her book Anatomy of “Anatomy,”” The Making of a Movie.
The book started as an article and grew into an insider’s glimpse of how the film changed Marquette County for the two months it was being filmed in Big Bay, Michigamme, Marquette and Ishpeming during 1959. The book was published in 1997 by Globe Printing of Ishpeming. Globe Printing is located in the former Roosevelt Night Club, where many of the cast and crew spent time away from the filming and the prying eyes of Marquette County residents.
Night club owner Anthony ‘Gigs’ Gagliardi, one of Voelker’s closest friends, provided sanctuary for the “film people.” As a parting gift to Gigs, the cast and crew autographed a wall in the basement of the club. The autograph wall graces the front and back cover of Anatomy of “Anatomy.”
Hansen was born in Escanaba in 1932. Her mother died of tuberculosis when she was five years old and she moved to Ishpeming to live with her two “Irish Spinster” aunts, Florence and Etta McCarthy on Barnum Street.
“It was not unusual for Irish spinsters to raise the children of members of their family. In fact, my aunts were also raising two of my cousins Margaret and Mary Lou,” Hansen said. “My aunts were wonderful people.”
The youngest of the aunts, Etta—or “Auntie”—was known in Ishpeming for her classic beauty. She worked as a telephone operator for Michigan Bell. Voelker told Hansen many times that he and his friends would hide in the bushes of the Voelker home to watch Autie walk by when she finished her evening shift at the telephone company. She was nine years his senior, but John always had a soft spot in his heart for her.
It may have been the boyhood crush that resulted in the drunken sidekick of attorney Paul Biegler to be named Parnell McCarthy. At first, the aunts were scandalized that their name was used for a character who was “subject to drink,” but as the book—and later the film—became a national success, the aunts eased up on Johnny Voelker.
Although the aunts did not appear in the film, their beat-up old stove-top coffeepot plays a starring role. Viewers will recall the coffee pot was central to several office scenes with Jimmy Stewart and Eve Arden. Joan has no idea what became of that coffeepot.
Hansen’s bird’s-eye view of the filming of Anatomy was the result of numerous instances of being in the right place at the right time. Not only had she been a long-time friend of Voelker’s oldest daughter Elizabeth, nicknamed “Honey Bee” by her father, she also was an Ishpeming girl and had the enviable job of hostess at the Mather Inn, the stage for many behind-the-scenes activities involving the Anatomy cast.
The lead actors stayed at the Mather Inn, owned by Cleveland Cliffs, while lesser cast members and crew stayed in Marquette at the Northland Hotel (now Landmark Inn). The Inn was open to the public during the time the cast was in residence.
“We had two seatings for dinner each night, and they were always filled,” Hansen said. “Everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the actors and be included in the movie excitement.”
Hansen had been working as a hostess at the Mather Inn to supplement the income of her family—husband Bill Lehmann and their two sons Karl and Kurt. Joanie said her monthly wage of $150 before taxes helped the family, especially when Bill was laid off from the mines and when he returned to Northern Michigan University to earn his teaching degree. Despite the fact she had a stable income, the tips received from the actors, crew and Carlyle Productions, a division of Columbia Pictures, really helped the young family. The money was good, but the job also led to developing a personal relationship with many members of the cast and crew. The vignettes about cast members and crew in her book make for fascinating reading.
Hansen is complimentary of all cast and crew. She never saw the volatile side of director Otto Preminger.
“He did lose his temper once when a grip dropped a light fixture during what would have been a final take,” Hansen said.
She recounts that he sent Kathryn Grant Crosby back to the hotel to work on her lines, but didn’t lose his cool or respond in the way those familiar with his reputation expected.
“I spent a great deal of time on the set and never saw a mean side to him,” she said. “He could be stern, but he was never nasty or disrespectful.”
Preminger was in control of almost every aspect of the filming. Hansen recalls that he and George C. Scott disagreed about how Scott should play the big city lawyer brought to town to assist with the prosecution of Air Force Lieutenant Manion. Scott was primarily a stage actor prior to the film, but gave a memorable Academy Award nominated performance playing the role. “Preminger was firm about how George should play the role, and he was right,” Hansen said.
