Most people know that James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster “Titanic” was based on real events. On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic was headed to New York when it hit an iceberg and sank, leading to massive casualties. But there were a few survivors of the terrible wreck, and they were able to share the story of what happened on the ship when they got back to dry land.
Although the characters Jack and Rose were made up for the film, some of the over 2,000 passengers seen in the film actually existed in real life. Many of them were some of the wealthiest people alive in the early 20th century, and a few of them were the folks who worked on the ship and saw its demise. Let’s see how the onscreen characters compared to their real-life counterparts.
Margaret Brown in the Film
Margaret Brown was played by actress Kathy Bates. As moviegoers might recall, Rose’s mom referred to Margaret as "new blood," meaning that she had recently come into her vast fortune rather than inheriting the wealth from her family.
Margaret Brown in Real Life
In real life, Margaret Brown had earned the nickname the Unsinkable Molly Brown. The reason behind this was that she had begged the crewman on her lifeboat to go back to where the ship sank to rescue other passengers. Some say the lifeboat did return while others claim it didn’t. But regardless of how events unfolded, Brown’s story became a musical in 1960 called “The Unsinkable Molly Brown."
Captain Edward Smith in the Film
Long before actor Bernard Hill took on the role of Theoden in “The Lord of the Rings,” he put on a captain’s hat and took command of the Titanic’s bridge as Captain Edward James Smith. But did his real-life counterpart suffer the same fate as the character?
Captain Edward Smith in Real Life
Captain Edward Smith did exist in real life and he did captain the RMS Titanic. Sadly, he upheld the old sea faring tradition of going down with the ship when the Titanic sank. But he did have a wife and a daughter who were alive and well after the incident.
Joseph Bruce Ismay in the Film
Actor Jonathan Hyde portrayed the character Joseph Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line. The character was an aristocrat with perfectly combed hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. But did the real-life Ismay survive like the character in the film?
Joseph Bruce Ismay in Real Life
In real life, Joseph Bruce Ismay was the managing director of White Star Line, the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company. He appeared in front of a board of inquiry in the United States Senate to discuss the disaster. He was also criticized for jumping on a life boat and saving himself when there were still women and children in distress aboard the doomed ship.
John Jacob Astor IV in the Film
German-born American actor Eric Braeden is best known as Victor Newman on the popular daytime soap opera “The Young and the Restless.” But he played John Jacob Astor IV, a real-life passenger aboard the Titanic who was super rich.
John Jacob Astor IV in Real Life
John Jacob Astor IV wasn’t just the Titanic’s richest passenger. He was also considered one of the richest men on the planet, at least he was at the time. Unfortunately, he lost his life when the Titanic sank. His body was eventually found and identified by the initials embroidered in his jacket.
Madeleine Force in the Film
Madeleine Force was played by English actress Charlotte Chatton, who is best known for playing Emma in “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.” Although her role was small, moviegoers might recall that the character was pregnant, but was the real Force pregnant, too?
Madeleine Force in Real Life
Like the character in the film, Madeleine Force was pregnant in real life. She and her husband John Jacob Astor IV, were headed to America so she could have the baby there. And unlike her husband, she did survive and four months later, her baby was born.
Cosmo Duff-Gordon in the Film
The role of Cosmo Duff-Gordon was played by actor Martin Jarvis, who has had a distinguished career in theater, film and television as well as radio acting. In the film, he played an Olympic silver medalist who did the same thing Joseph Bruce Ismay did.
Cosmo Duff-Gordon in Real Life
White Star had established a regulation that women and children would be rescued first in the event of a disaster, but Cosmo Duff-Gordon ignored the rule and survived. The silver medalist in fencing drew tons of criticism for his seemingly cowardly act much like Ismay had.
Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon in the Film
English actress Rosalind Ayres played Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon, the wife of Cosmo Duff-Gordon. Ayres is the real-life wife of actor Martin Jarvis who played Cosmo. And like her character, the real Lucy was also a fashion designer, but she was also so much more.
Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon in Real Life
Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon was a fashion designer, but she didn’t simply design lingerie. She was also a writer who was famous for her columns about fashion for major magazines like Good Housekeeping and Harper’s Bazaar.
Benjamin Guggenheim in the Film
Benjamin Guggenheim was played by Michael Ensign, who has appeared in major films like 1984’s “Ghostbusters.” In “Titanic,” he took on the role of Guggenheim, a wealthy businessman who was joined on the journey by his mistress, Leontine Aubart.
Benjamin Guggenheim in Real Life
Benjamin Guggenheim was so wealthy that his brother Solomon Guggenheim’s name is literally on The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation in New York City. Unfortunately, Guggenheim himself did not survive the sinking of the Titanic. His valet, Victor Giglio, also perished.
Noël Leslie, Countess of Rothes in the Film
Noël Leslie, Countess of Rothes, was played by British actress Rochelle Rose. Unfortunately, the role was relatively small. And most moviegoers might not even remember the character. But in real life, the Countess was a total hero.
Noël Leslie, Countess of Rothes in Real Life
In real life, Noël Leslie, Countess of Rothes was responsible for steering her lifeboat away from the Titanic as it sank and eventually steering it towards the rescue ship. This made her the ultimate superhero in the midst of a horrible disaster.
Thomas Andrews in the Film
Thomas Andrews was played by Canadian actor Victor Garber who is best known for his role as Jack Bristow on the TV show “Alias.” In the film, Andrews is portrayed as the kind-hearted shipbuilder of the RMS Titanic.
Thomas Andrews in Real Life
Thomas Andrews was in fact the one responsible for building the “unsinkable” Titanic that ended up sinking anyway. And like his movie counterpart, Andrews did try help the passengers by handing them life jackets and directing them to the escape boats. But in the end, he couldn’t save himself.
William Murdoch in the Film
In the film, William Murdoch was played by Scottish actor Ewan Stewart. And as many moviegoers will recall, Murdoch shot one of Jack’s friends who was trying to board an escape boat. After realizing what he had done, Murdoch put a gun to himself and passed away.
William Murdoch in Real Life
William Murdoch was the RMS Titanic’s first officer, but no one can say for sure whether he committed suicide like his movie character. After “Titanic” came out, however, Murdoch’s family was peeved and demanded that James Cameron and 20th Century Fox apologize for portraying their relative in such a horrible manner.
John “Jack” Phillips in the Film
John Phillips was played by British actor Gregory Cooke. And while there was no Jack in real life, at least not one like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the film, the British sailor and senior wireless operator aboard Titanic was known as Jack.
John “Jack” Phillips in Real Life
Like his movie counterpart, John “Jack” Phillips also sent out a distress call after the Titanic was struck by the iceberg. Unfortunately, he didn’t survive. But ironically, Harold Bride, who was the junior wireless operator onboard the Titanic did survive and ended up testifying in front of the United States Senate.
Frederick Fleet in the Film
In the 1997 film, Frederick Fleet was played by actor Scott Anderson. The character was the lookout who first spotted the iceberg on the horizon that the infamous ship would soon hit. The English actor has also made appearances on the series “Sons of Anarchy” and in a film in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.
Frederick Fleet in Real Life
Frederick Fleet was the person who warned others on the ship about the oncoming iceberg, and this event proved to be a defining moment in his life. He managed to survive the shipwreck and he also survived serving in both World War I and World War II. But these events had a lasting effect on his mental health and he passed away by suicide in 1965.
Harold Bride in the Film
Harold Bride was played by actor Craig Kelly in the film, and he was the junior wireless operator on board the Titanic. Kelly is an English actor who is best known for playing the character Vince Tyler in the British series “Queer as Folk.” He has also appeared on the British shows “Doctor Who” and “The Walking Dead” in recent years.
Harold Bride in Real Life
While modern technology was still in its infancy, Harold Bride had a very important role on the wireless operating team on board the ship. He was another man who was able to survive the sinking of the ship and he even testified during the Senate inquiry about the ship’s demise. He also sold his stories about the voyage to the New York Times for $1,000.
