Titanic: The Major Motion Picture vs. The Facts

In spite of the efforts of the producers of the Titanic faithfully to reconstruct every detail of the fateful voyage, they also had to make a popular movie which people would want to see, and so they fudged the facts here and there.

Here are some of the areas where the movie does not fit with the facts.

All of the major characters in the love story were fictional. Jack Dawson, Rose Calvert, Rose's mother, and Rose's fiancee, Cal Hockley, were all fictional.

No such diamond as "The Heart of the Ocean" was on the Titanic. King Louis XVI is reported to have owned a diamond by that name. King Louis XVI was beheaded during the French Revolution. The diamond has never been found.

The true situation proved to be worse, as between 1498 and 1521 died and only 700 survived.

On the other hand, many of the characters were real. Captain Edward John Smith was the real captain. First Officer William McMaster Murdoch was a real officer. The major villain of the voyage, Bruce Ismay, was the real owner of the Titanic. He became a villain saying that he wanted the ship to go faster and break a speed record and then by getting on the last lifeboat to leave the Titanic. He later testified that there were 12 empty seats on that lifeboat and no women who wanted to get on. There were four Filipino and Chinese stowaways who got on the same lifeboat and survived, whereas many paying first class customers died.

John Jacob Astor, played by the star of the Soap Opera "The Young and the Restless", was a real person. However, he was John Jacob Astor IV and not his much more famous grandfather.

There was a big scandal going on at the time, because John Jacob Astor, a millionaire in his late 40s, had married an 18-year-old girl who was already pregnant with his child. This scandal is mentioned in the movie.

In real life, John Jacob Astor tried to get into a lifeboat with his wife, Mrs. John Jacob Astor (Madeleine Force), saying that she was "in a delicate condition". However, he was ordered off the boat by Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller. In one incident, Fifth Officer Lowe pointed a gun at the head of a 13-year-old boy who was hiding under a lady's dress and who said that he would not take up much room, and ordered him off. The boy got off and went down with the ship. On the other hand, the life boat left the Titanic only a little more than half full. (It also contained Officer Lowe).

In real life, the 18-year-old wife of John Jacob Astor survived and gave birth to the child, whom she named John Jacob Astor V. His estate gave her an endowment of $5,000,000, on the condition that she never remarry. Years later, she did remarry and thereby gave up the five million dollars.

Molly Brown was a very real person from Denver who survived the disaster and became famous as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown".

Many things which happened in the movie involving fictional characters were obviously put into the script so as make the story at least possible. For example, Leonardo Di Caprio boards the Titanic using somebody else's ticket, which he had won in a card game. It has been reported that there were card sharks on board traveling under assumed names. Some of them survived the sinking and even won big money from other survivors who still had money on the Carpathia. This is one of the reasons why a complete and exact list of those who died has never been possible to assemble. In addition, survivors reported that a card game was in progress while the ship was sinking. The card players came out to access the damage, but then went back to their card game.

At the end of the movie, Rose Calvert gives a fake name to a person who is taking down a list of survivors. This would explain why we cannot find her name on the lists of those who survived.

The name of Rose Calvert in the movie is clearly derived from Rosa Abbott. While the Titanic was sinking, Rosa Abbott, a third class passenger, jumped in the water with her two sons. After the Titanic sunk, 14 survivors were pulled from the water, but seven of them later died. All of the others were ship employees. Rosa Abbott was both the only woman and the only passenger who was pulled from the water and survived. Her two sons died in the water, however. She later remarried.

Most of the small details in the movie are true. For example, when something is broken during the Titanic sinking, a steward says: "That is White Star property. You will have to pay for that." That line gets a laugh from the movie audience, but in reality the steward did say that. He survived the sinking and later explained that he did not realize that the Titanic was sinking when he said that.

One of the final scenes in the movie shows a woman with a baby in her arms both frozen and dead in the water. Sad to relate, this is true. The woman and her baby were found frozen dead when Officer Lowe went back to look for survivors.

Officer Lowe was by no means a hero. He did not want to go back and only did so when the other survivors vehemently insisted upon it.

Many details in the movie were lifted directly from the 1958 Titanic film "A Night to Remember". Rights to that film were purchased by James Cameron to avoid any copyright problems.

The only change in the true facts which I found disturbing was that some of the undersea shots of the Titanic wreckage were fake. James Cameron did in fact personally take a dive down to see the actual Titanic. However, new technology had to be developed to take the underwater shots at a depth of two miles which were shown in the movie. It was only possible to take 12 minutes of film.

To make up for this, after the Titanic replica was sunk in the making of the film, some underwater shots were taken of that. Included in the fake footage were the frequent scenes of the clock in the stateroom where Leonardo Di Caprio draws Kate Winslet nude.

The Renault car which was shown in the movie was real. Whether Kate and Jack or anybody else on board ever had sex in the back seat of that car (thereby establishing a fine American tradition) is not known.

I had a distant relative named Mary Sloan, who survived the Titanic.

Sam Sloan

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Contact address - please send e-mail to the following address: Sloan@ishipress.com