Sunday, November 17, 2013

The story of Dorothy Gibson and Titanic's first movie

Many people made names for themselves on the night of the Titanic's sinking, either through heroism, feats of strength and endurance, inaction or cowardice. A survivor who went unnoticed the night of the Titanic as she quietly boarded a lifeboat with her mother, 22-year-old Dorothy Gibson, would go on to make a name for herself as the first person to tell the story of the Titanic cinematically.

Gibson was a New York-based actress and magazine model who had found success acting on Broadway between 1907 and 1911 and was beginning to segue over into movies. She was less than a year into her contract with the French film company Eclair (she was based out of the American branch) when she had become well-known as an actress for playing Revolutionary War heroine Molly Pitcher. To celebrate the completion of her latest string of films, she and her mother went on vacation to Europe.

After the disaster, she was asked by Eclair to star in a film about the Titanic. Although she was hesitant about reliving her own tragic experiences, she conceded and ended up writing the film as well. She essentially played herself and wore the same clothes as she had on the night of her sinking. The other major roles in the film were her mother, father, two friends, and an Ensign Jack. It was not, in essence, any sort of comprehensive account, but the film got good reviews.

The one-reel film no longer survives today. The last-known copy was destroyed in a vault fire in 1914. Because she quit acting to puruse opera shortly after making "Saved From the Titanic", none of Gibson's other films except one ("The Lucky Holdup") exist today either.

Gibson had a very interesting life in the 34 years after the Titanic. Aside from a second career in opera, she later become involved in Fascist politics and intelligence work before switching allegiances against the Italians and Nazis in World War II. She was arrested by the Gestapo but escaped her prison in 1944.

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