BIG BAY, Mich. (WJMN) – In 1952, a murder occurred at the Lumberjack Tavern in Big Bay. Army Lieutenant Coleman Peterson shot the tavern owner Mike Chenoweth after Peterson’s wife accused Chenoweth of rape. This murder case would inspire a book, a film, and be a part of Big Bay’s history in more than one way.
“The defense attorney on that case was John Voelker, and John Voelker was a Michigan Supreme Court Justice and he wrote ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ based on this case from 1952 where he was the defense attorney and successfully won the case for his client, Coleman Peterson,” said John Pepin, director-writer-producer of “Anatomy ’59: Making of a Classic Motion Picture”.
The 1958 novel “Anatomy of a Murder” written by Voelker under the pen name Robert Traver became a national bestseller. The novel caught the eye of film director Otto Preminger who wanted to turn the book into a courtroom drama.
“Voelker was a consultant on the movie and along very well with Otto Preminger. I think both because they had legal background and the third to that triangle would be Joseph Welch who was actually a Boston attorney and had been involved in the Army v. McCarthy hearings. He was not an actor but was an actual judge who was playing the judge in the movie ‘Anatomy of a Murder’. And a little side note there was Joseph Welch’s wife also played one of the jurors in ‘Anatomy of a Murder’.”
The cast of the film starred some familiar faces, but many were up-and-coming actors and actresses.
“At the time a lot of them weren’t big names. James Stewart, though, was a big movie star. He had been in many movies together with other people who were also big stars. In the early stages, you had Ben Gazzara and Kathryn Grant and also George C. Scott. People who had not made a lot of movies before they came to this production and were virtually unknown,” said Pepin. “Lee Remick she was an interesting exception too she hadn’t made many films either, but they were going to have Lana Turner be that character. But then she had a disagreement about wardrobe with Otto Preminger and so he fired her from the movie and so he said I’ll get a different Lana Turner and he got Lee Remick.”
“Anatomy of a Murder” was shot on location in Marquette County, including the Lumberjack Tavern, where the murder took place. This was a first for a Hollywood film at the time.
“They did some film inside the Lumberjack Tavern and that’s the first time that a movie was filmed at an actual murder site. And so then they did some tricks in the movie, like when they walk in, they’re walking into the Big Bay Tavern but then the scenes on the inside are from the Lumberjack Tavern so it’s a little bit of movie trickery that they did there.”
You can also catch Perkins Park Campground as one of the filming locations. But, a lot of the filming took place at the Thunder Bay Inn in Big Bay.
“The name [of the inn] was changed to be the Thunder Bay Inn to match the book and the movie. But there’s a side kind of restaurant extension of the inn that was built on specifically for the movie. Also to make the movie or the hotel to show up better in black and white the whole building was painted pink for the movie,” said Pepin.
“Anatomy of a Murder” was nominated for numerous Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards. Duke Ellington’s soundtrack for the film won three Grammy Awards. “Anatomy of Murder” was an innovative movie at the time, and its effects can still be seen and felt today in Big Bay and its surrounding areas.
To purchase or learn more about John Pepin’s documentary, “Anatomy ’59”, you can contact Pepin at anatomy’firstname.lastname@example.org.