The True Stories That Inspired ‘Titanic’ Movie Characters

The True Stories That Inspired ‘Titanic’ Movie Characters

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You probably already knew that Jack and Rose, the main characters in the 1997 movie Titanic, weren’t real. Like all films “based on a true story,” the movie added its own fictional elements to historical events. But during the film, Jack and Rose do run into several characters based on real people—some of whom have far more interesting stories than the film addresses.

The movie’s writer and director, James Cameron, “wanted to surround [the roles played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet], particularly in first class, with real passengers,” says Paul Burns, vice president and curator for the Titanic Museum Attractions in Missouri and Tennessee.

Don Lynch, the historian for the Titanic Historical Society who also served as the 1997 film’s historian, says Cameron picked out these people in advance when he wrote the script. On set, Lynch advised the actors about their historical characters’ accents, behaviors, and personalities.

One of these real-life characters was Margaret Brown, who was played by Kathy Bates in the film. Brown became known as the “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” because of her role during and after the Titanic disaster in April 1912. Once the Carpathia rescued the Titanic survivors who’d escaped in the lifeboats, Brown coordinated with other first-class passengers to help the lower-class survivors. In one of her most memorable scenes in the movie, she tries, unsuccessfully, to persuade her under-filled lifeboat to row back and save more people. “There are true accounts saying that she did that,” notes Burns.

Yet even with her large, vibrant role, she still “didn’t get to be as dynamic as history plays her to be,” says Lynch.

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After the shipwreck, Brown created and chaired a survivor’s committee, helped arrange burials for the bodies that rescue workers recovered, and presented an award to the captain of the Carpathia for saving them. “She was also vehemently upset that she was not able to testify at the Titanic hearings, at the inquest, because she was a woman,” he says. (These were hearings the U.S. and Britain held to investigate what had happened.)

Another prominent historical figure in the movie is Wallace Hartley, the violinist played by actor Jonathan Evans-Jones. Hartley is considered one of the heroes of the Titanic because, as the film shows, he kept his band playing as the ship sank to help people stay calm—most memorably with the song, “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”

READ MORE: Why Did the Titanic Sink?

“There was no effort to save themselves,” Lynch says of the band members, who all died that night. “They understood that the ship was sinking and that they were needed to keep people calm, and so they just kept playing.” We know one of the songs they played was “Nearer, My God, to Thee” because so “many people claimed to have heard it,” he says. (Hartley’s band likely played the British version of the song, while the movie features the American one.)

Captain Edward John Smith, too, went down with his ship both in the movie and in real life. But historian Tim Maltin, who has written books and worked on documentaries about the disaster, argues it didn’t happen the way it does in the movie.

According to some accounts, “Smith actually took a header dive off of the front of the wheelhouse into the sea and then swam around helping people get to lifeboats,” Maltin says. “He was actually offered a seat on a lifeboat but he refused to get on board because he was helping people out. He was completely heroic.”

The captain’s quick decision to seal the watertight doors, another real-life event portrayed in the movie, helped save lives, says Burns. Smith’s fast thinking “prevented the ship from sinking like it normally would,” he notes. If he hadn’t sealed the doors, the ship would’ve sunk towards the side where it hit the iceberg and then rolled over. It also would’ve gone down a lot quicker.

In addition to Brown, Hartley, and Captain Smith, the movie also features historical figures who, though they only appear briefly, had incredible stories in their own right. Remember that famous scene where Jack and Rose climb up to the stern of the ship as it sinks? The couple latches onto the railing as people fall to their deaths—while the man above them nervously takes a drink from his flask.

READ MORE: Letter Found on Titanic Passenger’s Body Sold for Record Amount

That man, Charles Joughin, was the real-life chief baker on the Titanic. He went into the water while holding onto the back rails of the ship just like he does with Jack and Rose in the movie (and before that, he’d snuck back to his room for a drink).

But unlike Jack, Joughin survived. He was one of the lucky few who was able to get out of the water and onto collapsible lifeboat B, which had fallen into the water without anyone in it. And Joughin isn’t even the only real person in the movie with a remarkable survival story.

Colonel Archibald Gracie IV was another background character in the movie who provided humor with lines like “Back to our brandy, eh?” Lynch says that Gracie was sucked down into the water with the ship, probably when the first part broke off, and then swam to collapsible lifeboat B. Though Gracie survived, he suffered from hypothermia and died later that year; yet not before completing his book, The Truth About the Titanic, which detailed what happened to him that night.

