Titanic's Last Sunset
Poster for Titanic

"...it is a rash man indeed who would set himself up as final arbiter on everything that happened the incredible night the Titanic went down."
--Walter Lord, The Night Lives On, p. 235

I first saw Titanic at the theater in February 1998. This page was originally posted on the internet about two weeks after that. However, the more I study the Titanic and her story, the more the above quotation makes sense to me. While the original purpose of this page remains the same, to highlight the comparisons between the movie and the recorded history, I've begun to realize how few cut-and-dried truths there are about the sinking. Data is faulty. Contradictions abound. Conclusions become difficult to make. Of course, this is the fun about researching the Titanic. One will never gain a complete picture of the sinking. The arguments will be endless.

As I mentioned above, I've made a number of comparisons between James Cameron's movie and the recorded history. Those comparisons are arranged below in a question and answer format. My sources for the recorded history include the following:

The first four books are collected in The Story of the Titanic as Told by its Survivors, edited by Jack Winocour and published by Dover Books (1960). However, I will refer to them by the author's last name (e.g.: Beesley, Gracie, etc.). As for my sources regarding the movie, I will be using:

A note regarding the screenplay: while the script is very useful in laying out scenes, characters and dialogue, it is not the authoritative word one would hope for. In reading through the manuscript, it becomes very obvious that there are major and minor differences between the actual film and the screenplay which is available on the internet. Minor differences include changes in dialogue or actions done by the characters,while major changes include scenes which were deleted from the film. If there is a change in the script that is pertinent to the discussion, I will mention it.

A final note regarding this page. The text changes from time to time, primarily because readers write to me asking new questions. I have made every attempt to answer each question as completely (and as quickly) as I can. However, I have not kept a chronology of when the additions were made. If you have any questions regarding the movie and the history of the Titanic, please either leave a message at my Guestbook or e-mail me at dunner99rok@yahoo.com.

Q: Which characters were fictional and which were real people?

I compared the character/cast listing for the movie against the crew and passenger listings at Jim's Titanic Website. Generally speaking, the main characters of the movie are fictional. That includes Rose and her mother, Cal Hockley and Spicer Lovejoy, and (I assume) most if not all of the "modern" characters such as Brock Lovett and Lizzy Calvert. On the other hand, virtually all of the first class passengers and the named crew of the Titanic were real people. Only one of the named crewmen in the movie (Steward Barnes) appears to be fictional.

The third class passengers also appear to be fictional, although this is very difficult to tell, even when comparing against the passenger lists. The Titanic's passenger lists were by no means complete. Nor did everyone use their real names. Lord mentions in The Night Lives On that a number of people traveled under aliases. Sir Cosmo and Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon were traveling under the names of Mr. and Mrs. Morgan. (p. 36) George (Boy) Bradley, C.H. Romaine and Harry (Kid) Homer were traveling as "George Brayton," "C. Rolmane," and "E. Haven," respectively. (p. 38) Lord is not sure why the Duff-Gordon's were traveling under assumed names, especially as Lady Duff-Gordon used publicity to her advantage in building her fashion business. However, the other three men had to use false names as they were professional card sharks.

"Jack Dawson," played by Leonardo DiCaprio, appears to be fictional but was a real person on board the Titanic. James Cameron admits in the MSN Online Tonight interview that he discovered there actually was a J. Dawson on the Titanic, but didn't find out about him until after the screenplay was written. (J. Dawson was a trimmer in the engineering crew according to the Encyclopedia Titanica!  Special thanks to Jessica White for the tip!)

While Jack and Rose may be fictional characters, the type of love they demonstrate for each other in the face of the greatest adversity was very real among the people on the Titanic. "To another couple, evidently from the Western States, that I found sitting on a fan casing I asked the girl, "Won't you let me put you in one of the boats?" She replied with a frank smile, "Not on your life. We started together, and if need be, we'll finish together." It was typical of the spirit throughout." (Lightoller, p. 293)

Q: Was the "Heart of the Ocean" real?

