The recent and tragic death of the Hollywood icon Debbie Reynolds reminded us of her most memorable roles on the big screen.
Hence, one of the first associations is, undoubtedly, her stunning performance in the 1964 biopic film about Molly Brown, The Unsinkable Molly Brown. The film brought Reynolds the first Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Margaret Brown, an inspiring woman, and philanthropist, as well as a survivor of the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic.
Without a doubt, the story of Molly Brown well deserves one’s further attention.
Molly was born Margaret Tobin and came from a poor Irish Catholic family that emigrated to the US. At age of 18, she relocated from her birthplace in Mississippi to Leadville, Colorado, where she found the first job in a department store.
It was in the same city where Margaret would meet and marry James Joseph Brown, known also as J.J.
J.J. was a self-educated man who he wasn’t very rich. Margaret married him for love, although her personal wish was to wait and marry somebody wealthy.
She would note at one point: “I wanted a rich man, but I loved Jim Brown. I thought about how I wanted comfort for my father and how I had determined to stay single until a man presented himself as one who could give the old man the things I longed for him. Jim was as poor as we were, and had no better chance in life.”
The two of them got married in 1886 and they had two children. But good fortunes will eventually come for the Brown family as they will acquire great wealth at the end of the 19-th century through a dedicated work in a mining engineering branch.
By 1894, the couple will grow their wealth enough to purchase a $30,000 Victorian mansion in Denver, Colorado, as well as to build their own summer house there. This provided the little family to rapidly climb the social scale.
Margaret became a charter member of the Denver Woman’s Club, which engaged in improving women’s lives by continuing education and philanthropy. As it was the way for the ladies, she became well acquainted with arts and learned to speak fluently a couple of languages. She went on to open a branch of Alliance Française in Denver, as she became eager to promote her love of French culture.
It is significant to contemplate on the marriage of Margaret and J.J. though they separated in 1909. Regardless their separation, the two remained bonded through the rest of their lives. They both continually dedicated to social work and fundraised projects which helped those in dire need.
The most intriguing part of the whole Molly Brown story is that she was also one of the passengers who survived the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic.
Brown was a first class passenger of the ship that sailed for its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. A portion of the other first class passengers disliked her because she was “new money”. Back in the day, the term was used to derogatory label those whose wealth has been acquired within their own generation, rather than by family heritage.
Luckily, Molly will be remembered for her courage rather than her status. She was one of the very few people who put tremendous efforts in saving other people’s lives when the ship started sinking and panic overwhelmed everyone.
The Titanic sank early on April 15th, 1912, at around 2:20 AM, after hitting an iceberg at around 11:40 the night before. As evacuations started to take place, Brown first helped others to get on the lifeboats. She didn’t hurry to jump on one herself.
She made it on the Lifeboat No.6, where she also confronted Quartermaster Rober Hichens, in charge of the lifeboat, to go back and save more people. He feared that if they return, the lifeboat will eventually be pulled down from people who would swamp the boat in an effort to get on it, or from suction in the water
She went on to take an oar herself in her lifeboat. Due to her efforts in evacuation and courage to look for more survivors, some authors started to call her “the Unsinkable Molly Brown”.
Brown’s efforts paved her way in history. That was first proved with the release of a 1960 Broadway musical based on her life, and a film adaptation in 1964 that was entitled The Unsinkable Molly Brown, where her character was played by Debbie Reynolds.