Friday, April 15, 2011

Titanic: April 15, 1912

The following entry appeared in a slightly revised format on April 15 and 16, 2010.


The big ship ran across an ice field shortly before midnight. Within three hours, one of the great dramas of the twentieth century unfolded. In a disputed section of ocean, the ice prevailed, the ocean abided, and the sepulchres went unmarked.

Titanic was theatre, in real time, in three acts. The time it took to sink approximated that which it takes to perform a play. Ice, then heroism and cowardice, acceptance and denial shared the decks. Death took no holiday, heeded no class. The rich drowned among the poor. Mrs. Straus chose to stay, and from such drama sprang the literature, from the literature -- the legend. And Lady Marjorie later went into the Atlantic as did Noel Coward's newly wed Marryots.

It is said that an era died on that cold night a scant two years before the lamps went out and the east wind blew. The Edwardians are gone, but the world long remembers a maiden voyage, a wicked ocean, and the night Titanic slipped into the sea.

Note: About thirty years ago, I wrote the above as an introduction to the Titanic section in an antiquarian book catalogue for Gravesend Books.

I first crossed the North Atlantic on a troopship in 1958. And then I crossed westbound in January 1960. My wife and I traversed it numerous times since, during the next half century. And each time, on each trip, when we pass reasonably close to those unmarked sepulchres, one can almost hear again that simple piece of music which some called Autumn. For when at sea, one cannot help but hear the sounds of yesteryear, listen to the voices of those who have crossed before, and to think of the ships now gone to that neverland into which mystical ships pass.

The waters of reverie do not come with proper charts. I was a child of the Great Depression and in those days our parents discussed Titanic in general conversation, spoke of the Morro Castle, and my father, being a New Yorker, talked often about the General Slocum. So peril at sea and on other waterways was part of our world. (As our uncles learned, in the 1940s while travelling in khaki aboard the great Queens.)

I later learned about Titanic in the relatively dry surroundings of Bronx movie houses. The first I remember was the Negulesco / Stanwyck film (with the great Thelma Ritter) and some others which used a Titanic-like motif (e.g., History is Made at Night). A few years later came the Walter Lord book and its filmed manifestation: the excellent A Night to Remember. A spate of books (and television versions) carried us through the next decades until 1995 when Titanic surfaced on Broadway in a very good musical: Titanic.

The public memory of the play has been somewhat swamped by the later film spectacle of 1997, on which I shall refrain from comment. Like the controversial Captain Lord of the Californian, I will ignore the rockets glare from that aberration and return to my reverie.

Titanic (the musical) played at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway from April 1997 through March 1999. It ran through 804 performances. I saw it first alone and then, a second time, with my wife. We were both quite moved by it.

1 comment:

  1. i just wanna say that ,, i miss watching titanic..