The smash hit movie “The Revenant,” which on Jan. 10 won a Golden Globe award for best picture in the drama category and was later nominated for 12 Academy Awards, has a tie to Lovell.
Michael Punke, author of the novel upon which the movie is based, was born in and lived part of his childhood in Lovell when his father, Verle “Butch” Punke, taught at Lovell High School.
Michael is the oldest of three children of Butch and Marilyn Punke. He currently serves as the U.S. ambassador and deputy U.S. trade representative to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.
Sister Amy Punke McManamen followed in her father’s footsteps and taught in Lovell for 14 years. Younger brother Tim lives near and works in Seattle.
Butch and Marilyn Punke first moved to Lovell in 1963 after their graduation from Emporia State. He was a biology and chemistry teacher, she a first grade teacher.
After three years in Lovell, Butch moved the family to Cedar Falls, Iowa, while he pursued a master’s degree in science at Northern Iowa University. Amy was born there. The family moved back to Lovell in 1969 and Butch taught five more years at LHS, during which time Tim was born.
After a year teaching in Altona, Ill., Butch took a teaching job in Torrington, Wyo., where he and Marilyn have lived ever since and from where Michael, Amy and Tim graduated.
The family ties to Lovell continued in 1991 when Amy and her new husband Mike McManamen moved to Lovell to teach. Amy taught fourth grade, Mike sixth grade social studies. They taught and raised their family – including current University of Wyoming basketball player Jason McManamen – in Lovell until moving to Torrington in 2005, in part, to be closer to Butch and Marilyn.
Amy teaches fifth grade at Trail Elementary School in Torrington, and Mike taught one year of high school social studies, had a technology position for several years and is currently a facilitator for Goshen County School District No. 1.
A stellar career
Michael Punke graduated from Torrington High School in 1982 and earned his undergraduate degree in international affairs from George Washington University, then earned a law degree from the Cornell Law School, with a specialization in International Legal Affairs. He also served as editor in chief of the Cornell International Law Journal.
He then spent 14 years in government service and in private law practice in Washington, D.C., serving as international trade counsel to Montana U.S. Sen. Max Baucus in 1991-92, as the director for International Economic Affairs in 1993-95 in the Clinton Administration, with a joint appointment to the National Economic Council and the National Security Council, and as Senior Policy Advisor at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in 1995-96.
During his time in Washington, he started writing “The Revenant,” the story of mountain man Hugh Glass, who in 1823 was left for dead following a grizzly bear attack and, though badly injured, crawled and worked his way hundreds of miles to a fort, then sought revenge on the men who robbed and abandoned him.
It took Punke four years to write “The Revenant,” and brother Tim told Maxim Magazine writer Walter Bonner in 2014 that the project drove him to exhaustion as he worked extra hours outside of his already hectic schedule to complete the book. He caught pneumonia four times while writing the book, Tim said, telling Maxim his brother was “running himself ragged.”
Punke moved to Missoula, Mont., in 2003, just after “The Revenant” was published. The book wasn’t a big hit, but he
continued to write, taught some classes at the University of Montana, and did some law work, Amy said. He wrote and published the nonfiction books “Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917” and “Last Stand: George Bird Grinnel, the Battle to Save the Buffalo and the Birth of the New West.”
“He’s always been interested in history in general, especially the Civil War, and then he read about Hugh Glass,” sister Amy said. “He did some book talks and started talking about movie rights probably 10 years ago.”
Then Punke’s life took a major turn. In September of 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Punke as the U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization, and after his confirmation he moved his family – wife Traci and children Sophie and Bo – to Geneva.
About five years ago, Amy said, Michael received word that the movie based on his book was to be made, and it took years for the screenplay, casting and shooting.
“The Revenant,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, opened during the holidays and has been a huge hit. Punke couldn’t attend the premiere in December because he was in Kenya for the WTO, but Traci and the kids attended. Michael and Traci were able to attend the Golden Globes, seeing the action from an adjacent viewing room, Amy said.
Oddly, due to federal conflict of interest rules, Punke can’t promote or even talk about “The Revenant,” and Amy said he receives no money from the movie as the author of the book, other than the initial purchases of filming rights. But the hit movie has rekindled interest in the book, which has been republished and is now a best-seller.
Amy said Michael will likely return to Montana after President Obama leaves office and will be happy to return to the West.
“He’s so down to earth,” she said. “He has no airs about him. He’s just a hard-working family man and the fame part he would just shrug off.”
By David Peck