2017-04-08 / News

Public Television Creates Documentary About Grand Hotel

By Erich T. Doerr


Grand Hotel’s impressive front porch and striking pose on Mackinac Island’s West Bluff has intrigued visitors for 130 years. It is featured in a new documentary that traces its history and behind-the-scenes operations. Grand Hotel’s impressive front porch and striking pose on Mackinac Island’s West Bluff has intrigued visitors for 130 years. It is featured in a new documentary that traces its history and behind-the-scenes operations. The image of Grand Hotel perched atop the bluff looking down on Lake Huron is one of the most iconic that Mackinac Island has to offer, and it has been that way for almost a century and a half. The hotel’s upcoming 2017 season will mark the 130th anniversary for the world’s largest summer hotel. The occasion is being marked by a special partnership between the hotel and Detroit Public Television (DPTV), a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) channel, which has resulted in a special documentary titled “Inside Grand Hotel” that first aired Thursday, March 2.

The one-hour documentary offers the public a look behind the curtain at the hotel’s history and operations, including both the one-of-a-kind atmosphere and challenges that come from being on an Island without cars, amid the blue waters of Lake Huron. The documentary was filmed over the course of six months in 2016.

“We were certainly pleased and privileged to have them do it,” said Ken Hayward, the hotel’s executive vice president and managing director. “It captures the essence of what the Musser family and Grand Hotel are all about.”

The documentary was inspired by Rich Homberg, president and CEO of the television station. Mr. Homberg attends the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference at the hotel and his frequent visits led to a meeting with Mr. Hayward at which he propsed a behind-the-scenes show about the hotel’s operations. Discussions began two years ago with the decision made to make the program and have it tie in with the hotel’s 130th anniversary. The television station solicited sponsorships and support from state businesses and organizations, such as the Richard and Jane Manoogian Foundation. The documentary enjoyed a private world premiere in Detroit Wednesday, March 1, before being aired on television for the first time March 2 during the station’s pledge drive.

Grand Hotel President R. Dan Musser III and his family hosted the documentary’s premiere at the Detroit Athletic Club, attended by many of the hotel’s staff and 400 other guests. Mr. Musser was also present for the two-hour pledge drive airing and was interviewed on the air during the one-hour donation collection portion of the program.

Mr. Hayward said the program is a positive thing for both Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island.

“We are very proud of how it turned out,” he said. “They spoke to many longtime Grand Hotel employees, our architects, Jane Seymour, and our longtime interior designer Carleton Varney.”

The documentary was been well received, drawing an audience of about 50,000 viewers for the first broadcast and 42,000 when it was rebroadcast Thursday, March 16. The station also “Inside Grand Hotel” on its Web site.

“It was a great program and very well received by everyone who watched it,” said Della Cassia of the station, noting she hopes the documentary helps people celebrate the hotel and encourages them to visit it.

Mrs. Cassia said the documentary drew great feedback as people complimented the program both online and while calling in the first night it aired. People from all over the country said they enjoyed the hotel and shared their memories of Mackinac Island.

The Detroit station has already pitched “Inside Grand Hotel” to other PBS stations across Michigan to see if they would also like to air it. Six stations have already done so, including WNMU at Marquette, WCML at Alpena, WCMU at Mt Pleasant, WKAR at Lansing, WDCQ at Saginaw and Flint, and WGVU at Grand Rapids. Some of them also aired the program as a special during their pledge drives. DPTV will next air the documentary on its channel Thursday, June 1, at 9 p.m.

The film crew had full access to the hotel. The program covers a wide variety of topics, including the hotel’s stables and how it uses horses to transport guests, their luggage, and fresh daily food delivers for the kitchen. Viewers also get a look into the kitchen where separate shifts of workers cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner as the hotel serves meals to 150,000 diners each summer. Viewers get a look at the crew of about 30 people that works to repair and improve the hotel each winter. The other topics covered by the program include the design and dĂ©cor of the rooms, its long history of live music, and the unique shops.

The program points out the staff includes people from 26 countries who work and live together on the Island during the season. The work of Mr. Musser and his sister, Vice President Mimi Cunningham, in operating the hotel is also covered.

“They did a wonderful job of showing the different seasons,” Mr. Hayward said, noting the program moves around quickly, and it is great to see Grand Hotel’s staff getting a chance for people to hear their stories. “You see the hotel and the Island at various times of the season.”

The documentary shows vintage footage while talking about the push to construct the giant wooden building in just 93 days in 1887. The program includes many photographs from the hotel’s history, ranging from early drawings used for advertising that falsely made the hotel appear to be right on the water, to photographs from when a water tower rose above the hotel. Grand Hotel’s long history as a family-run business is also discussed. Mr. Hayward noted that the program does a good job of showing the commitment to the hotel and the Island that all the employees have.

The documentary shows how the hotel has expanded over the years, including its off-site restaurants like The Woods and Sushi Grand. The way the hotel and the Island complement each other is also discussed. Both Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Phil Porter and Mackinac Island Mayor Margaret Doud are interviewed about the hotel’s history and impact on the area.

Grand Hotel will air the documentary this year on its inhouse television channel for guests to watch in their rooms. It will also sell copies of the program in its gift shop. The hotel also sells DVDs of a program made several years ago for its 125th anniversary, another where Grand Hotel historian Bob Tagatz talks about its history, and both of the Hollywood movies filmed here, “Somewhere in Time” (1980) and “This Time for Keeps” (1942). The filming of both movies is covered in the documentary, with Ms. Seymour interviewed about her work starring in “Somewhere in Time” and the movie’s impact. The documentary notes the enduring cult popularity of the film, which still attracts people to the hotel to relive the romance of another era.

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