Throughout history, Hollywood has been quick to capitalize on a tragedy to turn a profit. But how soon is too soon? The first movie depicting the sinking of the Titanic came out only one month after the luxurious liner sunk. Not only that, but a Titanic survivor starred in this first movie about the tragedy.
Titanic survivor, Dorothy Gibson
22-year-old Dorothy Gibson was already a successful actress by the time she set sail on the Titanic in 1912. In March of 1912, Dorothy and her mother had decided to take a vacation to Europe. However, after only a few weeks, Dorothy was called back to America to start working on a new series of films. The pair decided to return to America on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, and they boarded the ship at Cherbourg, France, on April 10, 1912.
On the night of the sinking, Dorothy had “spent a pleasant Sunday evening playing bridge with a couple of friendly New York bankers” in the first-class saloon. Dorothy returned to her stateroom around 11:40 that evening – the same time that Titanic struck the iceberg. She said that the collision sounded like “a long drawn, sickening crunch,” but at first she wasn’t too concerned about the noise she had heard.
After investigating what had happened, Dorothy rushed back to her stateroom to grab her mother. When they returned to the deck boat, Dorothy noted that lifeboat seven was practically empty. This was the first lifeboat to be launched from Titanic when it was lowered an hour after the collision at 12:40 am.
After being lowered into the water, Dorothy became hysterical. According to those in lifeboat seven with her, she kept repeating “I’ll never ride in my little gray car again.” After the event, Dorothy told Moving Picture World, “I will never forget the terrible cry that rang out from people who were thrown into the sea and others who were afraid for their loved ones.”
Starring in Saved From The Titanic
Dorothy Gibson began working on a film based on the disaster only a few days after returning to New York. However, it likely wasn’t Dorothy’s idea to immediately start filming a movie about the disaster. Gibson was having an affair with Èclair Film Company producer Jules Brulatour, who realized after the disaster that the public wanted more information and details about the experience onboard the Titanic. It is likely that Dorothy was initially reluctant to make a movie about the sinking, but was convinced to do so by Brulatour.
The movie Saved From The Titanic was completed in only a week. Dorothy starred in the film, and wore the same outfit she had worn the night of the sinking – a white silk evening dress, a sweater, an overcoat and black pumps. However, the process of filming this movie so close to the disaster itself was not easy for Dorothy, as she was said to have burst into tears during filming.
Saved From The Titanic was only about ten minutes long and told a fictionalized account of Dorothy’s real experience on the Titanic. Dorothy Gibson played Miss Dorothy, a young woman traveling in Europe who is set to return to America on the Titanic to marry her sweetheart, Ensign Jack. The character Ensign Jack is in service with the American Navy.
In the film, Jack learns of the tragedy and has to tell Dorothy’s parents. After Dorothy arrives home after the disaster, she tells her fictional fiancé and parents about her experience through a series of flashbacks. When she finishes her story, her mother encourages Ensign Jack to leave the navy, but Jack ultimately decides he has a duty to serve his country.
Saved From The Titanic was released in the United States on May 16, 1912. It was a massive success in the United States, celebrated for its technical realism and emotional power. The Moving Pictures Review stated:”Miss Dorothy Gibson, a heroine of the shipwreck and one of the most talked-of survivors, tells in this motion picture a masterpiece of the enthralling tragedy among the icebergs.”
Another tragedy strikes
Although Saved From The Titanic was a celebrated silent film, no copies of it exist today. Like so many silents, Saved From The Titanic was destroyed in a fire at Éclair Studios in March 1914. A number of movie stills that were printed in Moving Picture News and Motion Picture World are held by the Library of Congress.
Saved From The Titanic was an important piece of history for many reasons. For one, it immortalized an actual Titanic survivor reenacting her own unique experience with the sinking – something that historians will never have again. It is also important because it was the last film that Dorothy Gibson acted in. At the time of her premature retirement in May 1912, Gibson was one of the highest-paid actresses in the world.
More from us: Terribly Tragic Passenger Stories From The Titanic
Shortly after Saved From The Titanic, Dorothy’s affair with Jules Brulatour was made public. The pair married in 1917 but separated after only two years. During the Second World War, Dorothy was possibly a Nazi sympathizer and intelligence operative. However, in 1944 she renounced her involvement – only to be imprisoned in the Milan prison San Vittore. She died of a heart attack in 1946 in France. Although Dorothy Gibson survived the sinking of the Titanic, it appears she never truly got over the event.