Real Titanic Passengers

The Real Titanic Passengers Versus the Actors Who Portrayed Them on Screen


| LAST UPDATE 01/03/2022

By Macie Deleon

Rose and Jack stole the world's hearts with their love story in James Cameron's 1997 film, Titanic. But surrounding the fictional plotline were characters inspired by actual passengers of the legendary ship.

Fifth Officer Harold Lowe

First off on our list is Fifth Officer Harold Lowe, who survived the Titanic's sinking and later became known as somewhat of a hero. Lowe took initiative during the tragedy and helped save many people.

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Wikimedia via Lucianovann / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

In fact, according to reports, he was the only officer on board who assisted others instead of solely looking out for himself. Actor Ioan Gruffudd played Officer Harold in the 1997 film, where viewers saw him rescue Rose from the turbulent and cold water.

Margaret Brown

Who could forget the lovely Margaret Brown? Played by Kathy Bates, she was the kind soul who helped Jack look the part for his debut in the first-class dining hall. And, according to accounts, Mrs. Brown was just as charming in real life and nicknamed the "unsinkable Molly Brown."

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DE AGOSTINI PICTURE LIBRARY / Contributor via Getty Images / 20th Century Fox/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

Margaret reportedly fought for her lifeboat to go back and find others left stranded in the wreck and later created a survivors' support group. "There are true accounts saying that she did that," said Paul Burns, former Vice President of the Titanic Museum Attractions.

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Wallace Henry Hartley

Another iconic scene from Titanic that was inspired by actual events was the part where the ship's band continued playing even as they went down. Wallace Henry Hartley, played by Jonathan Evans-Jones, was the violinist who sacrificed his safety to bring beauty and calmness to other passengers.

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Wikimedia via Wallace Henry Harvey / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

"There was no effort to save themselves," explained Don Lynch, historian for the Titanic Historical Society, of the band members. "They understood that the ship was sinking and that they were needed to keep people calm, and so they just kept playing."

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Captain Edward Smith

Captain Edward Smith was another real-life person who James Cameron chose to portray in his movie. But accounts show that the on-screen depiction of the Captain, taken on by actor Bernard Hill, was not wholly accurate. Smith was quite the hero during the tragedy.

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Topical Press Agency / Stringer via Getty Images / 20th Century Fox/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

"Smith actually took a header dive off of the front of the wheelhouse into the sea and then swam around helping people get to lifeboats," said historian Tim Maltin. "He was actually offered a seat on a lifeboat, but he refused to get on board because he was helping people out. He was completely heroic."

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Ida and Isador Straus

It seems there are countless scenes that melt audiences' hearts in this 1997 classic. But the most tear-jerker of them all - excluding when Jack passes, of course - was the scene depicting the elderly couple seen below on the right as they hugged in bed and awaited their end on the sinking ship.

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Wikimedia via Unknown / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

The lovebirds were played by Else Raven and Lew Palter, based on real-life husband and wife Isador and Ida Straus. Both of them could have gotten on a lifeboat, but Isador reportedly refused to board one while there were still women and children on the Titanic. And his wife chose to stay with him.

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Thomas Andrews

According to Paul Burns, former V.P. of the Titanic Museum Attractions, James Cameron "wanted to surround [the roles played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet], particularly in first-class, with real passengers." And one of those people was none other than the ship designer himself.

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Historia/Shutterstock / 20th Century Fox/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

Thomas Andrews, played by Victor Garber, was the Titanic's designer and was depicted in the film as giving into the wreck and letting Rose have his vest. And real-life accounts indicate that was quite accurate: survivors said the last time they saw Thomas, he was standing silently in the Smoking Room, his lifejacket on the floor.

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Benjamin Guggenheim

Fans might remember this top-hat-wearing man, played by Michal Ensign, as the fancy pants who wouldn't wear a lifejacket. In the film, the character refused to wear a one because he was dressed in his best attire. "But we would like a brandy," he added. And apparently, there might be some truth to that scene!