This question comes to me from Karen Blevins. Sorry to say, "La Coeur de la Mer" was only a movie prop. There was no comparable necklace on board the Titanic. However, there is one major piece of jewelry lost in the wreck. A bejeweled copy of "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam," with over 1000 precious stones on the cover, is in the Titanic somewhere (Ballard, pp. 225-6). Now the love scene between Rose and Jack in the car (scenes 120 and 124), that car was really on board the Titanic. William Carter of Philadelphia, a first-class passenger, was shipping a 25 horsepower Renault to America. He later made an insurance claim of $5,000 for it (Ballard, p. 23).

Q: Who really occupied suites B52, B54 and B56?

Although the room numbers are not listed in the script (scene 34), they are mentioned in the movie. Lovejoy (portrayed by David Warner) tells the White Star Line porter to have the luggage transported to the three suites listed above. However, those suites were really used by none other than J. Bruce Ismay, president of International Mercantile Marine Co. of America, the company that owned Titanic, and managing director of the White Star Lines (Mengot).

Note: David Warner plays survivor Lawrence Beesley in the 1979 TV movie, S.O.S. Titanic.

Q: How did Jack know what it was like to be in icy water?

In scene 65, Rose is threatening to jump off the stern of the ship when Jack intervenes. He begins telling her about once having fallen through the ice while ice fishing. He says, "Anyway, I went through some thin ice and I'm tellin' ya, water that cold... like that right down there... it hits you like a thousand knives all over your body. You can't breath, you can't think... least not about anything but the pain."

Actually, Jack's experience was described by Second Officer Lightoller. "It came home to me very clearly how fatal it would be to get amongst those hundreds and hundreds of people who would shortly be struggling for their lives in that deadly cold water. There was only one thing to do, and I might just as well do it and get it over, so, turning to the fore part of the bridge, I took a header. Striking the water, was like a thousand knives being driven into one's body, and, for a few moments, I completely lost grip of myself--and no wonder for I was perspiring freely, whilst the temperature of the water was 28, or 4 below freezing." (p. 298)

Q: Did J. Bruce Ismay ask Captain Smith to set a new speed record across the Atlantic?

In scene 74, Cameron suggests that Ismay pushed Captain Smith into increasing the speed of the Titanic so that the ship could arrive in New York on Tuesday night instead of Wednesday morning. In his interrogation by White Star Line, Ismay denied this:

"Sir Robert Finley: Have you ever, on any occasion, attempted to interfere with the navigation of the vessel on any of these occasions?

Mr. Ismay: No." (Gracie, p. 262)

Commander Lightoller agreed with Ismay in this regard: "We were not out to make a record passage; in fact the White Star Line invariably run their ships at reduced speed for the first few voyages. It tells in the long run, for the engines of a ship are very little different from the engines of a good car, they must be run in. Take the case of the Oceanic [Note: another ship of the White Star Line]. She steadily increased her speed from 19.5 knots in her early days to 21.5 when she was twelve years old. It has often been said that had not the Titanic been trying to make a passage, the catastrophe would never have occurred.
"Nothing of the kind.
"She was certainly making good speed that night of April 12th, but not her best--nothing compared with what she would have been capable, in, say, a couple of years' time. The disaster was just due to a combination of circumstances that never occurred before and can never occur again. That may sound like a sweeping statement, yet it is a fact." (Lightoller, p. 280)

In fact, it appears that the Titanic was originally supposed to arrive in New York on Tuesday night in the first place: "From 12 noon Thursday to 12 noon Friday we ran 386 miles, Friday to Saturday 519 miles, Saturday to Sunday 546 miles. The second day's run of 519 miles was, the purser told us, a disappointment, and we should not dock until Wednesday morning instead of Tuesday night as we had expected; however, on Sunday we were glad to see a longer run had been made, and it was thought we should make New York, after all, on Tuesday night. The purser remarked: "They are not pushing her this trip and don't intend to make any fast running: I don't suppose we shall do more than 546 now; it is not a bad day's run for the first trip." (Beesley, p. 20)

[On Sunday, March 8, 1998, the cable channel A&E aired two two-hour documentaries on the Titanic. In the first half, it is suggested that Ismay may not have been trying to set a general speed record across the Atlantic--which would have been impossible as the Mauretania, for example, was five knots faster--but a speed record for liners on their maiden voyages. I shall have to do further research on this topic, but the answer to my question may be yes instead of no, as I suggest above.]