Things in 1959 were difficult for the Ishpeming area. The mines were idle due to reduced demand for the iron ore they produced during the war. People were struggling and the jobs brought to the area by the filming helped raise the spirits and ease economic hardship for many. Hansen remembers hearing Harvey Weinberger tell Preminger that people in Marquette would be willing to accept much lower payments than the Californians who worked in the film industry. Preminger replied they would pay the Marquette people involved in the filming the same as they would if they were in California—no more and no less.
Hansen and Preminger developed a friendship during production of the film. In fact, Preminger wrote her into a bar scene. She was to play a waitress, and Hansen said she even had a couple of lines. Unfortunately, the scene is one of the later ones in the film, and by that time, the film was running more than four and a half hours. Hansen does appear in the film, in a booth with a male extra—sans lines. For that appearance she received $90 per day and was scheduled for three days’ work. The $270 she was paid was almost twice her monthly salary at the Mather Inn.
Hansen’s favorite memory of the Anatomy experience is one she shared with Jimmy Stewart prior to her waitress scene. She and Stewart were walking down the street in Big Bay. Stewart was teasing her to practice her lines, lines she hadn’t even been told yet, when three young girls ran up and asked for their autographs. Hansen told the girls she wasn’t an actress, and they didn’t want her autograph to which Stewart drawled, “Oh, come on, Joanie, sign, your name—you’re the star of the picture.”
She did sign the autographs and still wonders whether the girls ever figured out who she was.
She also is proud of the fact that she danced with Stewart twice during an impromptu party held in honor of Vou Lee Giokaris, a costume staff member. Giokaris was leaving early, as her services were no longer needed. The cast and crew ended up at a farewell party at the Northland Hotel. “It was one of the only parties Stewart attended, and he danced with me twice,” Hansen said.
She vividly recalls hearing about Stewart’s death. She and her second husband Walter Hansen were on Mackinac Island when they saw an article about his death in a newspaper. Hansen said she couldn’t help it—she cried when she read the news.
Hansen’s admiration for the actors and actresses in Anatomy has grown as a result of her own stage experience. She enjoyed acting and directing in Marquette Community Theater productions. She also taught music for twenty-plus years at Phelps Middle School in Ishpeming.
“I don’t know how they manage to shoot scenes time after time,” she said. “Another thing that makes film acting so difficult is the fact that scenes are often shot out of sequence.”
Hansen never saw jealousy or competition between the Anatomy cast members; in fact, they seemed to get along extremely well, despite the fact that they were separated from their homes and family members for two months.
Another of Joan’s favorites from the film was Duke Ellington. His score to the film was finalized on the grand piano in the Mather Inn’s main dining room.
“There in that dining room, at that piano, was captured the essence of Ishpeming, which became the award-winning score of Anatomy of a Murder,” Hansen wrote in her book.
“Midnight Indigo” captures the tones of the handsome clock atop the Gossard factory. “Grace Valse” was written in tribute to Voelker’s wife Grace. Her quiet gentleness flows with the notes. Ellington told Hansen he wrote “Flirtbird” after watching her odd walk.
“Flirtbird is your walk,” he told her. “It will be played on the saxophone.”
Hansen said whenever Ellington would play the song, she was unable not to walk to its notes.
She and Bill traveled to Chicago as Ellington’s guests in August, 1959. They took the train and stayed at his favorite hotel, the Sherman. They went to see him play at the Blue Note, one of the great jazz clubs of the day. From that time on, and until his death, Hansen received an elaborate Christmas card from Ellington each year.
Hansen has seen a lot change in her hometown during her seventy-plus years. Thanks to her background in journalism, studied at Marquette University and later NMU, she has shared glimpses of a colorful past with those of us eager to hear about how Otto Preminger and his cast of characters transformed Marquette County for a few short months in 1959. As we get ready to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the filming of Anatomy of a Murder, books such as Anatomy of “Anatomy” The Making of a Movie, the Anatomy of a Murder Scrapbook, the film and soundtrack transport us back to those thrilling days when movie stars were common sights on the streets of Ishpeming, Marquette, Big Bay and Michigamme.

— Pam Christensen

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