Charles Lightoller in the Film
Charles Lightoller was the second officer on the Titanic and he was played by actor Jonathan Phillips in the film. Phillips is an English actor who has appeared on British series such as “Hunted,” “Death in Paradise,” and “Inspector Lewis.” The 2017 war film “Dunkirk” included character Mark Rylance, whose story arc closely mirrored the real life Lightoller’s experience on the Titanic.
Charles Lightoller in Real Life
As second officer on the Titanic, Charles Lightoller had an important job to do on board. He fortunately survived the infamous wreck and he continued to work for the White Star Line, the British shipping company that was responsible for creating the RMS Titanic. He later served in World War I before assisting in the Dunkirk evacuation during World War II.
Henry Wilde in the Film
Henry Wilde was the chief officer on the Titanic and in the film, he was played by actor Mark Lindsay Chapman. Chapman is an English actor who is best remembered for portraying musician John Lennon in the 2007 film “Chapter 27.” He has also appeared on the television series “Dallas,” “Baywatch,” and “Charmed.”
Henry Wilde in Real Life
As chief officer of the ship, Henry Wilde had an important role in navigating the ship to its final destination. He was so committed to this role that he unfortunately perished when the ship sank. He had worked in many different roles on several ships for the White Star Line company prior to his job on the Titanic.
Ida Straus in the Film
Ida Staus was a wealthy passenger of the Titanic who boarded the ship with her husband Isidor Straus. In the film she was played by actress Elsa Raven. Raven was known for her television work on series such as “Amen” and “Wiseguy.” She also had a memorable role in the film “Back to the Future” as the ‘clock tower lady.’
Ida Straus in Real Life
Ida Straus was born in Germany before she emigrated to the United States and married her husband, who was a wealthy businessman. Together they had seven children and were considered a loving couple by everyone who knew them. On the night of the shipwreck, the couple refused to get on a lifeboat while there were still young women and children aboard the ship, and when Ida was offered a place on a lifeboat, she refused to leave her husband on board. The couple sadly perished together on board the ship.
Isidor Straus in the Film
Isidor Straus was the co-owner of Macy’s department store, and he chose to board the Titanic with his wife in 1912. In the film he was played by Lew Palter, who had a memorable television career. He is best known for his roles on TV series such as “Day by Day,” “The Waltons,” and “The Six Million Dollar Man.”
Isidor Straus in Real Life
Isidor Straus was a Bavarian-born businessman and politician who co-founded the department store Macy’s along with his brother Nathan. He also served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1894 to 1895. There are three memorials to his life across the U.S. including a plaque that can be seen on the main floor of the Macy’s department store in Manhattan.
Colonel Archibald Gracie IV in the Film
The famous dinner scene in the film includes the character Colonel Archibald Gracie IV, who was played by Bernard Fox. Fox was a Welsh actor who was best known for his roles on television including Dr. Bombay on the series “Bewitched,” Colonel Crittendon on “Hogan’s Heroes,” and Malcolm Merriweather on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Colonel Archibald Gracie IV in Real Life
In real life, Colonel Archibald Gracie IV was one of the many people who survived the fatal wreck. He was able to climb atop an overturned lifeboat and make his way to safety while the ship was sinking. Gracie was also a soldier, historian and real estate investor who also wrote a popular book about the disaster, which is still in print today.
Wallace Henry Hartley in the Film
Wallace Henry Hartley, a band leader who instructed his band to play as the ship sank, was played by Jonathan Evans-Jones in the film. In real life, Jonathan Evans-Jones is a talented violinist and music arranger. He has lent his violin playing talents to other films such as “No Time to Die,” “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle,” and “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
Wallace Henry Hartley in Real Life
Many people believe that continuing to play music as the ship sank would be a bad idea, but Hartley instructed his band to do this to calm down the passengers on board who were beginning to panic about the ongoing situation. He tragically passed away due to the shipwreck, but others who survived passed down the story of his unique sense of bravery.