“TITANIC” is Steve Orlandella’s masterpiece. His love affair with those in peril on the sea that fateful night started when he was a young boy. He saw every film made, read most books on the subject, and spent couple of years writing this book, obsessed with “The Convergence of the Twain.” He wanted “TITANIC” to be accurate, spending huge chunks of time doing research. His approach is unique. He covers people and events before, during, and after April 1912. His personality is intertwined throughout. “On your behalf, I will be skeptical, factual, analytical, and when required cynical.”
“TITANIC” is a compelling read, for sale on www.amazon.com.
“In the fall of 1960, I was a ten-year-old, growing up in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Even then I was sarcastic, opinionated, and well on my way to becoming obnoxious. The phrase most often used was, “A little too smart for his own good.” Perhaps. Duplicit in all this were my parents, who spoiled me rotten. One of my numerous privileges was permission to stay up late on Saturday night…very late.
Toward the end of the 1950s, television in Los Angeles was in a state of flux. The Country’s number three [now number two] market had seven stations, a wealth of airtime and a dearth of programming. The three network affiliates and the four independents turned to motion pictures to fill the void, so much so that one station, Channel 9, ran the same movie every night for a week. Hey, I love Jimmy Cagney, but how many times can you watch “Yankee Doodle Dandy?” The stations also had the nasty habit of cutting the films to pieces, the classic case being Channel 7, the ABC affiliate who filled their 3:30-5pm slots by slicing and dicing 2-hour movies down to 67 minutes. They came close to cutting Ingrid Bergman out of “Casablanca.”
Channel 2, the CBS Affiliate, had no such problem. [They had “Lucy;” they had “Jackie Gleason.”] “The Fabulous 52” was reserved for Saturday night at 11:30pm, and, since the only things that followed the movie were the National Anthem and a test pattern, they ran uncut. The station held the rights to a package of relatively recent films from 20th Century Fox. One Saturday afternoon my dad announced, “Titanic is on tonight.” I had no idea who or what was “Titanic,” but we gathered in the family room at 11:30. For the next two hours, I sat transfixed, mesmerized by what we were seeing.
If you are scoring at home, it was the 1953 version with Barbara Stanwyck, Clifton Webb and a young Robert Wagner. They had me.
In 1964, I came across a copy of A Night to Remember, Walter Lord’s seminal work on the events of April 14-15, 1912, and the following year, saw the movie made [in England, 1958] from Lord’s book. It was a film made by people who wanted to get it right. This was the game changer. The Fox movie opens with a page of text proclaiming that all the facts in the film were taken right from the United States Senate and British Board of Trade Inquiries. “Really?” Even then, Fox knew how to “play fast and loose with the truth.” As good as their movie was, and it was good, it paled before the Brit’s film. Fifteen hundred people did not all stand together, sing “Nearer My God To Thee,” and meekly sink into the North Atlantic. They fought and struggled until their last breath, trying not to freeze or drown in the unforgiving sea. Madeleine Astor wasn’t an elegant matron. She was in fact, a pregnant teenager. That was it, “Game On!” I absorbed every book I could find, any TV program I could watch, and every newspaper on microfilm, along with help from the Titanic Historical Society. Add that to my natural affinity for ships, and an obsession was born. For some it’s The Civil War, for others it’s the Kennedy Assassination, for me it is The Royal Mail Steamship Titanic.
Part of the obsession stems from the fact that no event in history is so loaded with conjecture, myths, and downright lies as the wreck. Some of which are “beauties.” One example: A young David Sarnoff [co-founder of RCA] became famous telling the world how he was the first to pick-up the Titanic’s distress call in the station on the roof of Wanamaker’s Department Store and how he remained at the key all Sunday night and well into the next day. Great story? Absolutely. Truthful story? Absolutely not. Wanamaker’s was closed on Sunday, and even when the store was open, Sarnoff was the office manager. Three other employees of The Marconi Company stood the watch.
Fox reloaded and fired again in 1997. This time they tried it with a seemingly unlimited budget and an “amateur” historian calling the shots. Movie making? Unmatched. Story telling? Not so much. History? Nonexistent. There is a word for what you wind up with when you invent the leading characters. Fiction. Now, nobody loves Kate Winslet “in flagrante delicto” more than I do, but the truth is better. Thus, “Jack Dawson” and “Rose DeWitt” join “Julia Sturges” and “Lady Marjory Bellamy” as mythical creatures on a real ship.