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Topical Press Agency / Stringer via Getty Images / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

Michal's character was based on businessman Benjamin Guggenheim. "[Guggenheim's] steward claimed afterward that he helped him get dressed warmly, and that later he was up on deck with his valet and they were both in tuxedos," historian Don Lynch detailed. "And he said, 'We are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.'"

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Charles Joughin

Viewers might recall the man pictured below on the right, played by Liam Tuohy, from the 1997 movie. The mustached man was seen holding on for dear life along with Rose and Hack on the Titanic's railing. The real-life person behind the character was Charles Joughin.

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Historia/Shutterstock / YouTube via der450

The chief baker on the RMS Titanic, Joughin never got on a lifeboat and instead helped women into empty seats. "We threw them in," he later testified at inquiries over the shipwreck. Charles ultimately survived by treading water until dawn, when he found a lifeboat.

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J. Bruce Ismay

While some survivors and victims of the shipwreck were remembered for their heroic actions, that was far from the case for J. Bruce Ismay. Chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, the British shipping company behind the RMS Titanic, he was the highest-ranking official to survive the wreck.

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George Rinhart / Contributor via Getty Images / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

This earned him a not-so-great reputation U.Sspecially in the U.S. According to BBC writer Rosie Waites, Ismay was "universally condemned in America" and labeled "J. Brute Ismay" by the press. The survivor was portrayed on-screen by the talented Anthony Jonathan Hyde.

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John Jacob Astor

Up next is late business mogul John Jacob Astor, who sadly did not survive the sinking. Eric Braedon played the historical figure's on-screen character, and James Cameron made sure to be as historically accurate as possible when it came to the roles based on real people.

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Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

According to historian Don Lynch, the renowned director thoughtfully chose which real persons to portray as he wrote the script. Lynch was later present on set to give actors insight into their characters' authentic accents and personalities. Such was the case with John Jacob Astor's portrayal.

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Colonel Archibald Gracie IV

Up next is Colonel Archibald Gracie IV, represented by actor Bernard Fox in the film. While the two men didn't necessarily look too similar, their matching mustaches and Fox's accurate portrayal of the Colonel's speaking brought life to the historical figure.

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Wikimedia via HefePine23 / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

The real-life Colonel survived the RMS Titanic's sinking. After helping women get into lifeboats and sending off the last one, Archibald went down with the ship before making his way back to the surface and finding refuge with others in a fallen lifeboat.

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Lucy Noël Martha, Countess of Rothes

The Countess of Rothes, seen below on the left, was another survivor and a real-life hero James Cameron chose to bring back to life on the big screen. Lucy Noël Martha was instrumental in helping her lifeboat get away from the sinking Titanic and to safety.

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UniversalImagesGroup / Contributor via Getty Images / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

"She had a lot to say, so I put her to steering the boat," recalled Seaman Thomas Jones, who was on the lifeboat with the Countess. Lucy, played by Rochelle Rose in the film, comforted the other passengers, gave instructions, and got them safely to the Carpathia, where they were rescued.

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Madeleine Force

RMS Titanic survivor Madeleine Force was portrayed by the lovely Charlotte Chatton. In the movie and real life, Force was the wife of John Jacob Astor, the richest person on board the ship. They were headed back to the U.S. so that a pregnant Madeleine could give birth there.

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Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

Fortunately, Force survived the wreck. Unfortunately, her husband did not. The widowed mother gave birth to her and Astor's baby boy on August 14, 1912, a mere four months after the tragedy. She lovingly named their son John Jacob after his late father.

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Cosmo Duff-Gordon

Cosmo Duff-Gordon, played by actor Martin Jarvis, survived the Titanic by getting on the first lifeboat with his wife. And he was severely criticized for putting himself ahead of women and children. Actress Celia Imrie, a relative of the late Duff-Gordon, later defended him, saying that she, too, would have "trodden on heads" to survive.

