Anatomy of a letter

Area resident talks about memorabilia from famous movie

Local resident Bob Buchkoe is the owner of a recently acquired handwritten letter from James Stewart, who played a leading role in “Anatomy of a Murder,” to John Voelker, author of the book that led to the famous 1959 movie. The film was shot in Marquette County. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — The filming of the classic movie “Anatomy of a Murder” in Marquette County in 1959 has not left the area’s psyche, not by a long shot.

For example, two showings of the movie took place at the county courthouse earlier this month. The Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center on the campus of Northern Michigan University also has a 60th anniversary exhibit on display.

And people still search for artifacts related to the courtroom drama.

One of those people is Bob Buchkoe, a Marquette musician who has an extensive collection of autographed items by the entire ‘Anatomy cast’ along with other memorabilia, including a court docket issued a month before the filming began.

Buchkoe acquired a 1959 handwritten letter from “Anatomy” star James Stewart to John Voelker, author of the book on which the movie was based, from the Boston-based RR Auction.

“It’s a rough draft because there’s corrections,” Buchkoe said.

The letter read:

“Dear John: Thank you for your kind letter.

“I saw ‘Anatomy’ when (director) Otto (Preminger) ran it for all the cast and crew in Hollywood and I thought it was a fine picture. I have always found it very difficult to judge myself in a picture, but I know this — I found it a wonderful experience playing Paul Beigler — and I really got to like him.

“I still want to go fishing with you so don’t be too surprised if you get a call some day.”

“Thank you again. Sincerely, Jim.”

Buchkoe said a typewritten version of the letter is in the Northern Michigan University Archives.

Buchkoe also has a personal connection to the film. When he was 4 years old, his father was the warden of the Marquette Branch Prison, where his family lived. He gave attorney Joseph N. Welch — who played the judge in the film — a tour of the prison, and Buchkoe and his mother entertained Welch’s wife, who was in the film as a juror.

“I had a toy doctor kit and gave her shots in the arm,” Buchkoe said. “She later wrote my mother a letter to thank her for her hospitality and mentioned me as my mother’s ‘enchanting son.'”

For now, Buchkoe, who is an extensive autograph collector, will keep the James Stewart letter in his possession.

Buchkoe will give a presentation on the making of the movie at the Peter White Public Library on Nov. 14, which will include many anecdotes he’s collected from local cast members over the years.

“I’ve spent years and years researching it,” Buchkoe said. “I’ve read everything about the movie and the book and I’ve talked to local people extensively over the years with all kinds of stories, and I’ve had to corroborate them with other sources sometimes and correct some of them.”

“Hollywood Comes to Marquette County: the making of Anatomy of a Murder” continues at the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center, which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.