The film Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, filmed on location in Wisconsin back in 2008. Michael Mann directed scenes in Beaver Dam, Madison, Manitowish Waters, Milwaukee, and Oshkosh, but Columbus, Wisconsin was the most special town of all, at least to me.
All thanks to Mary Poser.
She was an amazing octogenarian, now nonagenarian, bustling with energy and verve. It so happened her home in Columbus was tagged by Universal Studios as a site for the movie shoot. Over weeks to months, her house was transformed into the house where gangster John Dillinger’s girlfriend would be followed, the office where fellow mobsters would turn traitor, the site of a high-speed car chase, and more scandalously, a brothel.
A whole room had been dedicated to storing 1930’s memorabilia. Her kitchen had been downgraded to a microwave in the basement as her real kitchen transformed into a nonfunctional depression era model. Cardboard lined her walls and staircases to prevent any injury to the original wood during the constant moving of furniture.
She saw it as an adventure, plus she would earn some enough cash to fix her roof.
As anyone who knows me knows, I am a movie buff. When I caught word of the film shoot online, I considered a short trip to Wisconsin. The trouble being I was the new physician at a practice in Durham, Connecticut at the time. Would I be able to get a few days off?
Curious as to why I requested the time away, my then partner Brad Wilkinson asked, “Where are you looking to go?”
“It’s a small town in Wisconsin. Only a few thousand people. You wouldn’t know it.”
“Try me,” he said.
When he started laughing, I thought he was making fun of my willingness to travel halfway across the country to catch a glimpse of a movie set. The reality was he was about to send me on an even greater adventure. It turned out that his wife, also a Mary, was raised in that very small town. We later learned that Mary had a close family friend whose house was being used as a set for the film.
Enter Mary Poser.
I flew into Chicago on May 5 and drove three hours over the Illinois-Wisconsin state line into Columbus. With Mary Poser’s address in hand, I headed for her house and soon found myself conversing with crew members transporting dollies of equipment to the house from a large truck with the Universal Studios logo on it. Interestingly, the crew assumed I was a reporter – foreshadowing that I would one day write movie reviews for a newspaper. I thanked them for their time, jotted a line into my notepad (Johnny Depp confirmed for tomorrow’s shoot), and waved them adieu. Since Mary was not expecting me until the 6th, I snuck off to my hotel for the night, a little worn for the travel.
Things being what they were, the Depp shoot was rescheduled to another day, bummer, but my tour with Mary would go on as planned, better than ever. If there was a more gracious host, Mary was it. She literally took me in with open arms, hugging this friend of a friend even as her house was ransacked by film crews. As she toured me through the different sets, the cinematographer himself walked through to tweak the staging.
Mary introduced me to her family, offered me dinner, and dazzled me with more hospitality than I have come to expect as a New Englander. Listen, I am a proud New England, but we tend to be a bit slower to hand our trust and our homes over to complete strangers. She nudged me to take a nap in her home instead of heading back to my hotel. Of course, I coyly asked if I could take a nap on the brothel bed, and she giggled out a yes. It was the best nap of my life!
Some people are spirited. Some are witty. Some are kind. Some open their homes to camera crews and strangers. Mary Poser is all of them combined. Her simple act of kindness gave me one of the most memorable days of my life. If only more people could be so generous in sharing their time.
Watching Public Enemies when it hit the silver screen in 2009, I recognized so many details from the sets I had seen firsthand. It felt as if I were back home again at Mary’s house. Mary and I have a tradition of sending each other Christmas cards to catch up on the year. I tear into the envelope with glee every year. She is a special part of my life now and has been for 10 years.
Thanks, Mary Poser. You are a role model for the ages.