And since you’re making stuff up, how about a little character assassination? The 1997 film depicted First Officer William Murdoch taking but ultimately rejecting a bribe from make-believe villain “Caledon Hockley.” Murdoch was also shown shooting two passengers dead after he presumed they intended to storm one of the remaining lifeboats. He then salutes Chief Officer Henry Wilde and commits suicide with a revolver. None of this ever happened. After the picture’s director [name withheld] refused to take out the bogus scenes, studio executives flew to Murdoch’s hometown to issue his relatives an apology. As for the movie, if you are looking for an accurate depiction of events – keep looking. Put another way, there was a ship called Titanic, and it sank. After that, you’re on your own.
The Civil War is far and away the all-time champion of most books. [One of Titanic’s passengers wrote “The Truth about Chickamauga.”] Second? The runner-up is World War II. Third? The correct guess is the Titanic. So, what is my mission statement? “What else?” Write yet another book. Now we tell her story, once again. This time we come armed with all we knew and all we have learned in the wake of Doctor Robert Ballard’s stunning discovery of the wreck in 1985. We will attempt to detail what is correct and dispel – whenever possible – at least some of what is not.
I spent my career working in television, the first seven years producing TV News. What did I learn? I learned skepticism, tinged with a bit of cynicism, and it has served me well. So, I will do your bidding. On your behalf, I will be skeptical, factual, analytical and when required, cynical. There is one thing I cannot be, dispassionate. I will stipulate to a love of all ships – but her most of all. By now you may be asking yourself, “Why so many pictures?” I confess that too is the TV producer in me. You always try to put a face with a story, plus there is always the possibility that you can’t recognize Turbinia.
If I am standing at all, it is on the shoulders of some truly great authors. I have read, re-read, and re-re-read their work over the years and have researched – borrowed – from them all. To the best of my ability, everything in this book is true. I believe in the concept that, if the Lord wanted us to remain silent, he wouldn’t have given us [brackets]. So, on occasion you’ll see a comment from yours truly. [I’ll be that most irritating of shipmates, the loud, opinionated one.]
The longest section of the book concerns the area around the Boat Deck between midnight and 2:20am. If it seems long [it’s real time] and overly detailed, I apologize, but to me this is the heart of the narrative. Hundreds of little dramas, played out on a sloping deck in the middle of a freezing ocean. Loved ones were torn apart, and families were destroyed. And with it came the sub-plots. Some got in lifeboats and some did not. Some were allowed in the boats and some were not. All of this begs the question: “Why?” Regardless, these are their stories, and on their behalf, I will make no apologies.
I have tried to keep the technological parts under control, and not drown my readers in facts and figures – but the brains and skill that created the Olympic-class liners are very much a part of this story.
Allow me just a couple of more thoughts before we proceed. There is one sentence that is common to virtually every book written about the RMS Titanic. “It had been a mild winter in the Arctic.”
It had, indeed. Ice that had been forming since well before the dawn of man was now at last free. Unfettered, it could leave Greenland and move into the Labrador Current and begin its journey south toward the shipping lanes. The ice was no different than previous years, only this year there would be more than usual – much more. There were small pieces of ice, what sailors called “growlers.” There were large sections, known as “sheet ice,” and larger still, “pack ice.” In between were hundreds of what every seaman feared most, what the Norsemen referred to as “mountains of ice.” Icebergs.
If you’re familiar with the advertising business, you probably know about the concepts of “marketing research” and “brand recognition.” Countless studies have been commissioned to find out what people can identify and what they like. The results are often quite surprising. For example, inquiries have determined that far more people [around the world] can recognize the “Cavallino Rampante” [in English, “The Prancing Horse” aka the “Ferrari” logo] than can recognize “Shell” or “Coca-Cola.” Then there is my favorite. For decades focus groups, when asked to identify the most famous ship in the world, gave the traditional answer, Noah’s Ark. No more. The runaway number one is now the Titanic. That’s “brand recognition.”
There is no way to tell the whole story in this little book, yet we will do our best. Call me crazy [you wouldn’t be the first] and maybe a little arrogant [see previous], but I feel it’s my duty to help set the record straight for fifteen hundred souls who went to a cold, watery grave that night. Time to depart. “All ashore that’s goin’ ashore!”
“TITANIC” is a compelling read, for sale on www.amazon.com.