Real to Reel
Updated: Apr 10, 2021
If you're interested in the Titanic and you like the film, then this might interest you. Many of the characters in the film are fictitious of course such as Jack, Rose, Cal and Lovejoy but many of them were real people. In my book too, most of the main characters are a product of my imagination but I have included some of the real life characters as well. If you're interested to know what the characters from the film looked like in real life, then read on...
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
The actress Kathy Bates portrayed the feisty Molly Brown in the film. She was looked down upon by the other passengers as being, 'new money.' Molly survived the sinking of the Titanic and is known for helping to row one of the lifeboats.
Captain Edward James Smith
Captain Smith enjoyed a long and distinguished career until that fateful night in April 1912. In fact, a few years earlier, in an interview he had described how he had never seen or been in an accident while at sea. The maiden voyage of the Titanic was to be his last as he was set to retire. Unfortunately he never made it and in accordance with naval tradition, the captain went down with his ship. Bernard Hill played him in the film.
Andrews was the ship's designer and for me this is the most interesting one. There definitely appears to be an uncanny resemblance between him and Victor Garber who played him in the film. Thomas Andrews died on the Titanic.
Ismay was Chairman of the White Star Line, the company that owned the Titanic. He is portrayed by Jonathan Hyde in the film and is definitely one of the baddies. An arrogant and smarmy man, he is shown by the director, James Cameron to be cowardly and aloof. As women and children are boarding the lifeboats he is seen sneaking on, ashamed of himself and hoping that nobody sees. The fact that he lived when so many of the other high-profile passengers didn't, haunted him for the rest of his life. He was vilified in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic for having the audacity to survive.
Countess of Rothes
The Countess plays a minor role in the film but can often be seen talking with Ruth, Molly, JJ Astor and some of the other upper-class passengers. She was played by Rochelle Rose in the film and survived the sinking of the Titanic.
The Colonel was a man of many talents. He was a soldier, historian, writer and most famously, a survivor of the Titanic. He wrote a book about his experience but died less than a year after the sinking. Bernard Fox played this role in the film.
John Jacob Astor
JJ Astor was the richest man on the ship and thought to be one of the richest men in the world at that point. His death on board the Titanic made the front pages of all the American newspapers. He appeared briefly in the film and was played by Eric Braeden.
The band aboard the Titanic is famous for having kept playing until the bitter end. Even as the ship sank, the band continued to play. Hartley was a violinist and band leader, portrayed in the film by Jonathan Evans-Jones. The hymn, Nearer My God to Thee is reportedly the last song the band played. They all perished in the sinking.
1st Officer Murdoch
William McMaster Murdoch was played by Ewan Stewart and appeared in several key scenes. He is seen discussing the sinking with Captain Smith, making a deal with Cal and eventually shooting himself in the head. It was reported by fellow passengers that someone had shot themselves as the ship sank. However nobody knows for sure who it was. The director of the film, James Cameron decided to have Officer Murdoch be that person. His descendants were understandably annoyed by such a portrayal and ended up receiving an apology from the filmmakers.
2nd Officer Lightoller
Charles Herbert Lightoller is an interesting character in the film and was in real life too. Jonny Phillips plays him in the film though he only appears in a few scenes, coming across as snooty and aloof. He is in charge of loading several of the lifeboats and is criticised by Andrews for not filling them to capacity. One of the great tragedies of the Titanic is that there weren't enough lifeboats and even the ones they had weren't full. Lightoller survived the sinking of the Titanic and over twenty years later took part in the evacuation from Dunkirk.
Guggenheim was a wealthy American businessman who died in the sinking of the Titanic. He had a very minor role in the film and was played by Michael Ensign.
Ida & Isador Strauss
The Strauss' were famous as owners of the well-known Macy's department store in New York. We see them in an emotive final scene huddled on the bed as their cabin fills with water. They died when the Titanic sank.
Joughin was a chef on the Titanic and can be seen in one of the final scenes of the film as the Titanic sinks. He is clinging to the railings on the back of the ship near to where Jack and Rose are also preparing to be plunged into the sea. He survived in the freezing waters of the Atlantic before being hauled into Collapsible Boat B. It was manned by 2nd Officer Lightoller and also contained Archibald Gracie.
Robert Douglas Spedden
This photo is known to be one of the last taken aboard the Titanic. It was taken by Father Browne who took many others. The image of the child playing on the deck of the Titanic can be seen fleetingly in the foreground of one of the scenes, while Jack walks by in the background.