History of the World According to the Movies: Part 53 – The RMS Titanic


Of course, I couldn’t do a post on the RMS Titanic without having a picture from James Cameron’s 1997 take on the disaster which propelled Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio to megastardom as well as won 11 Oscars including Best Picture. Still, it’s not the most accurate cinematic retelling but it’s by far the most popular and the one my generation most likely remembers (especially my neighbor who went to see it multiple times in the theater). Still, I may not have been allowed to see it as a seven-year-old at the time of its release, but I had some idea how big this film was. Nevertheless, at a historical stand point, despite this scene being a highly romantic moment between Jack and Rose, this scene most likely never would happen because people were specifically prohibited from being there, really. I mean there were signs on the Titanic specifically telling people not to do this!

It may seem odd for me to focus one of my posts on movie history on one single event that lasted for a less than a week but in many ways, the voyage of the RMS Titanic is a truly memorable one that once shook the world. However, somehow a story of a huge luxury liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean after hitting an iceberg which killed about 1,517 people seems to have a certain hold on a lot of people that James Cameron’s 1997 epic was a critical and box office success at the time even if it’s not the most accurate nor the most entertaining rendition out of many films that covered the disaster. Yet, back in April of 1912, news of the sinking of the RMS Titanic sent shock waves throughout the world and it has been the subject of much captivation and artistic rendition ever since. The movie adaptation on this disaster actually came out in 1912, not long after it happened. But while many ships have met their watery graves in the ocean which carried far more people, it’s the one of the RMS Titanic that keeps grabbing the attention with so much that has been written and filmed of it. Nevertheless, the cinematic retellings do have their share of inaccuracies which I shall list accordingly.

The White Star Line:

The White Star Line was a public company. (It was actually a subsidiary of a private company and didn’t offer stock nor have a stock price to worry about. Oh, and it was owned by J. P. Morgan.)

The Ship:

The Titanic’s furniture at Palm’s Court consisted of tan wicker furniture and circular tables with bare walls. (Photos of the Titanic showed that the room had wicker furniture, square tables, and walls with real climbing ivy.)

Passengers on the Titanic were allowed on the forecastle, head, and bow. (They weren’t allowed on these parts on the ship. In fact, there were signs that said “Passengers Not Allowed Beyond This Point” mounted on the leeward side of the forward breakwater {both port and starboard}. So the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio says, “I’m king of the world!” wouldn’t have taken place.)

The Titanic’s first class dining hall had table lamps. (It didn’t.)

The Titanic’s entrance vestibule had wooden doors. (According to Imdb: “When James Cameron visited the wreck two years after filming ended, he discovered that the doors were in fact inaccurately portrayed in the {1997} film.”)

The Titanic’s Master at Arm’s office had a porthole. (It was an interior room and therefore, wouldn’t have portholes.)

The Titanic had shuffleboard, its own tailor shop, and regular bar in which people would get drinks. (There was no shuffleboard or a tailor shop on the Titanic. Also, on the Titanic, passengers would order their drinks through waiters and stewards who’d fetch them for the passengers.)

The Titanic had a dance floor in its first class dining saloon. (The Titanic did not have a dance floor. Also, among middle and upper classes, public dancing was seen as inappropriate in 1912.)

The grand staircase of the Titanic had an elaborate brass dome. (It didn’t.)

The watertight doors of the Titanic slid horizontally. (They didn’t.)

The Titanic was as big as the Mauretania and the Lusitatania. (It was actually 90 some feet longer than either ship.)

The Titanic had a piano in its lounge. (There’s no evidence on whether it was or not.)

The funnels on the Titanic were noisy on the outside but could barely be heard on the inside of the ship even during the sinking. (It’s said to sound like 20 locomotives blowing off steam at low key. Also, the noise of the funnels hindered Jack Philips from hearing transmissions from other ships since the Marconi office was below a funnel.)

The Crew:

The crew of the crows nest were equipped with binoculars and communicated to the bridge through screaming back and forth. (They didn’t have binoculars. They also communicated to the bridge through telephone.)

Captain Smith witnessed the Titanic colliding with an iceberg. (He was in his cabin at the time.)

The crew on the Titanic wore Royal Navy uniforms. (They weren’t in the Royal Navy. They wore uniforms from the White Star Line.)

First Officer Murdoch lowered Collapsible C boat. (Chief Officer Wilde did this.)

