Three decades before Travel + Leisure named Mackinac Island the No. 1 Best Island in the Continental U.S., another magazine already had identified the Crown Jewel of the Great Lakes as one of the country’s most picturesque destinations.
Back in 1993, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue featured Mackinac Island in a coastline-themed pictorial along with the Florida Keys, Oahu, Martha’s Vineyard and Alaska. A photography crew spent a few days on Mackinac Island the previous fall shooting photographs for the issue that came out Feb. 22, 1993.
Shooting amid the historic charm of Mackinac Island provided “a nostalgic touch from the heartland” for that year’s swimsuit issue, Sports Illustrated’s managing editor Mark Mulvoy wrote in the magazine.
Where the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue shoot on Mackinac Island took place
Six Mackinac Island images by photographer Walter Iooss, Jr. were published, showcasing models Britta Dubbels and Stacey Williams, who went on to become a swimsuit edition veteran appearing in eight issues over the years.
Settings for the photographs included Mackinac Island’s famed Grand Hotel porch, the longest porch in the world, and the iconic Grand Hotel swimming pool named after Esther Williams (no relation to Stacey), who starred in the 1947 movie “This Time for Keeps” that filmed on Mackinac Island.
The Sports Illustrated crew also did shoots on the rocky beach by Round Island Lighthouse, just across the water from the Mackinac Island ferry docks. They traveled there on a boat owned by Jeffrey Dupre, who continues to work as a Mackinac Island photographer with Island Photo.
Dupre recalls getting a phone call from someone at the state park asking if his boat could be available to scout photo locations. He then met a couple guys (who turned out to be Iooss and his assistant) at the dock and took them to Round Island, which they decided would work quite well for what they called “a fashion shoot.”
They asked Dupre to meet them again the next morning at the dock, where he found the men along with two women carrying Sports Illustrated notebooks. “And then two girls, two supermodels, show up,” Dupre remembers.
How the rest of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue shoot on Mackinac Island played out
- Dupre took the crew over to Round Island, where Iooss shot for about 3 hours on a foggy, cool September morning. “It was a beautiful setting,” Dupre said. “I remember Walter saying that even though it’s cold and foggy, it has this eerie and mystical quality.”
- Dupre took the SI crew back to Round Island the next morning for another day of shooting, and that’s when the crew captured an incredible image of Williams standing on the rocks in front of Round Island Lighthouse. It was one of just three photos from the two days of shooting at Round Island that ended up in the magazine. “They always overshoot and then sort through it all and decide what they want to use,” Dupre said. “He probably shot 200 rolls of 26-exposure slide film. I remember looking at this big bag of film and that’s what the assistant did is keep handing Walter cameras full of fresh film. They would shoot in all different directions in all different settings.”
- When Dupre told the crew that he was a photographer, they let him help haul equipment and hold a light reflector up on a ladder during the shoot. He remembers Williams sprawled out on the rocky beach in floral yoga pants and matching bra saying, “Oh, my gosh, these rocks are killing me!”
- One day during shooting, the crew was visited by a second crew involved in “The Making of the 1993 Swimsuit Issue” video. If you don’t blink, you can catch a glimpse of Dupre. “There was one scene where the camera pans the shoreline and I’m standing on the ladder holding the reflector,” he says.
- The SI crew also spent time shooting at Grand Hotel, both in the swimming pool and on the iconic porch. Three of those images also appeared in the magazine, including one of Williams on the porch at sunset in a one-piece leotard that probably wouldn’t meet Grand Hotel dress code on any other evening.
In addition to the swimsuit photos, the Feb. 22, 1993, edition of Sports Illustrated also included an accompanying feature on Mackinac island with several images including the Grand Hotel porch, a horse-drawn carriage, a bustling Main Street full of activity, a sailboat on the water off Mackinac Island and others.
The article headlined “An Oldie But A Real Goodie” highlighted Mackinac Island’s historic car-free character and scenic beauty, calling it “the rarest of gems.”
Other Mackinac Island Features in Sports Illustrated
Although 1993 is the only time Sports Illustrated has shot swimsuit photos on Mackinac Island, the magazine is no stranger. Its pages have featured Mackinac Island on several occasions. Here are a few more examples:
- The July 23, 1956, issue of Sports Illustrated includes a photo essay of the Chicago to Mackinac yacht race, noting that after the race yachtsman “treat themselves to a succession of parties aboard their boats and ashore on rustic Mackinac Island.”
- An article in the June 1, 1959, issue of Sports Illustrated recounts a cruise through the North Channel and Georgian Bay off Lake Huron, with Mackinac Island serving as the starting point. The article notes that “the living at Mackinac is easy,” calling it “one of the few places left in the Western world where the visitor, willy-nilly, is dropped back a century into a pleasant, leisurely age” where everything “moves at the five-mile-an-hour pace of the horse and buggy era.” It also mentions daily Mackinac Island bicycle rentals for $2.50 and lunches at Grand Hotel for $3.50!
- The July 14, 1986, issue of Sports Illustrated again highlights Mackinac Island and boating, this time sharing the harrowing first-person account of a yacht that sank in the Port Huron to Mackinac race the previous summer.
- Sports Illustrated’s coverage of the University of Michigan football team’s 2022 visit to Mackinac Island includes both photos and video of Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines splashing around in the Grand Hotel pool, playing golf at Grand Hotel’s course and riding bikes.
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