James Cameron’s epic 1997 movie was a true cultural phenomenon. Full of gorgeous costumes, love, action, and adventure, the film has made more than 2 billion dollars in worldwide box offices worldwide.
Perhaps part of what makes Cameron’s film so popular and appealing is the fact that it is “based on a true story”, and one of the biggest stories at that, in American and British history- the sinking of the legendary Titanic ship.
But it might be more accurate to say that the movie is actually based on “true stories,” in the plural. The Titanic was a real ship, and real people lived and died as part of the tragic sinking. That many of them were young- and old- lovers and sweethearts only add to the drama.
In a bid to make a movie that captured the real flavor of the people who were on the ship, and in tribute to those lost at sea, Titanic draws from many stories that we know are true.
Did you love the movie? Were you rooting for Jack and Rose? Were you devastated by the ending? Then read on to find out what inspired some of your favorite moments in the film!
Remember the fabulous “Heart of the Ocean” that the cowardly, abusive Hockley gives Rose near the beginning of the film? This piece of jewelry is based on a real, and more romantic necklace.
The real necklace belonged to Kate Florence Phillips, a 19-year-old shop assistant from England who had eloped with the owner of the store. She and her fiancee set sail on the Titanic to start a new life.
In celebration, her fiancee, Henry Samuel Morely, gave her an engagement present, a sapphire, diamond and pearl necklace called the “The Love of the Sea.” This sapphire was not heart-shaped, but rectangular, and was equally spectacular.
So the necklace in real life was given with love- and survived the sinking. Kate made it off the Titanic with nothing but the necklace and a pregnancy. She went back to England and gave birth to a baby girl. Henry, like so many of the men, perished in the ocean.
Refusing to Leave the One You Love
One of the most romantic things about the movie is how Rose refuses to leave on a lifeboat without Jack. If he is staying, so is she.
This is also a reflection of a real-life love story (and one you see briefly in the film as well).
Ida and Isidor Straus, the owners of Macy’s Department store, were on the Titanic, returning from a holiday in Europe. Ida and Isidor were a devoted couple in their sixties and had been married for 41 years.
When the ship began to sink, Ida was directed to a lifeboat, as were all the women and children. Isidor was offered a place on a boat, due to his age and his status as a former congressman, but was a proper gentleman, and refused. And that meant that Ida wouldn’t go either. Survivors heard Ida say: “Isidor, my place is with you. I have lived with you. I love you, and if necessary, I shall die with you.”
Both died on the Titanic. Isidor’s body was recovered, but Ida’s never was. In the famous film, the couple is shown lying in bed, holding each other, as the water rises.
The Rich Lady and the Stonemason
In the Cameron film, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a young, poor artist, who only by chance is invited to the first-class dining hall on the Titanic on the night she sank. His story may actually be based on a real tale.
Emilio Portaluppi was an Italian stonemason with recognized artistic skill. He was traveling from Italy to the United States to do some work for the super-wealthy Astor family, who had seen his work, and was returning from Europe as well. Among the family members was Margaret Astor, the young and beautiful daughter of the wealthy family.
Portaluppi survived the sinking of the ship by swimming to a piece of ice and climbing on- holding on until a lifeboat picked him up. Many have recounted the “crush” that Margaret had on Emilio, an affection that led her to invite him to the first-class dinner in a similar moment as we see in the film. Mr. Portaluppi, for his part, did not speak of Ms. Astor until just before his death at the age of 93, when he suggested that they might have had a more serious relationship.
We can’t know for sure if they were lovers, or friends, or just had affection for one another, but Emilio’s story is thought to be one of the key inspirations for the love story of Jack and Rose.
The Titanic was a real ship, full of fascinating people. It is perhaps no surprise that many of their lives and their loves found their way, as inspiration, into the famous film!