First Officer William Murdoch shot two innocent men to prevent them from boarding a lifeboat during the sinking of the Titanic and later committed suicide. (Murdoch more likely tried to do what he could to save the passengers and went down with the ship like most of the crew did except those who manned the lifeboats. His hometown and family were outraged by Murdoch’s depiction in the James Cameron movie since his locale treats him as a local hero. As to his fate, we really can’t say whether he committed suicide or not because there are many contradictory accounts of what happened to him. The crew members may have been inexperienced but there are plenty of stories of the crew members performing heroic actions. Actually, James Cameron treats most of the Titanic crew members in a negative light with the exception of Captain Smith of course, who I think bears the bulk of the responsibility for the Titanic sinking in the first place since he was the one who canceled the lifeboat drill, ignored prior warnings of icebergs ahead, and ordered the Titanic to go full speed.)

Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller was nervous martinet. (He was actually a hero who kept a dozen people alive on an overturned Collapsible B.)

German First Officer Petersen vainly tried to save the greedy British from their own destruction. (The First Officer on the Titanic was William Murdoch who went down with the ship. Not to mention, the Titanic was a British ship manned by a British crew! Petersen was a fictional character created for a 1943 Nazi propaganda film of the Titanic sinking, which James Cameron has seen since he borrowed plenty of its elements for the 1997 film {though he claims he hasn’t, nice try}. Strangely enough, while the German 1943 version of the Titanic sinking is flat out Nazi propaganda, it isn’t the worst film adaptation of the disaster.)

Captain Edward John Smith had a mustache while on the Titanic and made it to New York. (He had a mustache and a full white beard like in the Edwardian style. Also, he died during the sinking.)

Captain Smith went on the bridge of the Titanic during the sinking. (There are conflicting survivor testimonies as to what happened to him. Some say he stayed on the bridge, others say he jumped off the ship in a life jacket. A few accounts even said he committed suicide.)

Captain Edward John Smith planned to retire after the Titanic‘s maiden crossing. (It’s common knowledge and he was supposed to since he was 62 {though the Titanic registers list him as 59} while the mandatory retirement age on the White Star Line was 60. However, there’s some debate whether this was true or not. Still, he was probably not looking forward to it and if he was, he was probably more or less being pressured into retirement.)

Captain Smith visited the wireless cabin to tell the operators to send calls for assistance and gave the incorrect coordinates for the ship. (He actually gave the correct coordinates and it was 4th Officer Boxhall who gave the screwed up coordinates some minutes later to the Marconi operators Phillips and Bride.)

Captain Smith was at the starboard side during the Titanic sinking. (He was on the starboard side most of the time and Harold Bride says that Smith returned with him into the wireless room.)

2nd Officer Lightoller was wearing an overcoat during the loading of the lifeboats even when he was on the Collapsible B. (When launching the last two lifeboats, he said in his autobiography that he was wearing a pants and sweater over his pajamas as well as a life jacket. He had already discarded his overcoat by that point.)

Chief Baker Charles Joughin was drunk during the Titanic sinking. (He wasn’t though he did take a quick nip in his cabin during the evacuation.)

Sub-Lieutenant Harold Godfrey Lowe saw women and children among the debris. (He didn’t report seeing any women and children among the wreckage.)

The Passengers:

Thomas Andrews clearly noticed that the Titanic hit something while he was in his cabin going over the ship’s blueprints. (While Andrews was in his cabin working on improvements for the Titanic {which he designed himself}, he didn’t feel the iceberg collision and was informed of it when he was summoned by the crew.)

Thomas Andrews surveyed the iceberg damage and realized that the Titanic was going to sink. (From a page of goofs on James Cameron’s Titanic: “We don’t know what transpired between Captain Smith, Andrews, Chief Officer Wilde, First Officer Murdoch or Sixth Officer Moody, as all were lost.”)

J. Bruce Ismay was an arrogant bullying prick who forced Captain Smith to run the ship full speed into the ice field and acted as a sniffling coward who hopped aboard the first available lifeboat. (Actually it was Smith’s decision to run the ship full speed. Also, Ismay was diligent in helping load and lower lifeboats and only took his seat in one after he made sure that there were no women and children there to take it instead. Of course, he was wrong since most of the women and children on the ship by that time were all crowded in steerage and went down with the ship.)

There were Spanish passengers in steerage on the Titanic. (There were 3 Spanish passengers in 1st class and 5 in 2nd class. None were in 3rd.)