And finally, there’s American businessman Benjamin Guggenheim, who delivers one of the most memorable lines in the movie. When offered a lifejacket, he refuses, explaining that he and his valet are dressed in their best suits and ready to go down with the ship like gentlemen. He then adds, “But we would like a brandy.”

Astonishingly, Lynch says there is some truth to that, too.

Guggenheim’s “steward claimed afterwards that he helped him get dressed warmly, and that later he was up on deck with his valet and they were both in tuxedos,” Lynch explains. “And he said, ‘We are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.’”

The brandy line was something that Cameron added, and Lynch muses that because of it, “there are people who say today that he was overheard asking for a brandy.” To be clear, there is no historical record that Guggenheim requested a brandy before perishing. Yet as Lynch explains, “Jim’s movie is so realistic, in some respects, that people now believe that some of those things in the movie are fact.”

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The strange true story of the “Nazi Titanic” – one that not many people know of

Joseph Goebbels, who was a propaganda master, commissioned a film called The Nazi Titanic in 1943.

The film, which was a German wartime propaganda is about a famous sinking.

Two years later, the Titanic encountered his own fate, which claimed three times higher death toll.

Goebbels intended to show German film making as superior and also to use it as a propaganda tool that would suggest American and British capitalism as main destructive forces.

He added a fictional German officer who became a hero amongst the crew of the ship.

This character ought to have demonstrated how Germans exemplified bravery and independence in comparison to the British officers in the ship.

During the film’s production, the director, Herbert Selpin, spoke out against the Nazi regime.

He was arrested and later hanged in prison. Werner Klinger, who was not credited, finished the film.

Cap Arcona, named after Cape Arkona on the island of Rügen, was a large German ocean liner built for the Hamburg Südamerikanische Dampfschifffahrts-Gesellschaft (“Hamburg-South America Line”). It carried passengers and cargo between Germany and the east coast of South America. At that time it was the largest and fastest ship on the route

Staring in early November 1943, the film was briefly shown in parts of Europe occupied by Germans.

Goebbels banned screenings of the film in Germany because he feared it might weaken the morale of the citizens.

Later, he prohibited any screening of the film and it wasn’t given a second run.

The Nazi Titanic was the first film on this subject and was simply titled as Titanic.

It was the first film that combined subplots and fictional characters with events that traced the path towards the sinking and historic personae.

These went on amd became a tradition in the films about the Titanic.

“Inspired by the blatantly political overtones of American movies like Casablanca (1942), set in Nazi-occupied North Africa and rush-released to capitalize on the publicity from the Allied invasion of the area a few weeks previously. Already an advocate of using celluloid to promote the agenda of the Nazi party, when a script landed on his desk set around the sinking of the Titanic, portraying the British and Americans as evil, greedy capitalists who put profit above human life and the Germans in steerage as heroic and compassionate in the face of disaster, Goebbels decided that such a movie was what Germany needed to rally the people and promote the war effort.

In the opening scene, White Star Line President J. Bruce Ismay (E F Furbringer) is shown colluding with the board to sell their shares in the company, convinced (naturally secret and undisclosed) that the Titanic was capable of breaking the world speed record for a liner, then buying them back right before the news about the amazing feat are released to the press.

Of course, this greed leads to an inevitable encounter with an iceberg, despite the German hero, First Officer Herr Petersen (Hans Nielsen), pleading with the Captain to slow down. Further, it sets the stage for the Teutonic seafarer to rescue dozens of passengers, including a young girl who has been left to die in her cabin by her despicable British mother. Before testifying against Ismay at the end of the film, think twice as the evil capitalists place all the blame firmly on the shoulders of the deceased Captain Smith (Otto Wernicke).”

Stockholders of White Star Line are told that their stock value is dropping, so to remedy the problem, White Star Line President J. Bruce Ismay, portrayed by E.F. Furbringer, promises to make the public aware of something during the maiden voyage that will change all that.

He is the only one who know that that ship can break the speed record, which he thinks can increase the value of the stock. Ismay and the board have the intent to manipulate stock values by selling their own stock short to buy it back at a lower price right before they reveal the details about the boat’ speed to the members of the press.

On the maiden voyage of the Titanic in 1912, First Officer Peterson, who is a German portrayed by Hans Nielsen, begs the owners of the ship who are portrayed at snobbish, rich, and sleazy, to slow down the ship. After they refuse, the ship strikes an iceberg and ends up sinking.

The first class passengers react cowardly, while Peterson and Sigrid Olinsky, his impoverished ex-lover Russian aristocrat, portrayed by Sybille Schmitz, act kindly and bravely.

