Playing a part in history

Area resident recalls time spent as an extra on ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ set, 60 years later

MARQUETTE — Imagine this scenario: a large-scale feature film production comes to the Upper Peninsula and you’re selected as an extra, giving you the opportunity to rub elbows with famous actors, see behind-the-scenes action, and collect stories to tell for decades to come.

For area resident June Jensen, this turn of events isn’t just a hypothetical scenario.

Jensen, now in her early 90s, was an extra in 1959’s “Anatomy of a Murder,” a high-grossing, Oscar-nominated crime drama based on the John D. Voelker novel of the same name.

It was filmed on-site in locations throughout Marquette County with locals — such as Jensen — serving as extras because the novel and film were based on a 1952 Marquette County murder case in which Voelker was the defense attorney. In the case, a rare form of the insanity defense was used for the first time in Michigan since the 1880s.

“He put a mark on Marquette, that’s for sure,” Jensen said.

And in celebration of the film’s 60th anniversary, Jensen was taken on a special visit to an exhibit entitled “Hollywood Comes to Marquette County: ‘The making of Anatomy of a Murder'” at Northern Michigan University’s Beaumier Upper Peninsula Heritage Center last Thursday.

The trip, organized by the Chocolay Senior Center, honored Jensen for her role and gave her a chance to share her story while viewing images and relics from the film.

“It’s important. It’s the history of our community,” Chocolay Township Senior Center Activities Director Bob Mercure said, noting he wanted to recognize Jensen for “what her participation was in the making of that historic movie.”

It all started for Jensen during a typical Upper Peninsula February — cold and snowy weather that Jensen said lead actor Jimmy Stewart “didn’t care too much for” — when Jensen and her sister learned of the need for local extras in the film.

Jensen, a mother of grade-school aged children at the time, was selected and enlisted help from her sister and husband to take care of the children.

At the time, Jensen wasn’t familiar with the book or the film’s plot — and when she met Voelker, he asked her if she had read the book. While she responded that she hadn’t read the book, she had a copy signed by Voelker and promised to read it — which she did.

Over the course of three weeks, Jensen sat as an extra at the Marquette County Courthouse for the courtroom scenes, working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and receiving $10 a day for her participation.

“It was a very interesting experience,” she said.

During the filming, she had a chance to see the stars of the film at work, chat with them, get their autographs and even get a glimpse of what the stars did between shots.

“Murray Hamilton and Orson Bean were really the most friendly ones,” Jensen said.

Lee Remick — who played Laura Manion in the film — spent time knitting, while George C. Scott and Joseph N. Welch — who had the parts of Claude Dancer and Judge Weaver, respectively — played chess.

“Of course, you never did see George C. Scott, he’d get his (scenes) done and go back and play chess,” Jensen said. “And Jimmy Stewart, I don’t know what he did. But you didn’t get to talk to him too much either — except when you got his autograph.”

Being a part of scenes in the courtroom over the three weeks was memorable, and opened Jensen’s eyes to the many nuances of film production, she said.

From the precise timing of each scene, to flubbed lines and unexpected developments, to stand-ins for actors who helped the crew perfect lighting situations on set for the cast, and creative differences between director and producer Otto Preminger and Voelker, it was an unforgettable experience, Jensen said.

“(Voelker) was supposed to be an adviser, and I suppose Otto Preminger wanted the movie more exciting or more to (the point of) it,” she said. “And (Voelker) wanted it more like what the courtroom would be.”

While Jensen wasn’t told how to dress on set, she recalls an incident regarding a unique hat she was wearing; she had to remove it because a small glass bauble on the hat was creating a reflection. But she wasn’t the only one to notice the hat’s removal.

“We were out having coffee in the entryway, Murray Hamilton was there and he said: ‘Hey, where’s that hat?’ I said: ‘Well, they told me to take it off.’ He said: “Well, I like that hat.”

For the careful viewer, Jensen can be seen — with dark hair and dark-rimmed glasses, but sans hat — three to four rows back and to the left in some of the courtroom scenes.

Jensen had the chance to see the movie at the Nordic Theater in Marquette when it came out, she said.

While she had been involved in part of the filming as an extra, the film still held surprises for her — she hadn’t seen the final cuts and edits of the courtroom scenes, nor the parts of the movie that were filmed elsewhere prior to the release.

“It was just in pieces,” she said. “So we didn’t even see the dancing or anything until we went and saw the movie.”

In the years since, Jensen has watched “Anatomy of a Murder” several times and is glad to see the film’s legacy has endured throughout the years, she said.

And even though it was 60 years ago, the experience of participating in the black-and-white film still lives on in vivid color for Jensen.

“It doesn’t seem possible it’s been that long. Time goes by fast,” Jensen said. “But we had a good time when you look back on it.”

The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, runs through next Thursday at Northern Michigan University’s Beaumier Upper Peninsula Heritage Center in Marquette.The center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

For more information, visit www.nmu.edu/beaumierheritagecenter or call 906-227-3212.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.


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