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Historia/Shutterstock / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

"The survival instinct in our being is huge," Celia said. She also claimed that Cosmo paid the seamen on his lifeboat - something he received much hate for - not as a bribe but as a gesture of kindness. "He was kind of ostracized because it looked like a bribe, but the fact is that the minute the ship goes down, the crew members have nothing."

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Lady Duff-Gordon

Cosmo's real-life wife was also included in James Cameron's recreation of the shipwreck. She, too, received much criticism for her husband's actions. Actress Rosalind Ayres took on the controversial role - and nailed it. From her looks to her behaviors, she understood Lady Duff-Gordon.

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Historia/Shutterstock / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

"Inside this floating palace that spring evening in 1912, warmth, lights, the hum of voices, the lilt of a German waltz - the unheeding sounds of a small world bent on pleasure," the real Lady recalled of the tragic night. "Then disaster, swift and overwhelming - a story of horror unparalleled in the annals of the sea."

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First Officer William Murdoch

First Officer William Murdoch's on-screen portrayal, done by Ewan Stewart, was met with scandal after the film's 1997 premiere. The Officer's real-life family didn't appreciate James Cameron's embellishment of the story, which involved Murdoch bringing his life to an end during the sinking.

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Historia/Shutterstock / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

"We don't know that he did that, but you know the storyteller in me says, 'Oh,'" Cameron explained. "I wasn't thinking about being a historian, and I think I wasn't sensitive about the fact that his family, his survivors might feel offended by that, and they were."

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Frederick Fleet

Titanic lovers will likely recognize the face seen below on the right: actor Scott Anderson played the part of the crewman who first spotted the deadly iceberg. "Iceberg, right ahead!" he yelled in the movie. And as it turns out, this wasn't far from reality.

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Glasshouse Images/Shutterstock / YouTube via kinobscura

Anderson's part was based on real-life crewman and Titanic survivor Frederick Fleet. He and his co-lookout Reginald Lee were in the ship's crow's nest when they suddenly noticed the iceberg. Their job was made especially difficult that night due to the darkness and calm waters, making it hard to see an iceberg.

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John George "Jack" Phillips

John George "Jack" Phillips was named the RMS Titanic's Chief Telegraphist in March 1912. The following month, he became possibly one of the most responsible for the ship's iceberg collision. As Jack worked in the wireless room, another ship attempted to warn him about the incoming iceberg.

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Print Collector / Contributor via Getty Images / Tri Star/Kobal/Shutterstock

The Californian sent the RMS Titanic a warning but it was disregarded by the Chief Telegraphist. "Keep out, I am working Cape Race," Phillips told the other ship, as their messages were interrupting his work. Gregory Cooke played the laU.K. John George on screen.

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Harold Bride

Working alongside John George Phillips in the wireless room was was Junior Wireless Operator Harold Bride, played on-screen by Craig Kelly. Unlike his coworker, the 22-year-old fortunately survived the accident. Bride grabbed onto a damaged lifeboat after being washed off the ship's deck.

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Mirrorpix / Contributor via Getty Images / ITV/Shutterstock

Harold spent hours in the freezing waters until he was ultimately rescued by the Carpathia. He then went right back to work sending telegraphic messages for other survivors while onboard their rescue ship! Bride went on to live until the age of 66, when he passed away in Scotland.

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Second Officer Charles Lightoller

Second Officer Charles Lightoller was the most senior crewman to survive the Titanic's sinking. Fate certainly had big plans for Lightoller: Charles went on to save around 130 lives when he voluntarily partook in the Dunkirk evacuation of World War II.

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Historia/Shutterstock / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

But the truth is, he hardly made it. "I was drowning, and a matter of another couple of minutes would have seen me through," Lightoller recalled of that fateful night in 1912. "Suddenly, a terrific blast of hot air came up the shaft, and blew me right away from the airshaft and up to the surface." Jonathan Phillips played the brave crewman on-screen.

