Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dorothy Gibson & "Saved from the Titanic"

April 14, 1912, 11:40 pm. The Titanic strikes an iceberg in the North Atlantic that would cause it to sink the next day. Although we've seen the story of the Titanic dozens of times, through various TV and film variations, the story that could potentially offer us the most insight into this legendary tragedy was lost in a vault fire 99 years ago.

Dorothy Gibson

Dorothy Gibson had only been in films for a year when she set sail on the Titanic with her mother. She had gotten her start with IMP company and in July 1911, she signed with the U.S. branch of the Paris-based Eclair Studios. She found fame and praise for her light comedies as well as her dramas, but her experience on the Titanic would push her into a new level of fame.

Dorothy Gibson

While Gibson and her mother were playing bridge with some of their fellow passengers, the ship struck the iceberg. The women escaped on the first lifeboat launched and arrived in New York via the ship Carpathia. It was when she arrived that Gibson's manager asserted she should appear in a film based on the disaster. Gibson went a step further, penning the scenario for the film from her experiences. The film, titled "Saved from the Titanic" and even featured Gibson wearing the clothes she was rescued in.

Dorothy Gibson in Saved from the Titanic

Dorothy Gibson in Saved from the Titanic

Moving Picture World praise the "Saved" as a "surprising and artistically perfect reel," while also praising Gibson for her ability to deal with the trauma of the event while still being able to perform at the top of her game. In addition to having the distinction of being a first person account of the disaster, it was also the very first film about it, released just 29 days after the sinking. Although Gibson, along with Mary Pickford, was the highest paid movie star in the world, it didn't push her to continue her film career. She retired from the film industry in May 1912. Unfortunately, the only known print of "Saved from the Titanic" was destroyed in an Eclair Studios vault fire in 1914, depriving the world of one of silent film's most intriguing performances and stories.

Dorothy Gibson in Saved from the Titanic

Eclair was not the only studio or, indeed, company, eager to profit off of the Titanic tragedy. Warner's Features released footage of Captain Smith and billed it for what it was -- footage of the captain on the sister ship of the Titanic, the Olympic, during inspection shortly before it set sail. Although the footage was not of the Titanic itself, the notice noted that the Olympic's construction was similar to that of the Titanic, and that this was the only filmed footage of the late captain ever taken.


At some point, however, other distributors also acquired the footage and altered it so that it could be marketed as footage of the Titanic itself just before setting sail. They even scratched and damaged the film so that the names of the ships were obscured.


You can watch the footage of Captain Smith on the Olympic below.