They were joined by several other brave and kind German passengers in the film.

Peterson works to rescue many passengers, convincing his ex-lover to escape in a lifeboat.

He even saves a young girl whose callous British mother had left her to die. In the final throes of death, Peterson leaps from the ship’s deck with a child in his arms before being pulled on the board of Sigrid’s lifeboat.

Then, the occupants are watching in horror as the Titanic sinks under the waves.

Peterson testifies against Ismay at the British inquiry regarding the disaster of the ship.

However, no charges are brought against Ismay and the deceased Capt. Smith is blamed for the accident.

There is an epilogue that says “the deaths of 1,500 people remain deprived, forever a testament of Britain’s endless quest for profit.”

The filming location was at the Polish Baltic seaport of Gdynia, renamed as “Gotenhafen”.

It was occupied by Germany at the time.

It was filmed on the board of the SS Cap Arcona, which was a passenger liner.

Shortly before WW2 ended, the ship had been sunk by the Royal Air Force on May 3rd, 1945.

The death toll of the people who died when SS Cap Arcona sank was 3 times higher than the toll in Titanic.

The Germans converted the ship into a floating bomb filled with Jewish prisoners.

They did that, hoping that the British are going to destroy the ship and kill everyone on board.

Third Class Passengers Were Not Locked Below Decks

The scene where third class passengers are forcibly prevented from reaching the lifeboats by being locked below deck might not be entirely true. According to historian and author, Tim Maltin, the theory that third class passengers were locked below deck is "total rubbish," as he explained to the Radio Times. He said, "As soon as the order was given to lower the lifeboats, the order was given to open all the gates and there was no discrimination on the boat deck between either first class or third."

The real Jack Dawson: the passenger who inspired the movie Titanic .

There is a tomb in Halifax quite modest compared to that of many of his companions, all victims of the catastrophe of the RMS Titanic. That stone from the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Nova Scotia, Canada bears the number 227, the date of the catastrophe, and the inscription of a name: J. Dawson. For years it was just one more name until a 1997 film blockbuster drove the Titanic catastrophe back to the forefront of public consciousness. And it was a terrible event …

The name J. Dawson did not matter at all in the world until the film director James Cameron turned the fictional character of Jack Dawson into a very effective tool for that love story hit by the ice. And it is that Leonardo DiCaprio broke more than the heart of his girlfriend on the big screen, the equally fictitious first class passenger Rose DeWitt Bukater, played by Kate Winslet. But what is the true story of Jack Dawson? Read it here.

Click on NEXT page to find out what the story behind the name Jack Dawson is!

Websites such as the Encyclopedia Titanica were full of comments asking if Jack and Rose were really real people if they existed on the face of the earth. The tomb became a temple of teenage emotion. The body of that person recovered by the Mackay-Bennett and buried in the clay of Canada on May 8, 1912, was now someone important. Thanks to that many floral tributes appeared next to the headstone of Jack Dawson.

A Discovery Channel documentary was issued in the US in January 2001 addressing this issue. That was the basis of new research that is discussed in the famous book "The Irish Aboard Titanic", the first text that speaks with great extension about the true identity of the body number 227. Many more details have been discovered in the additional research since then. This was Jack Dawson and this was his peculiar story…

Click on NEXT page to read more about Jack Dawson!

It was believed that Jack was a passenger, but in fact, his overalls and other clothes that he wore when his remains were recovered identify him as a member of the crew. J. Dawson was an adjustment condenser, a kind of slave who was in charge of channeling the coal to the kiln workers. He was responsible for the maintenance of those black mountains, which should always be at the same level since the imbalances could affect the stability of the ship.

When the impact occurred, Dawson had time to take his personal bag and his identification card. The documents found have shown that Dawson was a 23-year-old boy, much younger than the 30-year-old sailors who recovered from the Atlantic Ocean. His address was also found: Briton Street 70, Southampton, and his hometown appears as Dublin, Ireland. Apart from this, there are many other things, it is not the same as you watched the movie…

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In Dublin, there was a nursing home, where the oldest surviving member of the Dawson family lived at the age of 88 years. And that May Dawson was born in the year of the tragedy of the Titanic, in 1912. Recalls stories of Joseph Dawson, the family member who embarked on the largest ship of the time. This worker from the blast furnaces signed with his first initial, instead of the first name, identified with a clear "J", just as he had done when he traveled in the RMS Majestic, years before the Titanic.