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Chief Naval Officer Henry Wilde

Chief Naval Officer Henry Wilde, brought back to life by actor John Phillips' performance, was never supposed to have worked the Titanic. The Officer was switched from his usual position to the RMS Titanic for just one trip. And it turned out to be fatal.

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Topical Press Agency / Stringer via Getty Images / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

"He was a fine fellow and one for whom I had the greatest admiration," Second Officer Charles Lightoller later said of him. "It was frightfully hard luck on him that he should have been temporarily transferred from the Olympic to the Titanic for just one voyage."

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Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall

"For the movie Titanic, we unearthed every known photograph, poured over architectural drawings, and built our ship rivet by rivet, making sure everything was in its rightful place, as was known back in 1996," James Cameron detailed. And among those photos was, no doubt, a shot of Joseph Boxhall.

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Wikimedia via Register of Seamen / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

Commander Boxhall, played by Simon Crane, was the Fourth Officer aboard the legendary ship. He took charge of one of the lifeboats and brought all eighteen of its passengers, plus himself, to safety. After his passing in 1967, Joseph's ashes were scattered over the shipwreck.

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Sixth Officer James Moody

Sixth Officer James Moody was the only junior officer who didn't survive the calamity. But because of him, many others did. According to testimonies, Moody helped load five lifeboats. Various survivors recounted endless kind - and life-saving - actions by the Officer.

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Wikimedia via Unknown author / IMDb - Titanic (1997) via Paramount Pictures

In fact, each time James had a spot on a lifeboat, he willfully gave it to someone else. While it's unclear at which point Moody passed, it's speculated that a large wave sweeped his body into the waters. Actor Edward Fletcher had the honor of portraying him on the big screen.

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Reginald Lee

Reginald Lee was the man standing right next to Frederick Fleet as he famously yelled, "Iceberg, right ahead!" And according to Frederick's testimony following the incident, Reginald probably spotted the iceberg at the same time as he. "I think he was just as soon as me," Fleet recounted.

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Wikimedia via Gordon Lee / YouTube via kinobscura

And while James Cameron's version of the events might've portrayed the pair as slightly irresponsible, that wasn't the case. "We were looking all over the place, all around," Frederick said. Reginald, who was played by Martin East, survived the sinking but he passed away the following year.

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Frederick Barrett

From the boiler room below to the first-class deck above, 1997's Titanic gave viewers a look into what the disastrous incident was like in each part of the ship. And the bioler room is where we met actor Derek Lea as he portrayed the real-life lead stoker Frederick Barrett.

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Wikimedia via Unknown author / YouTube via kinobscura

During a hearing following the horrendous events, Barrett recalled how he and his crew had to stop working because of the water flowing in. "We did go back, but we could not go in there because there were about eight feet of water when we got there," Frederick said.

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Father Thomas Byles

The iconic scene where a priest is scene hanging onto the ship's railing for dear life while simultaneously helping others and leading a prayer service might seem like something only out of a movie. But it was actually inspired by real events. James Lancaster portrayed Father Thomas Byles, a victim of the shipwreck.

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Wikimedia via Unknown author / YouTube via 20th Century Studios UK

Instead of running to a lifeboat when the chaos began, Father Byles helped third-class Irish passengers find safety. Not only that, but he held confession and gave countless people "absolution and blessings," as one survivor recalled. "Father Byles could have been saved but he would not leave," she added.

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Quartermaster Robert Hichens

Actor Paul Brightwell portrayed Quartermaster Robert Hichens, the man at the wheel of the Titanic when she collided with the iceberg. While Robert survived the wreck and led a lifeboat full of people to safety, it haunted him forever as fellow survivor Margaret Brown spread the word that he refused to go back for more passengers.

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Wikimedia via / YouTube via kinobscura

"Robert Hichens had been given direct orders by his captain to drop off passengers and then return," Sally Nilsson, Hichens' great-granddaughter, said. "Molly Brown went to the papers when they were rescued and put the nail in the coffin for Robert, by saying he was a coward and a bully."

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