Debunking Hollywood History

Five Titanic myths spread by films, from

Contrary to the popular interpretation the White Star Line never made any substantive claims that the Titanic was unsinkable – and nobody really talked about the ship’s unsinkability until after the event….

“It is not true that everyone thought this. It’s a retrospective myth, and it makes a better story. If a man in his pride builds an unsinkable ship like Prometheus stealing the fire from the gods… it makes perfect mythical sense that God would be so angry at such an affront that he would sink the ship on its maiden outing.”

the Titanic was not big news before it sank. Its sister ship the Olympic effectively stole the limelight on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1911.

About the Last Song the Band played:

“The passenger that recalled that particular hymn [Nearer, My God, To Thee] being played was lucky to get away quite some time before the ship sank. We will never really know as all seven musicians perished – but it’s poetic licence. Nearer, My God, To Thee is such an evocative hymn that works as a romantic image in film,”

J. Bruce Ismay, Chairman and Managing Director of the White Star Line, is often singled out as the villain in the story, but he was actually the victim of a smear campaign by the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, according to Ismay and the Titanic:

J. Bruce Ismay did not order or put pressure on the commander or chief engineer to make a record passage to New York for the Titanic’s maiden voyage [….] All thoughts of Atlantic speed records had been given up decades before, and far from the imagination of a few deluded passengers, speed records in ships not designed for high speed, was a costly venture both in fuel and potential engine damage. Several of the Titanic’s boilers had not been lit and because of the problem of fuel supply connected with the coal strike in Britain, economy was the watchword for this particular voyage. It was, and always had been, impractical for anyone to order the master of a transatlantic liner to arrive at a port ahead of schedule.

The newspapers, particularly in the United States, expected Ismay to sacrifice his own life in the sinking. The story of a cowardly shipowner jumping into the first available lifeboat to save his own skin while passengers lost their lives is, from a journalistic viewpoint, an irresistible story to relate to the gullible reader, but like so much of Titanic history is just another myth. True, Ismay did escape in a lifeboat, but only after he had helped with the loading and lowering of several others and only when he was sure that no women were in the vicinity of the starboard Englehardt collapsible did he get in; acquitting himself far better than many other passengers and crew members.

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