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IDPTV anchor Marcia Franklin playing a reporter

The Trial, the Movie, the Underwear

Playing an extra in an Idaho Public Television movie made me glad to be a modern woman, because there’s a lot less underwear involved now than there was in 1907.

Ladies of the era known as the Edwardian period were trussed up like strangled mummies underneath the lace blouses, tight jackets, and sweeping skirts shaped by layers of petticoats made of something really scratchy.

It all made for a small-waisted feminine figure no doubt attractive to the men, but….oy.

Not that I wore any of that fluffy folderol – I deliberately made my costume to avoid it, which resulted in making me look like an oversized Mary Poppins.

But a few dozen women braved it for authenticity, and wore all sorts of crazy underthings to achieve a period look reminiscent of ladies of the Titanic. In fact, there was a small group whose hobby it is to dress up like passengers of the famous shipwreck, and they looked terrific.

Just as it had been for the real trial of Big Bill Haywood in 1907, the courtroom was almost unbearably hot. And when you have a bunch of middle-aged ladies wearing what felt like polar fleece, you have a bunch of hot ladies.

Not that kind.

The filming of a re-creation of Idaho’s Trial of the 20th Century was great fun, despite the heat, and promises to be well worth watching when the folks at Idaho Public TV get it all edited and put together for an autumn broadcast.

From the IDPT website:
It was exactly 100 years ago this year that a “dream team” of famous attorneys gathered in Boise to play their part in Idaho’s Trial of the Century. It was a trial replete with colorful characters and dastardly deeds. Idaho’s best lawyers, James Hawley and William Borah, matched wits with the brilliance of Chicago’s Clarence Darrow and Denver’s Edmund Richardson. Hanging in the balance was the fate of “Big Bill” Haywood, a member of the “inner circle” of the Western Federation of Miners, accused of paying Harry Orchard blood money to kill former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg. With the assistance of the famous Pinkerton Detective James McParland, Haywood and two other members of the “inner circle” were kidnapped in Denver and whisked away by train to Idaho, to stand trial.

Reporter Greg Hahn of the Idaho Statesman, whose enjoyable account of the day is here, plus Anna Webb of the Statesman, Marcia Franklin of “Idaho Reports” at IDPTV, and I played reporters, which mostly involved sitting together and pretending to write in notebooks. Once we got to stand near the door and exclaim about Harry Orchard, the killer, being led into the courtroom. Longtime Boise public figure Vern Bisterfeldt played the bailiff, with one line which was surely written just for him: “SIDDOWN!” he thundered as the spectators threatened to leap from their seats as Orchard entered.

When Bisterfeldt, who was a police officer known for straightening out teenage boys with authoritative lectures, tells you to siddown, you siddown.

It was a great pleasure to watch Idaho’s finest actors play the principal roles: Richard Klautsch played William Borah, Doug Copsy was Edmund Richardson, Arthur Glenn Hughes played Haywood, Matt Clark was Harry Orchard, and Danny Peterson was James Hawley.

Peterson’s character is particularly interesting to me because I live across the street from Nell Hawley, who recently lost her husband Jess Hawley, who was Peterson’s character’s grandson. Jess, who was the eldest Hawley of the law firm Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley, was 92. Here is an essay about his distinguished and exciting life.

Jess and I used to trade spy novels, and the Hawleys watched my kids grow up and are dear to me, as they were to hundreds of friends in Boise and around the world. We don’t see Nell out walking as much as she did when Jess was here, but we keep a lookout.

Producer Bruce Reichert imported California actor Gary Anderson to play Clarence Darrow, and he was worth it. Anderson, a warm and funny man who has made a career out of playing the famous attorney, looks so much like the real Darrow that it’s a bit startling. He flirted with the extras and told jokes between takes, keeping the (boiling hot) atmosphere positive.

In fact, the cast and especially the funny crew kept things interesting all day between antics for our benefit, re-shoots because of props crashing over during filming, flubbed lines which will no doubt end up on a bloopers reel, and historical updates from former Supreme Court Justice Byron Johnson.

If you ever have the chance to be an extra, I recommend it.

But first, inquire about the underwear.

About Jill Kuraitis

Jill Kuraitis is an award-winning journalist who specializes in news of Idaho and the Rocky Mountain West. Her B.A. in theatre management is from UC Santa Barbara, and she went on to work in theatre, film, and politics before writing became a career. Kuraitis has two excellent grown children and lives in Boise with her husband of 30 years, abundant backyard wildlife, and two huge hairy dogs.

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  1. “But first, inquire about the underwear.”

    A good rule to follow in many aspects of life.

  2. Was thrilled to read about your role in making history of an event that made history. It reveals a time when justice was very public…Because it was not perfect, because our ancestors could see and debate its flaws, they (and their decendants) could keep making corrections so that our system of justice can become more just.

    Until recently, most countries of the world admired our dynamic and independent system of justice.

    Sadly, the big criminal cases of our own generation (coming out of Guantanamo and other lesser known detention sites) are no longer public. They are kept remote and secret so we cannot fully participate. What flaws exist aren’t being exposed for this generation to debate which means the next generation cannot continue the process of improving our system of justice.

  3. John T. Richards

    Enjoyed your account of the “hot ladies” in the courtroom. Gives a real sense of that day 100 years ago with a packed courtroom, the stifling Boise summer heat and all the ladies and gents dressed in their best but certainly not coolest clothing. I regret not being in on the work and the fun of last week but was there in March to film a segment for the program and to attend the play-“The Gate on 16th Avenue”. I was happy to have had that opportunity to see Gary Anderson and all the great local actors that took part. The Idaho news coverage, pictures and reports back from Jan Boles and Bruce Reichert and other have helped be to stay in touch and continue to enjoy this project.
    Thanks for the article.
    John T. Richards
    Great Grandson of Governor Steunenberg

  4. Nice article Jill..A thumbs up here!! O the screen and the dress of Old days..Kepp the cameras rolling!!