Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gangster Holidays in Wisconsin

By David Luhrssen
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Parts of director Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, were filmed in Wisconsin. Aside from any incentives offered by the state, one reason was the ability to use an actual location of a shoot-out between Dillinger and his nemesis, FBI Special Agent Melvin Purvis. The Little Bohemia Lodge, a resort in Manitowish Waters, still stands today with a few bullet scares giving mute testimony to the intensity of the gunfire on that snowy night in 1934.

Wisconsin filmmaker Bob Leff visited the scene of the crime in his recent DVD documentary, GangsterHolidays: The Video. Based on a book by Chicago reporter Tom Hollatz, Gangster Holidays gives a pocket history of Dillinger that differs from the Public Enemies narrative. In reality, there were more jailbreaks, more bank robberies, more killing, but, true to Depp’s performance, the Bohemia Lodge’s owner described Dillinger as “a congenial fellow” who paid his tab and made no trouble. That man’s son, Emil Wanatka, Jr., was eight years old at the time of the shootout. Interviewed for Gangster Holidays, he recalls that Dillinger gave him a quarter for ice cream. It was a pleasant holiday for all—until the G-Men burst in with Tommy guns blazing. Several local residents were killed.

Dillinger wasn’t the only 1930s mobster who enjoyed the scenery of northern Wisconsin. Gangster Holidays also explores the supper clubs and brothels where Al Capone and other gangsters took their leisure. GangsterHolidays can be ordered for $24 including tax and shipping from Video Art Productions, 2217 Goecks Court, Cottage Grove, WI 53527.

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