The Titanic has had two lives. Its first life was as an ill-fated ship that floated for less than a year. Its second life began the moment the ship struck the iceberg and, almost 100 years later, shows no sign of ending. With countless films, books, musicals, songs, computer games, and websites to its name, the Titanic is now more famous than ever. Phrases associated with the ship “tip of the iceberg,” “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic,” “and the band played on” have all entered the English language, and there can be few people who do not have some knowledge of this fascinating story. Even those who have no interest in ships or the sea have been touched by the tragic tale of the Titanic and the shocking waste of lives. The Titanic may lie rusting at the bottom of the Atlantic, but interest in the ship and the magical era it was a part of lives on.
A DROP IN THE OCEAN
One of the less successful attempts to film the Titanic story was Raise the Titanic (1980). The film cost many millions to produce and made so little money that the film’s producer, Lord Grade, remarked, “It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic.”
One of the few survivors of the Titanic to prosper from the tragedy was the actress Dorothy Gibson, who was traveling first-class and escaped in one of the lifeboats. One month after the ship sank, she co-wrote and starred in a silent movie, Saved from the Titanic and went on to have a successful film career. The film was the first of many about the ship.
Within days of the disaster, newspapers were producing memorial editions packed with photographs and artistic reconstructions of the final tragic hours of the Titanic. Songwriters produced mournful songs, postcard companies printed memorial cards with pictures of the ship and its captain, and publishers produced hastily written books.
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER
The publication, in 1955, of Walter Lord’s authoritative book A Night To Remember sparked renewed interest in the Titanic. Lord’s interviews with more than 60 survivors brought to life the final hours of those on board the liner. The book was televised in 1956 and, in 1958, was turned into a successful documentary-style film starring Kenneth More.
The appeal of the Titanic continues into the computer age. Safe in your own home, you can wander around the ship, explore the public rooms and cabins, stand on the deck, and relive the final moments on a 3-D video game.
The sinking of the Titanic may seem an unlikely subject for a musical, but the larger-than-life character of Molly Brown (p. 40) provided the perfect excuse. The Unsinkable Molly Brown opened on Broadway, New York, in 1960 and was a great success. Another musical, Titanic (above), staged in 1997 to mark the 85th anniversary of the disaster, highlighted the great divide between the wealthy passengers in first class and the poor immigrants in third class.
THE BIG TIME
Interest in the Titanic reached huge proportions with the release of the film Titanic in 1997. Directed by James Cameron and starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, the film won 11 Oscars, including best picture and best director. Within two years, it had taken $1,826 million at the box office, making it one of the most successful films of all time.
RAISE THE TITANIC?
Ever since the ship sank in 1912, plans have been put forward to raise the ship off the seabed. Relatives of some of the wealthy deceased considered salvaging the ship within days of its sinking. Others proposed attaching magnets or bags of helium to the ship’s hull. There was even a scheme to fill the ship with ping-pong balls! As the debate over whether to raise the Titanic or leave it in peace continues, the rusting wreck continues to disintegrate.