How is it possible that Joseph Dawson, a family man, left his hometown and embarked on the Queen of the Seas? It is an even more fascinating story than what surrounds his invented name, Jack Dawson. The similarities between reality and fiction are surprising, however, both were young men with no money. One was a coal worker the other, a character who used coal to attract beautiful women. The real reasons for the raid on the ship are here…

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After consulting him with his family, he decided to leave in a few years. For a while, he had heard of great ocean liners promising a good salary for those who were not afraid to work hard. A temporary certificate of boarding was made at Netley on June 30, 1911, and is available to this day. You can read: "The number 1854, J. Dawson, is waiting for a discharge permit from July 1, 1911, to July 20, 1911."

There was another reason to embark on the ship. In the previous days when he was walking through some bars and pubs in Southampton, Dawson had met the person in charge of the ovens of a ship, John Priest. And most importantly, he also got to meet Priest's attractive sister, Nellie. The young Joseph Dawson, therefore, began to woo the lady, who was also going to embark on the ship, so it was decided at once to travel on the Titanic. His destiny was not the best, as we already know, but this is his story.

The real-life love story on the Titanic

Many people are familiar with the emotional moment in Titanic when Kate Winslet’s character sacrifices her place on the lifeboat to be with Leonardo DiCaprio’s character.

But did you know the dramatic scene is based on a heart-wrenching true story?

The selfless act echoes the moment a rich woman on the real-life ill-fated ship chose to drown at her husband’s side rather than leave without him.

When the RMS Titanic hit the iceberg on the evening of April 14 1912, Isidor Straus, owner of Macy’s department store, and his wife Ida, has gone to bed for the night.

Parents of six children, Isidor, 67 and Isa, 63, had been married for around 41 years and were returning to the US after a holiday in France.

Hours later they were being hurried into lifeboats, as the “unsinkable” ship was rapidly going down following the collision with the ice berg.

As a woman, and one of the wealthiest passengers in first class, Isa was guaranteed a spot on the lifeboat.

Millionaire Isidor was also offered a spot to safety, due to his age and for his role as a prominent philanthropist and former congressman, but he declined.

He insisted on remaining on the ship so that women and children could take his place.

Isa refused to be separated from her husband, and they agreed that they would both go down with the ship together.

June Hall McCash wrote in her book, A Titanic Love Story: Ida and Isidor Straus, that passengers heard Isa saying: “Isidor, my place is with you. I have lived with you. I love you, and if necessary, I shall die with you.”

Those who were rowed away to safety saw the couple “standing alongside the rail, holding each other and weeping silently.”

Isidor’s body was recovered at sea, along with 306 others but Ida’s was never found.

A memorial service was later held for the couple on May 12, and 6,000 people attended the service, with thousands more standing outside in the rain trying to get admitted.

The Titanic movie featured a touching montage of people on the ship, which included an old couple hugging on a bed — in a nod to the Straus lovers and many others who perished on the ship.

More than 1,500 people were killed on the Titanic — making it one of the deadliest commercial peacetime maritime disasters in modern history.

Only 16 wooden lifeboats and four collapsible boats were carried on board — enough to accommodate 1,178 people — but only one third of the ship’s total capacity.

Edward Smith, the ship’s captain, went down with the vessel. His last words were: “Well boys, you’ve done your duty and done it well. I ask no more of you. I release you. You know the rule of the sea.

Recreating the magic

James Cameron was the director behind the movie based on the event, and it seemed as though he had a lot of knowledge about the wreckage before he created his vision on the big screen. One of the many aspects of the Titanic that James recreated was the Grand Staircase, which really was as grand as it seemed in the film.

It descended through seven of the ten decks onboard the ship and was made from oak paneling, paintings, and bronze cherubs that surrounded it on both sides. Now, there are a handful of replicas that can be found in Missouri at the Titanic Museum.


Do you remember the Heart of the Ocean, the jewel that elderly Rose 'mistakenly' drops into the ocean at the end of the film. The sapphire jewel surrounded by 30-carat diamonds in no way relates to the true Titanic story. The Heart of the Ocean is, however, inspired by the Hope diamond, a gift given to Marie Antoinette from Louis XVI. No Picasso paintings actually came on board the Titanic to end up on the bottom of the sea either, as is portrayed in the movie. In the film, lifeboat operators held flashlights to see if anyone floating in the water was still alive. Dalton says that they would not have actually had lifeboats equipped with flashlights.

Was Rose In Titanic A Real Person?