J. Bruce Ismay pressured Captain Smith to speed up the Titanic in order to achieve a new speed record for the White Star Line. (Everyone knew that the White Star Line couldn’t win against the Lusitania and the Mauretania. Also, the Titanic and its sister ships like the Olympic and the Britannic weren’t designed to beat the Cunard Line based on speed but on luxury and technological novelties {and even that’s subjective}. Furthermore, arriving early wouldn’t lead to applause but complaints from the passengers whose hotel reservations would’ve been set for the following day and annoyance from New York customs.)

Harold Sanderson was the chairman of the White Star Line who disembarked at during a port of call at Cherbourg, France before the Titanic set sail for the Atlantic. (Well, he was a senior official of the White Star Line in 1912. He wasn’t the chairman. J. Bruce Ismay was. This error is in the 1953 Titanic film with Barbara Stanwyck. Also, the Titanic made a port of call at Queenstown, Ireland before heading to New York, not Cherbourg, France.)

J. Bruce Ismay’s wife was Gloria. (Her name was Florence Schieffelin during the Titanic’s maiden voyage.)

All the Titanic passengers were white. (Most of them were, but there were some racial minorities among them.)

Madeline Astor was an old woman having an affair during the Titanic voyage. (She was actually a heavily pregnant 18 year old girl. Her son was born 4 months after the voyage. She wasn’t a buxom blond woman pushing 30 either but a slender teenage brunette. Of course, her husband John Jacob Astor was 54 years old which is kind of creepy.)

Molly Brown was one of the first passengers on board Lifeboat 6. (She was one of the last.)

The Maiden Voyage:

The Titanic set sail in brilliant sunshine at Southampton. (Photographs showed that the Titanic set sail in sky overcast.)

Tickets on the Titanic were easy to transfer to another passenger. (They were impossible to transfer so it’s very unlikely for the Jack and Rose love story to happen, historically speaking.)

The Titanic sailed out of Liverpool. (It sailed out of Southampton. In fact, one of the reasons why the White Star Line chose Southampton as its main terminal was because their newest ships were too big for Liverpool’s harbor.)

During the voyage, a bunch of third class passengers went to the first class hangout to find what was going on. (This never happened but it’s in the German 1943 Titanic film. Also, this was never allowed.)

The Titanic was christened before its maiden voyage. (The White Star Line never really christened their ships at this point. Also, the fact that the Titanic was never christened contributed to why some people believed it sunk in the first place.)

The Titanic was due in New York on April 15. (It was due to land in New York on April 17.)

The White Star Line was aiming to get a Blue Ribbon during the Titanic’s voyage. (It had already given up that goal by that point.)

Life in first class aboard the Titanic was boring while life in steerage was lively and fun. (Of course, James Cameron’s Titanic is told through Rose’s point of view and she may have believed this. However, let’s just say that in most of history, it was better to be rich than poor for obvious reasons {and casualty records on the Titanic’s sinking show this since more people in steerage died than from first and second class}. Also, single men and women were segregated in third class with single women in the bow and single women and families in the stern.)

The Titanic arrived at Cherbourg, France at dusk with every single light on in the ship. (It arrived at Cherbourg, France during the day time but we’re not sure how long it took to transfer passengers and mail to and from the ship so it could’ve been evening. But by that time only the anchor lights would’ve been on. Also, the Titanic was only 2/3 occupied at this point so all the lights wouldn’t have been on the ship even if it does look pretty in the James Cameron film.)

Colonel Archibald Gracie was British. (He was actually American but Cameron had him speaking in a British accent for some reason.)

The Iceberg Collision:

Titanic’s E deck was immediately flooded during the iceberg collision. (E deck was two floors above the collision site and wasn’t immediately flooded.)

The impact of the Titanic hitting the iceberg threw the passengers forward. (If it did, the Titanic would’ve had a lower body count. However, the impact caused the ship to shake slightly and was barely noticeable.)

The Titanic collided with a small iceberg. (The iceberg was actually quite huge, especially underwater.)

The first warning of ice was brought to bridge. (It wasn’t. Actually the Titanic received multiple warnings of icebergs from other ships but not all of them were relayed to radio operators and the ice conditions for that April were the worst for that month in the previous 50 years.)

The Titanic hit the iceberg by its port side. (It was hit on its starboard side but this is shown in multiple films.)

