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A 'Titanic' approach to publicity




Since many blogs this weekend have entries to the centennial of the Titanic sinking, it seemed appropriate for "Carole & Co." to join them. Yes, Carole Lombard was barely 3 1/2 when the maritime disaster occurred, but she does have a "Titanic" tie-in -- and for that, you can credit David O. Selznick.

In July 1938, Lombard spent a week working publicity for Selznick International Pictures, where she had made "Nothing Sacred" and would later make "Made For Each Other." It just so happened that at the time, Selznick was planning to make a film about the doomed ship, and Carole took part in discussions on promoting the picture. As she later wrote in the Hollywood Reporter, ideas "included the dropping of a wreath by the first Pan-American Clipper plane over the spot where the Titanic sank, the flowers bearing the legend 'To those who showed the way to safety on the high seas.'”



What? You say you've never seen a Selznick "Titanic" movie? The Titanic Heritage Trust fills us in with how this project itself ran aground:

"January [1938] saw the first sign of a Titanic project emerging from Culver City Studios. American producer David O. Selznick with an eye for profit, was drawn to the Titanic story as a subject for his latest film. He could see the potential of American audiences at the box office and the British and European markets too.

"In March with plans in the advanced stage, meetings were held with producers and directors, and early pre-production was progressing at Selznick International Pictures.

"But there was a serious problem, early in pre-production, Selznick had had the idea to acquire the S.S. Leviathan, as a giant film set, it had been laid up at Hoboken since 1934.

"His plan after purchasing the ship was to have it towed to California and then have it revamped to resemble the Titanic, film most of the scenes on board and then sink the ship for the final sequence, making it the most realistic sinking scenes ever put on film.

"Unfortunately that was not to be, Kay Brown his New York representative was instructed to contact the owners, the United States Line with an offer to purchase.

"She was told by a marine insurer that the Leviathan had been sold recently for $2,000,000. When she tried to explain the reasons for needing the ship, a rather skeptical voice on the other end of the phone replied: 'Miss Brown, it would cost two million to tow it to California so I suggest you tell your Mr Selznick to forget about it.'

"Needless to say without a cast, screenplay, director and now a ship the project was shelved."


One wonders whether Lombard -- who may, or may not, have been aware of the sinking when it took place -- envisioned herself as part of such a potential production. Certainly Selznick could see a "Gone With The Wind"-like blockbuster deriving from such a story.

As it turned out, the next filmed version of "Titanic" came from, of all places, Germany in 1943. There is a little bit of anti-English propaganda in its telling, but it's hardly a polemic and isn't a bad movie.

In honor of the event's centennial, some music -- no, not the bombastic blandness of "My Heart Will Go On," but the wonderful Debbie Reynolds, playing an eventual Titanic survivor in the 1964 film "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." From Meredith Willson, creator of "The Music Man," here's "I Ain't Down Yet":

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