1956 : John Voelker’s Lucky Day

December 31, 2018 all-day

Photo of John D. Voelker (right) in the trailer for Anatomy of a Murder, with filmmaker Otto Preminger (left), courtesy of Wikipedia

On December 31, 1956 St. Martin’s notified John Voelker that they had accepted Anatomy of a Murder for publication. Coincidentally, Governor G. Mennen Williams telephoned that same day to offer John a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court to fill the remainder of a vacant term. Justice Voelker was sworn in as an associate justice several days later. At that time Michigan law required justices to stand for election at the next statewide election following their appointment to an unexpired term, so in addition to his court work and making revisions and corrections to the novel, he had to campaign for his court seat. He was elected by a resounding majority.

Publication of Anatomy of a Murder was scheduled for mid-September, 1957. However, the Book-of-the-Month Club chose the novel for one of its alternate selections and requested that publication be postponed until January 1958. St. Martin’s acquiesced, and the book was published in early January 1958. It was an instant success and quickly climbed the best-seller lists, staying there for over a year. St. Martin’s planned to have the book turned into a Broadway play and then a motion picture, and asked John Van Druten to write the play. Van Druten completed a rough draft of the script before he died in December 1957. Eventually Elihu Winer wrote his version of the play, which had its premiere at the Mill Run Theater in the Chicago suburbs in 1963. Meanwhile, St. Martin’s had made the film rights available, and they were finally acquired by Otto Preminger. All of the filming was done in Marquette County, and the film was very successful.

Now assured of an adequate income, Voelker resigned from the Michigan Supreme Court in January 1960 to devote his time to fishing and writing. He was quoted as saying, “Others can write my opinions, but no one else can write my books.” Some people would dispute that as his opinions have been termed the most literate opinions ever to be handed down from the Michigan high court.

Source : Anatomy of a Murder 50th Anniversary, Northern Michigan University website.

Note: Photo o John D. Voelker (right) in the trailer for Anatomy of a Murder, with filmmaker Otto Preminger (left)

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