Q: At one point when the characters are touring the ship, Rose and the builder [Thomas Andrews] are discussing life boats. Mr. Andrews says he designed the deck to hold an extra row to be lashed to the existing row, but the design was changed to unclutter the deck. Is this fact or fiction?

This question came to me from Jonnie of Longview, Texas. The scene Jonnie is referring to is scene 96, where Thomas Andrews is giving Rose and her family a guided tour of the ship.

ROSE: "Mr. Andrews, I did the sum in my head, and with the number of lifeboats times the capacity you mentioned... forgive me, but it seems that there are not enough for everyone aboard."
ANDREWS: "About half, actually. Rose, you miss nothing, do you? In fact, I put in these new type davits, which can take an extra row of boats here. (he gestures along the deck) But it was thought... by some... that the deck would look too cluttered. So I was over-ruled."
CAL: (slapping the side of a boat): Waste of deck space as it is, on an unsinkable ship!

It's fact, although what Thomas Andrews' actual role was I'm not sure. Here's what did happen. The regulations which governed the number of lifeboats on board British ships was last written in 1894 (18 years earlier) by a government agency called the Board of Trade. While the Board was technically responsible for writing this regulation, the policy was really created two layers below the Board, by the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee. This committee was, in fact, dominated by the ship owners. The ship owners had no desire to increase the number of lifeboats required on board a ship. To justify this misguided notion, they came up with all sorts of arguments as to why there shouldn't be so many boats. Those arguments included: "less room on the upper decks for the suites, the games and sports, the verandahs and palm courts, and the glass-enclosed observation lounges that lured the wealthy travelers from the competition," the increased compartmentalization of the ship, the development of wireless radio, the idea that extra boats and gear would make the ships "top-heavy" or the upper decks too congested to allow the crew to work, and the stormy Atlantic weather. Titanic, in fact, was only required to carry 16 boats in all, for a total of 962 persons. But White Star Line decided to add four collapsible boats, which increased lifeboat capacity to 1,178. (There were 2,201 persons on board the ship when it went down, but the Titanic was actually certified to carry 3,547 persons, so the disaster could have been much worse.)

Alexander Carlisle, the Managing Director of Harland and Wolff (the shipbuilders of the Titanic), did want additional lifeboats on board the Titanic and the other ships built by his company. He asked the Welin Davit Company of Sweden to design new davits for the Titanic that would hold up to 64 boats (so it wouldn't have been just one extra row, but three). The davits were installed, but the boats were not. One of the reasons why the boats weren't added is because having so many lifeboats on the Titanic would force the White Star Line to increase the number of lifeboats on all their ships. There was also the opinion that the compartmentalization of the Titanic would allow the ship to be its own lifeboat. Carlisle ultimately submitted plans that would allow for 48 lifeboats on the boat deck (two extra rows for a total of three), but didn't bring the topic up for discussion with Bruce Ismay. As a result, Ismay never approved of the additional boats. (Ismay claimed he never knew of the plan for the extra boats and Walter Lord, whose narrative I'm using for this answer, says it's possible that Ismay was correct in saying that.) For a complete description of the lifeboat controversy, see Chapter 8 of The Night Lives On by Walter Lord.

Q: What are the lyrics to the song that Jack sings to Rose?

This question came to me from Tanya F. Mandaradoni of Milan, Italy. In scene 99 (the "Flying" scene), Jack starts singing "Come Josephine in my flying machine..." The answer comes from Wayne Garvin (and special thanks to Jackie Fritsche for pointing me in the right direction):

Come, Josephine, In My Flying Machine (Up She Goes!)
- words by Alfred Bryan, music by Fred Fisher

Come, Josephine, in my flying machine
Going UP she goes, UP she goes
Balance yourself like a bird on a beam
In the air she goes, there she goes
Up, up, a little bit higher
Oh! My! the moon is on fire
Come, Josephine, in my flying machine
Going up, All on, Goodbye

Copyright 1910 by Maurice Shapiro, New York.