The year is 1997. You probably don’t have a computer. You certainly don’t have a smartphone, as they hadn't been invented yet. So when you first see Titanic, you can’t Google how historically accurate the film was, or whether the characters in Titanic were based on real people. Heartache, I know. Did Rose really survive one of history's worst maritime disasters (and should Jack have survived, given the size of that door. )?

Films that are based on historic events aren’t always reliable in terms of historical accuracy, with writers and directors often taking creative license in order to make a film far more interesting and Hollywood than the actual event. But in the case of this particular Hollywood blockbuster, writer and director James Cameron wanted to make Titanic as historically accurate as possible. “When I wrote the film, and when I set out to direct it, I wanted every detail to be as accurate as I could make it, and every harrowing moment of the ship's final hours accounted for,” Cameron told Entertainment Weekly on the release of his documentary celebrating the 20th anniversary of the film’s release. “I was creating a living history I had to get it right out of respect for the many who died and for their legacy.”

In answer to the question of whether Rose DeWitt Bukater was a real life person, the answer is well, yeah, kinda, but also kinda not. Rose DeWitt Bukater wasn't a real person, but the person her character was based on, was.

Titanic: The true story of the real 'Heart of the Ocean' necklace

VIENNA, Va., April 12, 2012 — Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and vastly more interesting. Viewers of the movie “Titanic” remember the beautiful diamond and sapphire necklace and the scene where Kate Winslett, playing the lovely Rose, has her portrait painted by Jack, played by Leonardo di Caprio, wearing only the necklace.

Though it seemed like a pretty piece of fiction created by James Cameron, it turns out that there was a diamond and sapphire necklace on board that fatal night, given to a young girl, Kate Florence Phillips, 20, by her married paramour, Henry Samuel Morley, 40.

Kate was an assistant working for Morley in one of the “Purveyors of High Class Confectionery” shops, which he owned in London, and the two were secretly sailing on the Titanic as second class passengers to begin a new life together in America, under the names of “Mr. and Mrs. Marshall.”

Original sapphire and diamond necklace

Before the sailing, he had sold two of his shops and given the money to his wife and 12-year-old daughter. And he had given Kate Phillips the necklace, slightly different in design than the one in the movie but quite lovely and expensive.

When the star-crossed ocean liner slipped beneath the waves on April 15, 1912, Morley, who could not swim, was one of those lost. Kate finally got into Lifeboat No.11, where she would spend the next eight hours, wearing nothing but a long nightgown, until one of the sailors gave her his jacket. As the couple left their cabin for the lifeboat area, Henry had quickly put the necklace around Kate’s neck.

According to the story, she went on to New York after the rescue and lived there for three or four months with a couple who had taken her in. By that time, she had discovered that she was pregnant, but the couple did not want to take on a baby. Kate then returned to Worcester, England to the home of her grandparents.

When the baby girl was born on January 11, 1913 (you can do the math), she was not particularly loved by her widowed mother, and it was left to the grandparents to raise the little girl who was named Ellen Mary. Kate later remarried.

Kate Phillips with her daughter Ellen

It was always assumed that the mother Kate suffered some sort of mental instability from the night of the sinking, and today we would probably term her bi-polar at the very least. She took her traumatic reminiscences of the tragedy out on the little girl, treating her almost as a servant, and she was never told of her father until much later.

When little Ellen was grown, she worked for years trying to have Henry Morley’s name added to her birth certificate, but she was never successful.

The necklace was shown in a Titanic display in Belfast for some years. When Ellen Mary Walker fell into hard times in the 1990s, she sold it to a lady in Florida who still possesses the Heart of the Ocean.

Ellen (R) with granddaughter Beverly (L) and “Heart of the Ocean”

The great-granddaughter of Kate has always encountered disbelief when her story is known, but she believes she has the complete facts, and that is sufficient.

Ellen died in 2005 in Worcester, England where she spent most of her life, always wishing she could prove that her father was Henry Morley. Ellen was 92 at her death and she too was a survivor of that fateful night.

1 GOT IT WRONG: No One Actually Claimed the Titanic was Unsinkable

Throughout the film, the phrase “unsinkable” is repeated several times in reference to the grand Titanic ship. The architect, Thomas Andrews, as well as Captain Smith and the president of the ship, Ismay, all allude to the unsinkable nature of the ship, highlighting its giant and immovable nature at the time. The reality is that no one truly claimed this to be the case about the Titanic. It certainly was a marvel in maritime architecture, but everyone accepted the notion that it could sink like any other ship.

Watch the video: Real life Characters of Titanic Movie Informative Video (December 2022).

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