Monday, October 31, 2011


I’m really going to try to write in this blog every week from now on. After the six posts I did about the Titanic, I was so involved in rehearsals for a musical in which I sang three songs, I had no time or energy left. But my musical career will now take a hiatus while I go back to writing. Except for one more thing having to do with Titanic.

The musical, titled COME TO THE CABARET, was not only chock-full of songs that were once sung in cabarets here and in Europe since 1881, but a peek into what was going on in the world during those years, because cabarets were places that sold liquor and were frequented by poets, composers, writers and artists. As you may remember from the musical CABARET which became a (slightly different) film with Liza Minelli and Joel Grey, they were also places where misfits hung out, where protest songs--and protests themselves--often got their start. The songs often told stories, and telling stories is just what we writers do, isn’t it? We just tell ours in prose, not in music and rhyme.

One of the songs I performed was called “Something Cool” and I had never heard of it before. It was supposedly written about Blanche DuBois from Tennessee Williams’ award-winning play A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. As you know, Blanche was a deeply troubled person, but I’ve always had much sympathy for her, because her life did not go well. The young man she loved didn’t love her in return, and as a result she made mistakes. Then other family members took advantage of Blanche’s vulnerable nature, ending with the rape that sent her into madness. In a few lines at the end of the song, I tried to portray her as a lost soul who was rejected once again. Singing that was acting, and a abrupt departure from the light-hearted music before and after my “bit.”

So, what was the one last thing about Titanic?
Glad you reminded me.

A reader of my novel COLD APRIL, set on said ship, asked about the third class accommodations on board and then suggested I tell my Blog readers about that. It has to do with bathtubs. In third class--also called Steerage--there were only two bathtubs, one for men and one for women. And there were 706 men, women and children berthed in Steerage.

Not to worry. In the first place, the voyage was to last only a week, Wednesday to Wednesday, and in those days (this was 1912 remember, a hundred years ago next April) it was not unusual for families to take a bath (in an iron tub on the kitchen floor) only once a week. Probably Saturday night in order not to offend the churchgoers on Sunday morning. At that time, many people in the lower classes thought even bathing that often was unnecessary and many believed it was even hazardous to their health. So a real bathtub was a luxury and, furthermore, the users could have clean water, not what was left over from their parents or six brothers and sisters who washed before them.

I’ll leave on that note and hope you’ll make a comment or two about CABARET, STREETCAR or bathtubs.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Many films were made about the tragic event, but--inasmuch as Director James Cameron made his after the ship was located under water--his is probably the most accurate. He’d seen the latest documentary aired on television and “tried to get it right.” Not that he totally succeeded. I’ve watched my DVD of the film many times, and this is my own opinion of whether or not he was successful.

First, he admits he exaggerated some things for the purpose of telling a gripping, “must-see” movie. As I mentioned earlier, he showed locked gates, whereas testimony denies there were any.

Second, he admits that, after the bow broke away from the stern, the angle of the ship changed and was not as steep as before. So his scenes of the stern at a 45-degree angle--and passengers sliding and falling down the steep incline--were done to heighten the moviegoer’s feeling of desperation, and not because it was true. Passengers in the lifeboats who watched the actual sinking and were interviewed during the two inquiries that followed, told a different story.

After the film came out, some critics complained that--when the iceberg appeared and the First Officer called, “Hard A-Starboard”--the steersman turned the wheel the wrong way. However, as was explained in my earlier post, that wasn’t true. Cameron got that right.

At about the same time, however, Cameron shows Rose and Jack on the deck, talking and kissing, and she is wearing a short-sleeved party dress. Moments before, he showed Fleet and Lee in the crow’s nest, shivering in their heavy coats and caps, but Rose is gaily walking about outside when the temperature had dropped to below freezing.

Not everyone who sees the film will be as concerned as I was about the fact that all the women on board the ship were wearing bright red lipstick. Did no one tell Cameron or the makeup department that simply wasn’t done in 1912? I wrote a memoir of my husband’s aunt, set in 1913-14 (THE GREEN BOUGH), and while I was interviewing her, she assured me that “nice” women did not wear “lip-rouge,” as they called it then. Only actresses on the stage (and they were considered a lower class) wore it.

Thanks to Netflix, I’ve watched two other black-and-white films set on the Titanic, one with Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb, released in 1953. The filmakers thinking the ship went down in one piece is an understandable mistake, but showing Clifton Webb buying a ticket from a person in third class because the ship was full is inexcusable. There were many empty cabins and the wealthy man could certainly have found one in first class.

The other, a British film starring Kenneth More as Second Officer Charles Lightoller, was titled A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and was more accurate in spite of some minor errors due to the ship not having been found at that time, as well as some cinematic “license.”

It’s been my pleasure to provide information about Titanic that you might not have known, and I hope you will read and enjoy COLD APRIL.