Q: What were the commands issued when the iceberg was spotted? In the movie, the only command was "hard to starboard." Would there have been any additional commands issued? What commands did the engine room receive via the telegraph? Upon recovering the telegraphs from the wreck what orders did they indicate? What were the last settings of the telegraphs before she went down?

These questions came to me from Jason in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. With regard to the commands, there were two commands given when the iceberg was spotted. From Cameron's screenplay (Scene 131):

FLEET: "Iceberg right ahead!"
MOODY: "Thank you." (hangs up, calls to Murdoch) "Iceberg right ahead!"

Murdoch sees it and rushes to the engine room telegraph. While signaling "FULL SPEED ASTERN" he yells to Quartermaster Hichens, who is at the wheel.

MURDOCH: "Hard a' starboard."
MOODY (standing behind Hichens): "Hard'a starboard. The helm is hard over, sir."

So there is the "Hard a' starboard" command, plus the silent command via the telegraph to the engine room to reverse engines. This is also mentioned in Walter Lord's book, "The Night Lives On" (NLO):

"...the Captain rushed from his quarters onto the bridge immediately after the impact."

"What have we struck?" asked Smith.

"An iceberg, sir," replied Murdoch. "I hard-astarboarded and reversed the engines, and I was going to hard-aport around it, but she was too close. I could not do anymore."

This sequence is written out very closely to Lord's version by Cameron (Scene 150):

SMITH: "What was that, Mr. Murdoch?"
MURDOCH: "An iceberg, sir. I put her hard a' starboard and run the engines full astern, but it was too close. I tried to port around it, but she hi... and I--"
SMITH: "Close the emergency doors."
MURDOCH: "The doors are closed."

As for the commands given to the engine room via the telegraph, they were many. From NLO:

"The first few moments after the collision are among the most difficult to sort out. A series of rapidly changing orders jangled from the bridge to the engine room, but none of the surviving witnesses agreed on the exact sequence, the timing, or even the purpose. Greaser Fred Scott testified that immediately after the collision, the engine room telegraph bells rang STOP ENGINES...then, 10 or 15 minutes later, SLOW AHEAD...another 10 minutes and again, STOP ENGINES...another 10 minutes and SLOW ASTERN...5 more minutes and once again, STOP ENGINES. This time they stopped for good.

"Trimmer Patrick Dillon, the only other survivor from the engine room, thought that the signal STOP ENGINES came immediately before the crash, that SLOW ASTERN came before SLOW AHEAD, and that the time intervals were much shorter--for instance, the ship went SLOW AHEAD for only two minutes, not ten. Neither man remembered the engines being set at FULL SPEED ASTERN, as recalled so clearly by Fourth Officer Boxhall on the bridge.

"It is fruitless to turn to the bridge for clarification. Captain Smith, First Officer Murdoch, and Sixth Officer Moody were all lost; Fourth Officer Boxhall was off making a quick inspection; Quartermaster Hichens was in the wheelhouse unable to see anything; Quartermaster Olliver was running errands most of the time. Olliver does remember the Captain telegraphing HALF SPEED AHEAD sometime during the interval when the Titanic lay almost dead in the water."

As for the telegraphs themselves, at least one has been recovered from the Titanic. A picture of a telegraph can be seen at the RMS Titanic, Inc. web pages (registration is required). RMS Titanic's caption reads, "Even though other ships reported ice in the Titanic's path, no reduction in speed was ordered and the engine room telegraphs still read 'FULL SPEED AHEAD.'" Presumably, this is the position in which the telegraph's handle was found by RMS Titanic, Inc. (One assumes that rust has permanently locked the handle into place.) However, we do not know if the telegraph handle moved down to the "Full Speed Ahead" setting by either the force of the impact when Titanic's bow struck the ocean floor, or by the water or some piece of the bridge structure when the bridge was destroyed.

Q: Did a steward really threaten Jack and Rose with having to pay for damages to a door?