The iceberg collision ruptured five of Titanic‘s compartments. (It ruptured six. Still, five was the minimum number of compartments that had to be ruptured before the ship could sink.)

The Sinking:

“CQD” was sent from the Titanic as a distress signal. (Yes, it was but “SOS” was used later on.)

The Titanic sank in one piece. (It actually split in two pieces near the surface. Yet, many film adaptations made before the 1980s show this because the technology to find and view the wreckage itself didn’t exist at the time. Thus, it was popularly believed it sank in one piece.)

All the Titanic’s boilers were lit before it sank. (Only 24 out its 29 boilers were ever lit, yet it’s said there was to be a full speed test with all of them lit on April 15th, 1912. Of course, you know what happened by then.)

The Titanic sank on a starry night. (It actually sank on a dark and moonless night.)

Picasso paintings were lost on the Titanic. (There were no Picasso paintings on there and many of them depicted in the movies are still on display. Also, we know what happened to his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon since you can actually see it in a museum. Boy, Rose must’ve gotten scammed big time somehow.)

Lifeboats on the Titanic were loaded according to gender, age, and class. (They weren’t loaded according to class despite what James Cameron might imply. In fact, more third class women survived the Titanic than first class men. And many of the first class men who survived were vilified as selfish cowards willing to save their own skins as 150 women and children met their watery deaths.)

The Titanic passengers were awakened to find the ship sinking at the sound of the siren informing them of the collision. (No such system existed on the Titanic. Passengers in all three classes were informed about their sinking through stewards knocking on their cabin doors and only when crew members knew that the ship was going to sink.)

Men on the Titanic were prevented from getting to the lifeboats during the sinking. (Men were indeed prevented from accessing lifeboats on the port side. Yet, men on the starboard side allowed men if no more women and children were willing to go or didn’t show up. Also, a third of the men in first class survived.)

The red ensign was on the Titanic flagstaff during the sinking. (The Titanic sank during the night while red ensigns are flown during the day time.)

The Titanic sank almost immediately after hitting an iceberg. (The ship struck the iceberg at 11:40 pm. The ship sank at 2:20 am so sinking took a good 2 ½ hours at least.)

Men dressed in drag to get on to the Titanic life boats. (The idea of men dressing up as women during the sinking has been long discredited as a hoax. According to Imdb: “This was a rumor started by one survivor’s business competitor to discredit him.”)

The Titanic sank with the lights in its portholes. (The electrical power failed a few seconds before the ship went down.)

712 people survived on the Titanic. (The exact count of survivors has been disputed but there were 712 on the lifeboats.)

Only six people were in the ocean were saved 6 during the Titanic sinking. (13 were saved from the waters but 3 of them died.)

Only one of the Titanic lifeboats went back to search for survivors. (Two or three of them did.)

Engineers put water in the boilers while the Titanic was sinking. (Putting water into the boiler would’ve been a bad idea and engineers in 1912 knew that.)

Everyone survived the Titanic with no traumatic effects. (The sinking of the RMS Titanic actually killed well over 1,500 people which is why it’s so remembered in the first place. However, there are a couple animated films that actually have such an ending with one called Titanic: The Legend Goes On that features singing immigrant mice and a rapping dog {seriously} and The Legend of the Titanic which has singing mice, an octopus that saves the ship and a “save the whales” plot {which is totally irrelevant since kerosene had already put most whaling out of business back in the late 1800s. Most modern whaling is actually done for food. Also, nobody owns the seas and oceans.} It also claimed that sharks prevented the Titanic from swerving around the iceberg which is just wrong because the Titanic was going too fast at that point to begin with to turn in time. It also blames sharks as the reason why the iceberg was there to begin with. Oh, and did I say that the latter animated film had a sequel that takes place in Atlantis featuring mermaids, talking toys, and evil mice? Seriously not making this up. Also, they were both made in Italy. Still, at least people got to die in Anastasia and Pocahontas!)

Children from First and Second class died in the sinking. (Only one child from first class did by the name of Loraine Allison who stayed on deck with her parents.)

The band played “Nearer My God to Thee” as the Titanic sank. (There’s dispute on what they played. Yet, the band had no horns section nor did anyone stand up and sing. Most experts believe it was “Autumn.”)

The Titanic boilers exploded while the ship was sinking. (No boiler exploded during the disaster yet such is shown in multiple films.)

