Ever since my mother introduced me to the story of the RMS Titanic and Titanic Historical Society, I have always been interested in the world of ocean liners. I have toured the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA twice (the second time they had a Titanic exhibit) and have sailed on the RMS Queen Mary 2. One of my projects SOS United States is based around the story of an ocean liner. Of course it was the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on the MS Queen Elizabeth that has been a career highlight. Thus, you can imagine my excitement when I learned about the Ocean Liners exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.
Last Tuesday, on my birthday, I drove to the museum to check out this exhibit and could not have been more impressed with the level of detail and information. The exhibit starts with how the cruise lines advertised and promoted their ships before moving on to engineering, artifacts and life on board during those heyday times of travel by ocean liner. The 1947 model of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, which once adorned the New York offices of Cunard, was a featured display.
For me I was particularly interested in learning more about the SS United States. As some of you may know, in my story SOS United States the fictional SS Leviathan is based on the SS United States. As she was partially funded by the United States government, she was designed for speed and conversion to a troop ship in times of conflict. The tank and plating models were fascinating. Then there were select pieces of her fittings that were truly spectacular. But seeing the Blue Riband trophy on display really illustrated her place in history. The trophy was won by the SS United States in 1952 for recording the highest speed for westbound service in the Atlantic Ocean. She still holds that title today.
But for all the glitz and glamour of those days, there were those ocean liners that met unfortunate times. No story is more tragic and sad than that of the RMS Titanic. When I entered one of the galleries I saw a piece of beautifully sculpted wood on one of the walls. It was from her first class lounge. Apparently it had washed up in Nova Scotia after her tragic sinking on April 15, 1912. I found myself just staring at it and imagining the pomp and circumstance of those entering the lounge to enjoy a festive evening only to then picture the sheer horror as they tried to escape a doomed ship. We will never know what that was like, but this piece of living history is a reminder of those days long gone.
Another highlight was from Titanic’s sister ship RMS Olympic (known as “old reliable” as she was in service until 1935). Seeing the clock from her Grand Staircase was truly something. Considering this panel was identical on Titanic, it just makes that time in history all the more real when you see artifacts like this. There was other unique area of the exhibit that featured the entertainment industry. Select scenes from movies that took place on ocean liners; one of my favorites starring Bette Davis and Paul Henried in Now, Voyager.
But voyages by sea are still, in my view, the best way to travel. You arrive at the port of embarkation with your ship looming up in the near distance calling for attention. Soon you find yourself on board as your luggage is brought to you. And before you know it, you sail into your holiday. However, if your holiday is a New England one, visit the Peabody Essex Museum’s Ocean Liners exhibit. You’ll be glad you boarded.
What I love about screenwriting is the research that goes with it. When I wrote First World I learned about the Apollo space program, the Kennedy and Nixon administrations, the Roswell incident and how parts of the United Nations operate. For Justice Is Mind it was the science of mind-reading (“thought identification”), reincarnation, and complex legal issues from the introduction of evidence based on new science to the construction of a criminal trial. Whenever I write science fiction, I think it’s important to have it rooted in plausibility or at least have it explained with a sense of realism (Star Trek is great for that).
The basis for my political thriller SOS United States has always been around this premise – the possibility that an ocean liner may have a nuclear device on board. Where did the idea come from? I’ve always been interested in the Cold War and count Fail Safe and Seven Days in May as two of my favorite movies of the time. Add that interest to my passion for ocean liners and SOS United States was born. It was my mother that first got me interested in ocean liners in the 1970s with our membership in the Titanic Historical Society (Yes, Titanic is one of my favorite films).
With premise in mind I started my research. The ocean liner in my story needed to be fast, luxurious and military-like. It didn’t take long to discover the SS United States. Built in 1952 the luxury liner “was designed as part of a top-secret Pentagon program during the Cold War, which stipulated it could be quickly converted from a luxury liner into a naval troopship in the event of a war.” Needless to say I found my ship. And found her I did. Since the SS United States was retired in 1969 she has been laid up all over the world and is currently docked in Philadelphia. More than once the ship was almost scrapped.
In my original notes the idea was that some company purchased the SS United States and refurbished her. But I quickly discounted that as unrealistic. Instead, I researched the United States Lines and discovered their early flagship the SS Leviathan. With that name, and the original blueprints of the SS United States, a company built a “state of the art” luxury liner, equipped with offensive capability to defend against pirating with a maximum speed of over 50 MPH. I guess my original notes proved to be something more than an idea.
Last week in New York City, Crystal Cruises, a luxury cruise line, “announced it will save “America’s flagship,” the SS United States, and embark on the enormous undertaking of bringing the ship into compliance with the latest standards, and returning her to oceangoing service.” While I figured some sort of redevelopment plan would be put forward, as was done with the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, the fact that the SS United States will actually sail again as a luxury liner just proved once again that if you stay true to your mission with persistence and patience the impossible can become a reality. My congratulations to the dedication of SS United States Conservancy to save and preserve the ship and to the visionary leadership of Crystal Cruises to see the SS United States return to the high seas.
Suddenly the world premiere of SOS United States on the SS United States just became a little more possible. I remember sailing on the Queen Mary 2 in 2007 and saying to my mother how grand it would be to have one of my films screen on an ocean liner. After years of planning and determination, Justice Is Mind had its international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth on October 29, 2014.