In scene 196, Jack and Rose have just escaped from the Master-at-Arms' office. Jack smashes open a door, and he and Rose stumble into a corridor (Scotland Road on E-Deck). A steward, who was leading a group of people, says to them: "Here you! You'll have to pay for that, you know. That's White Star Line property--" Jack and Rose turn around and say simultaneously, "Shut up!"

One of the funnier scenes in the movie. While Jack and Rose are fictional characters, there was a similar incident which did happen on board the ship. "Two ladies walking along one of the corridors came across a group of people gathered round a door which they were trying vainly to open, and on the other side of which a man was demanding in the loudest terms to be let out. Either his door was locked and the key not to be found, or the collision [with the iceberg] had jammed the lock and prevented the key from turning. The ladies thought he must be afflicted in some way to make such a noise, but one of the men was assuring him that in no circumstances should he be left, and that his (the bystander's) son would be along soon and would smash down his door if it was not opened in the meantime. "He has a stronger arm than I have," he added. The son arrived presently and proceeded to make short work of the door: it was smashed in and the inmate released, to his great satisfaction and with many expressions of gratitude to his rescuer. But one of the head stewards who came up at this juncture was so incensed at the damage done to the property of his company, and so little aware of the infinitely greater damage done the ship, that he warned the man who had released the prisoner that he would be arrested on arrival in New York." (Beesley, p. 62)

Q: Was Thomas Andrews right when he told Second Officer Lightoller that he counted only 12 people in a lifeboat?

In scene 197, Mr. Andrews comes up to Second Officer Lightoller. "Why are the boats being launched half full?!" Lightoller steps past him, helping a seaman clear a snarled fall. "Not now, Mr. Andrews," he says. Andrews points down at the water, "There, look... twenty or so in a boat built for sixty five. And I saw one boat with only twelve. "Twelve!" Lightoller, looking flustered, says, "Well... we were not sure of the weight--" "Rubbish!" Andrews says. They were tested in Belfast with the weight of 70 men. Now fill these boats, Mr. Lightoller. For God's sake, man!"

While both Ballard (p. 39) and Lord (NTR, p. 60) place Andrews on deck, helping to load boats, whether the scene with Lightoller really happened, I cannot say with certainty. Lightoller does not mention any meeting with Andrews in his own account. Even if such a meeting had occurred, the criticism wouldn't be completely valid against Lightoller. The smallest load he sent off in a lifeboat was 25 people. It was Murdoch who sent off the boat with only twelve people aboard. This was Emergency Boat #1, and its primary passengers were Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon and Miss Francatelli, Lady Duff-Gordon's secretary. After the Titanic sank, the screams of the freezing people could be plainly heard. Charles Hendricksen, a surviving fireman, suggested that Boat #1 return to pick up people, but Lady Duff-Gordon objected, saying that the boat would be swamped if they did so. Sir Duff-Gordon and one other men agreed with her (according to J. Taylor, another fireman). G. Symons, the crewman in charge of the boat made no effort until late to try to rescue anyone. (Gracie, pp. 240-245)