The Titanic’s lifeboats were available for every passenger. (The ship had lifeboats that were only available for 1,178  people. The limited number of lifeboats was one of the reasons why so many people died on the Titanic.)

All of the Titanic’s lifeboats were successfully launched before it sank. (Collapsible B wasn’t for it floated off upside down which allowed Second Officer Lightoller and others to survive. Also, the collapsible boats were unwieldy and had room for 47 passengers each.)

Third class passengers were locked aboard the Titanic to keep them from taking a seat in a lifeboat before the first and second class passengers. (It was a regulatory measure to prevent “less cleanly” third class passengers from transmitting diseases and infections to others so they could be the only ones requiring health inspections on their arrival in New York. And even when they were locked, they didn’t bar the access to the deck, only the first and second passenger areas of the ship. In fact, when the Titanic was sinking, crew members went there immediately to lead the third class women and children to safety. However, the reason why so many people in steerage died on the Titanic was that many of them had a hard time finding their way through the maze of corridors to the life boats, with those who couldn’t speak English at an even greater disadvantage since the signs were only in English. Also, the third class cabins weren’t as close to the deck and the life boats as those of first and second class. Still, maybe having crew members who knew a foreign language as well as foreign language signs could’ve saved more people!)

During the sinking, many of the passengers went inside because it was too cold. (Most survivor accounts said they went on deck as soon as they put their life belts on. And they weren’t too impressed by the poor efforts of some of the crewmen preparing the boats. Those staying inside during the Titanic‘s sinking were people who either chose to go down with the ship or had no idea where to fetch the lifeboats.)

The Carpathia was the closest ship to the Titanic when it was sinking. (The Mount Temple and the Californian were closer. However, the Californian had its radio turned off for the night and when the captain saw the signal rockets shot off by the Titanic as distress signals, he just assumed they were fireworks aboard a luxury liner and went to bed. Then there’s the Norwegian whaling ship the Samson which was illegally hunting seals in US waters who mistook the lights and the signal rockets from the Titanic as belonging to the US or Canadian Coast Guard and only learned about the tragedy at the next port of call. The Carpathia may just get notice in the movies because it was the closest ship that came in and helped.)

The forecastle and the well deck were submerged when the first two lifeboats were away. (They wouldn’t go under water until the very last lifeboats were launched.)

Lifeboat 7 nearly tipped passengers at sea. (No survivor ever recalled this happening. However, there was some similar mishap on Lifeboat 5.)

“Women and children first” was the officer’s orders at gunpoint during the sinking of the Titanic. (“Women and children first” was standard procedure of most ships at the time. Almost all the male survivors of the Titanic {save a handful of crew members} were vilified because of this.)


Everyone believed the Titanic was unsinkable. (The Titanic wasn’t big news until it hit an iceberg and sank. The ship claimed to be unsinkable was its sister ship the Olympic and that was before it experienced a minor collision. Yet, it had the same captain, traveled the same route, had the same facilities, and the same number of lifeboats.)

Life jackets on the Titanic had 12 pieces of cork in them. (They had six pieces of cork in them.)

The Titanic‘s lifeboats were tested in Belfast with the weight of 70 men. (There’s no way to verify this. However, there was testing on 66 people and the boats performed well. Still, many of the life boats on the Titanic left the ship half full.)

Father Thomas Byles prayed at the poop deck with the masses during the sinking. (He prayed at the aft end of the boat deck. Also, according to eyewitness accounts, Byles didn’t quote Revelation but recited the rosary, and performed acts of contrition and absolution to the doomed masses who congregated round him.)

The Titanic survivors on the Carpathia were all berthed in steerage. (Some Titanic survivors were berthed in 3rd class when suitable space in 2nd class couldn’t be found.)

The Titanic was badly designed, badly built, and badly operated by the standards of the time. (It was actually a very good ship even by modern standards since it managed to stay afloat well over 2 hours after being hit by an iceberg {even Thomas Andrews thought the ship wouldn’t last more than an hour and a half}. Still, it was built by the best available materials of the time period as well as not traveling too fast for the conditions by the standards of the time. Also, it was the second ship in a line of three Olympic sized ships. Besides, scientists have determined no man made structure could ever survive a collision with an iceberg going 30 mph. Also, it split at a 23 degree maximum tilt which is twice the intended design limits on modern ships. Thus, the Titanic was just torn apart by forces that were way beyond the extremes of what a structure was designed to withstand.)