Jim's Titanic Site

Frequently Asked Questions
about James Cameron's "Titanic"
and Titanic history

by Jim Sadur
Updated: 11/12/05

Winner of 11 Academy Awards!

Titanic Movie Links
Main Titanic Page

Q: Did Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater really exist?

A: No. The characters of Jack, Rose, her mother Ruth, her fiancee Cal, his bodyguard Spicer, Fabrizio, and the treasure hunters are all fictional creations of James Cameron. They are not based on any real people but rather are dramatic representations of the rich and poor people on the Titanic.

There was a J. Dawson among the crew who is buried at the Fairview Lawn cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. However, his first name was James and his existence was unknown to Cameron when he wrote the "Titanic" screenplay. This fact does not deter hundreds of movie fans from leaving flowers and notes at the gravesite. I approve of the misunderstanding because it helps remind us of the plight of the real victims of the Titanic.

Q: What ever became of the Coeur de la Mer (the Heart of the Ocean) diamond?

A: I imagine it was returned to the prop department's warehouse! Again, the diamond was a fictional creation used to give Brock Lovett and the other treasure hunters a reason to hear Rose's story.

On March 22, 1998 a real version, created by Asprey London was auctioned off for $2.2 million to an unidentified buyer at a charity ball for Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and Southern California's Aid for AIDS. It has a 170-carat sapphire set in platinum, with 65 30-carat diamonds. The new necklace was loaned to Celine Dion, who wore it during her performance of the movie's theme song at the Academy Awards in 1998.

Q: So what was real?

A: Pretty much everything else. The set designs, costumes and the ship itself were painstakingly re-created from numerous written and photographic sources. Captain Smith, Thomas Andrews, Molly Brown, Bruce Ismay, Col. Gracie and others were all real people. The sequence of events from sailing day to rescue is quite accurate. A few scenes are controversial. First Officer Murdoch's suicide by pistol never been confirmed. However there are few flaws in this vision of the Titanic sinking. James Cameron has stated it was not his intention to have his movie be an historical documentary.

Q: Why aren't there more scenes about the famous people aboard Titanic?

A: The best way to answer that is to say their stories don't really fit the film. This movie is a fictional romance set against an historical disaster. To add scenes of Astor, Gugennheim et al. all struggling with Jack and Rose would have made a 3 hour movie into 10 hour mini-series. I believe James Cameron's goal was to have the audience share life and death aboard RMS Titanic from the point of view of two people falling in love. To get a better understanding of the other stories on the Titanic, I would suggest the film "A Night to Remember" (1958) based on Walter Lord's book. The TV movie "S.O.S. Titanic" (1979) is a docudrama with yet more stories of the real people on Titanic.

Q: Was the woman playing the older Rose a real survivor?

A: No, the 100 year old Rose was played by the veteran actress Gloria Stuart who has made movies since 1932. Since Ms. Stuart was only 86 when filming "Titanic", she underwent 2 hours of makeup each day to make her look older! As far as I know, there were no living survivors involved in the production of "Titanic".

Q: Were the underwater shots of the present day Titanic wreck real?

A: Yes, most of the underwater closeups were photographed at 12,500 feet below the Atlantic just for this film. In 1995 James Cameron hired the Russian vessel Mstislav Keldysh and its 2 submersibles and made 12 dives. Cameron's team built special cameras and housings to work under 6000 pounds per square inch of water pressure. Each camera could only hold 500 feet of film so only 12 minutes of raw footage were shot on each 15 hour dive!

Q: Did the Titanic Band play "Nearer My God, To Thee" as the end drew near?

A: Probably not. Current wisdom says the last number played was the waltz "Songe d'Automne". I'll refer you to George Behe's Essay on the subject.

Q: Was there really an automobile in Titanic's cargo hold?

A: Yes there was. Mr William Carter from Bryn Mawr, PA was travelling from Cherbourg, France with his wife, her maid, 2 children, and his chauffeur. He bought a new 35 horsepower Renault automobile in France and was taking it back to America. All but the chauffeur survived, Mr. Carter finding space on Collapsible Lifeboat "C", one of the last to be launched. Carter later filed a claim of $5000 for the lost Renault.

Q: "Rose" says that only 6 people were rescued after the sinking. Is that true?

A: Yes. Quartermaster Perkis in Lifeboat 4 returned to the scene of the sinking and pulled 5 people from the water. Only 3 survived. Later, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe, in charge of of Boat 14, assembled Boats 10, 12, 4, and Collapsible D into a flotilla. He transferred passengers from Boat 14 to make room. Waiting for the "noise to die out" he went back and only found 4 swimmers still alive. 1 of that 4 died within the hour. Perkis' and Lowe's boats were the only lifeboats to go back for survivors. Altogether 6 people were saved from the freezing water after Titanic sank.

Q: The movie "Titanic" depicts third class passengers being locked below.  How accurate was this portrayal?  

A: Not very accurate but not untrue either. While some stewards kept gates locked waiting for instructions, others allowed women and children to the upper decks. However, the urgency of the moment was not well communicated below. Many families insisted on staying together. Other passengers didn't speak English. The crew failed to search for passengers in the cabins and common areas. Most of third class was left to fend for themselves. Only 1 out of 4 third class passenger survived.