What made the Duff-Gordon episode, as Gracie called it, so galling was the lack of concern for human life on the part of the Duff-Gordons. According to R. W. Pusey, another fireman on board Boat #1, "I heard Lady Duff-Gordon say to Miss Francatelli: "You have lost your beautiful nightdress," and I said, "Never mind, you have saved your lives, but we have lost our kit...And then someone said, "Never mind, we will give you enough to get a new kit." Sir Cosmo's recollection of the same conversation: "There was a man sitting next to me and about half an hour after the Titanic sank a man said to me: "I suppose you have lost everything?" I said: "Yes." He said: "I suppose you can get more." I said: "Yes." He said: "Well, we have lost all our kit, for we shall not get anything out of the Company, and our pay ceases from to-night." I said: "Very well, I will give you five pounds each towards your kit." (Gracie, p. 245) Later, on board the Carpathia, the Duff-Gordons did give out five pounds to each member of the crew on board Boat #1. However, in doing so, a rumor was started that the money was actually a bribe, so that the boat would not go back to help the people in the water. To clear their names, the Duff-Gordons appeared before the British Inquiry. Sir Cosmo was able to convince Lord Mersey that he had not ordered Boat #1 to row away from the passengers in the water, and that the five pounds was indeed a gift to the crewmen (Lord, NLO, p. 168). On the other hand, "Lord Mersey exonerated him completely, but did observe that Sir Cosmo might have shown a little more initiative. Instead of doing nothing, he could have led an effort to rescue some of the swimmers.
"He just wasn't the type. Naturally reticent, the last thing Sir Cosmo wanted was to be conspicuous. An old Eton boy, he never went to a university, but settled into a quiet life of comfort and privilege. He seemed totally oblivious of the ordinary people around him. It never occurred to him that somebody might misinterpret the 5 gift he presented to each member of his boat crew. (When servants do a good job, you tip them.) Nor did he remotely understand that it might frighten the already jittery survivors when, during the trip back to New York, the boat crew was reassembled in their life jackets for a "team picture." Nor did he have any inkling that it might be in bad taste to have a festive champagne supper at the Ritz after the Carpathia landed.
"Still, one must carry on. Sir Cosmo became no recluse; he lived the life he had always led--proud, aloof, aware that he was the target of much scorn but never condescending to lower himself to the point of arguing about it. He did not talk much about the Titanic, but his wife felt that the storm of censure and ridicule that swirled around him "well-nigh broke his heart." He died in April 1931." (Lord, NLO, pp. 185-86) According to the People Weekly article, "Sunken Dreams," "For them at least, says Lucy's biographer Meredith Etherington-Smith, "it was almost worse to survive than to go down." (p. 48)

Q: Did Second Officer Lightoller really draw a gun on the passengers?

In scene 213, Second Officer Lightoller is trying to load women and children into the lifeboats on the port side of the boat deck. The officers are repeatedly warning the men to stay back. Several men break ranks and rush forward. Lightoller pulls out a revolver and aims it at the men. The men back down. As the lifeboat descends, Lightoller turns around to load the gun with bullets. His threat had been a bluff.

As a matter of fact, this scene is not terribly far from the truth. In his own account, Lightoller says that Chief Officer Wilde suggested he carry a gun. "I was going out when the Chief shoved one of the revolvers into my hands, with a handful of ammunition, and said, "Here you are, you may need it." On the impulse, I just slipped it into my pocket, along with the cartridges, and returned to the boats." (p. 293) A little later on, Lightoller says, "Arriving alongside the emergency boat, someone spoke out of the darkness, and said, "There are men in that boat." I jumped in, and regret to say that there actually were...They hopped out mighty quickly, and I encouraged them verbally, also by vigorously flourishing my revolver. They certainly thought they were between the devil and the deep sea in more senses than one, and I had the satisfaction of seeing them tumbling head over heels onto the deck, preferring the uncertain safety of the deck, to the cold lead which I suppose they fully imagined would follow their disobedience--so much for imagination--the revolver was not even loaded!" (p. 296)

Now in scene 213, as Lightoller is aiming his gun at the passengers, he says "Get back! Get back, I say, or I'll shoot you all like dogs!" This incident did happen in real life but it is impossible to say if Lightoller was the person who said it. Here is the testimony of F. Scott, a greaser on the Titanic, at the British Inquiry: "Then we went to the port side and saw boats. An officer fired a shot and I heard him say that if any man tried to get in that boat he would shoot him like a dog." (Gracie, p. 206) The problem with pinning down the identity of the speaker is twofold. First, Scott says that the officer fired first and then spoke. Lightoller said that he threatened with an unarmed gun which, of course, would have been impossible to fire. Although it is possible that Scott is speaking of a later incident, Lightoller doesn't mention any other time when he pulled out a gun on the passengers. Secondly, there was more than one officer on the port side with a gun. Fifth Officer Lowe, who commanded port-side lifeboat #14, admitted in the inquiries to having a gun and firing it (although not directly at anyone). This point was corroborated by several witnesses. Were there any other officers on the port side with guns? I cannot say. In the only passage regarding the distribution of guns (p. 293), Lightoller says that four men were present: Captain Smith, Chief Officer Wilde, First Officer Murdoch and himself. Clearly, there must have been more guns as Lowe had one with him as well. Who else had one among the officers is unknown.


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