Q: Why didn't "Jack" get on the piece of ship wreckage with "Rose" after the sinking instead of staying in the water and dying?

A: As I recall, they both tried to get on the wooden wreckage which promptly tipped over. Jack then helped Rose onto the top knowing it was only stable for one person. Jack could have looked for another piece of wood for himself but I guess he didn't want to leave Rose alone.

Q: When the iceberg is sighted, First Officer Murdoch (Ewan Stewart) shouts "hard a' starboard" and the quartermaster turns the wheel toward port. What's happening?

A: Lots of opinions here. According to Don Lynch (the main historical consultant for the film) Murdoch ordered "port" not "starboard". In "Titanic - An Illustrated History", Lynch writes that later Murdoch DID tell Captain Smith that he turned toward starboard. However, in the Internet Movie Database someone explained the line thus:

Q: At the end of the movie, when the elderly Rose is shown lying in bed and then joining Jack and all of the people that died on the Titanic, is she supposed to have died at that point, or just dreaming?

A: Perhaps both. In James Cameron's screenplay, he describes the scene thus:

I think she is fulfilling Jack's promise that she will "die an old lady in a warm bed". The romantic spirituality of the film would allow Rose to be reunited with Jack and the other victims. Perhaps it's a dream or Heaven itself.

Q: Did you like the movie?

A: I guess my opinion was not obvious, but I do like the new "Titanic". Although I was waiting for 2 years to see it, I had my reservations when I heard that a fictional romance would dominate the film. However I am very pleased with the result. James Cameron is a great storyteller and Jack & Rose fit well into Titanic's real story. I was thrilled with the feeling of roaming around the ship so faithfully recreated. James Horner's score is excellent as is every other aspect of the production.

Q: Did "Rose" give "Jack" a Roosevelt dime, not minted until 1946?

A: No. The coin she gave him was a 1912 Barber dime, purchased from Rare Coins Gallery in Glendale, California. After production, it was made into a keychain for James Cameron. Check out the difference:

The Barber dime (left) and the Roosevelt dime (right)

However, I heard from a fan that BOTH dimes are present, the Roosevelt when Rose is flipping it in the air, and the Barber when she gives it to Jack. Something else to look for the next time you see "Titanic"!

Q: How could they build the Titanic in 1912 with such limited technology?

A: Easily. While 1912 may not seem very modern in this era of computers, plastics and television, it was not the Dark Ages either. By 1912 many new and astonishing technologies had been developed. In just one generation the telephone, radio, airplane, automobile, electric light, assembly line, X-ray, phonograph and motion pictures were all invented. Engineering was transformed from a simple trade to a professional science. Bigger and better projects were started every year. The Panama Canal, joining the Atlantic and Pacific, was nearing completion. The Woolworth Building, a 793 foot tall skyscraper was under construction in New York. Everyday consumers now enjoyed photography, safety razors, escalators and even the zipper. Industrial and agricultural production soared. Improvements in shipbuilding also followed this trend. Given enough time, money and ambition ships like the Olympic and Titanic became possible.

It was ironic that this vision of mankind's progress contributed to Titanic's demise. People had faith that technology could overcome and dominate nature. In fact nature had the last word. The Titanic disaster did not stop technological progress. What it did was open the world's eyes to the folly of trusting mechanical devices to replace common sense. It is not enough to just build great machines. We must learn to use them with vigilance and wisdom.

Q: How did "Titanic" do at the Academy Awards?

A: Pretty darn well! After receiving 14 nominations, "Titanic" won 11 tying "Ben Hur" (1959) for the most Oscars for a single film. The winners are:

James Cameron, accepting the award for Best Picture, gave the following tribute:

"Titanic" has also won 4 Golden Globe awards. They are:

Q: Was Titanic carrying an Egyptian mummy?

A: Of all the myths and hyperbole surrounding the RMS Titanic, this one really has legs! The answer is no, there were no archeological artifacts aboard the Titanic.

After the sinking, several New York newspapers "revealed" that a sarcophagus containing the mummified body of an Egyptian pharaoh was being shipped to America for a private collector. Later in the 1920's, after King Tut's tomb was discovered in Egypt, this myth really took off! Recently the "Mummy's Curse" myth has been circulating again. I have received over 40 E-mail messages asking about the mummy of Egyptian Princess Amen-Ra. Like all great myths, its origins are vague.

Q: Are there really plans to build a new Titanic?

A: There was a lot of talk for such a venture but little has been done since about 2000..  A number of organizations have sprung up hoping to build a replica Titanic for commercial service.  Check out Louis Epstein's Page for an insight into these plans.

I believe that ships like the Queen Mary 2 will be the real future for luxury passenger ships.  

Q: Is "Titanic" available on home video?

A: The VHS release was made on September 1, 1998.
          Standard Edition VHS  -  Widescreen Edition VHS

The first release on DVD was made on August 31, 1999.  This edition is currently out of print but many new and used copies are available at Amazon:

            DVD Edition

However there is now an excellent collector's edition DVD, released in 2005:

             Titanic - Special Collector's Edition DVD

Titanic Movie Links
Back to the Main Titanic Page


Copyright © 1997-2005 James E. Sadur.
All Rights Reserved.