Celebrities and the Ships They Sailed On


Brian Ahern

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As a history buff, I'm not infrequently coming across mentions of ocean liners when reading about historical figures. I've always wanted an outlet for keeping track, and have decided to add one here. After searching the site, there doesn't seem to be one.

This past summer, I read The Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill, and the couple sailed on a number of liners throughout their liftetime. Some day soon, I'll add those in.

I did stumble on the following website: http://www.beavis.co.uk/newyork.txt
This focuses mostly on celebrities who sailed in the mid-twentieth century. So obviously, the Queens reign supreme, with the United States and Ile de France running close seconds.
I'm guessing it's rather Brit-centric in its focus, because I have to admit I don't recognize most of the entertainers named.

In fact, I came across a fantastic thread on a United States site a few years ago on the subject of celebrities sailing on that ship. I'll have to track that down someday as well. I believe Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor all sailed on it. There were of course numerous others.

As World War II was breaking out, Rose Kennedy and many of her children returned to the US on the Aquitania. The book "A Question of Character" has a photo of a young JFK on board the Bremen.

More recently, the QE2 has had its share of notable passengers. The documentary on Elaine Stritch's one woman show showed her on board the ship on her way to perform in London.
When Robert Reed - the father from The Brady Bunch - took his TV progeny on a real-life "family" trip to Europe, he treated them to a crossing on the QE2. Yes - the Brady Bunch on the QE2.
On a sadder note, Sharon Tate returned from Europe on the QE2 shortly before her murder because she was too far advanced in her pregnancy to fly.

There are of course many, many more. I know I've come across specific references to ships sailed on by so many people famous in the entertainment industry, politics, literature and the arts; and I thought this would be a fun thread.
 

Brian Ahern

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Here are threads on two sites devoted to celebs on the Queen Mary.

The first site is on the subject of the Queen Mary featuring the world's first ocean-going synagogue.
It mentions, as an aside, that celebs such as the violinist Jascha Heifetz and pianist Arthur Rubenstein, and actors Eddie Cantor, Samuel Goldwyn, Harpo Marx, Victor Mature, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jack Warner sailed on the ship.

Another link on the subject is:
http://www.longbeachfilmfestival.com/celebs.html

This one has photos of Gable, Tracy, Hope and many other greats on board.
 

Brian Ahern

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An article on celebrities who visited/travelled on QM2 in her first year.
http://cruises.about.com/od/cruisenews/a/050113cunard.htm

In some cases - such as the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Sofia of Spain - it was obvious that the people were just visitors.

In cases of Whoopi Goldberg, Antonio Banderas, Elizabeth Hurley, Danny DeVito and others, it's less clear.

I suppose part of the reason this topic interests me is the reason ocean liners have always fascinated me - people from all different walks of life making the same journey together, one that countless have made before them.
 

Brian Ahern

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The following is a link to a site with photos of Greta Garbo and the director Mauritz Stiller aboard SAL's Drottingholm.
http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Woods/7894/drott.html

Drottingholm was formerly the Allan Line's Virginian, and thus the Virginian, as a source of pride to the Swedes, had a more distinguished second career than most liners have had after changing companies and names.

Here's a link where you can read about a ship that was even a greater source of pride to the Swedes - 1925's Gripsholm, apparently the first diesel engine-driven ship and also known for its fine interiors.

http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Woods/7894/grip2.html

According to the writer Robert Lenzner, Mrs. J. Paul Getty sailed on this ship from Europe in 1942, selecting it because it was a neutral ship. She disembarked to tell reporters how pleasantly efficient life was in Mussolini's Italy. However, according to this site, the Gripsholm had been laid up in 1940 and chartered to the US State Department in 1942.

Getty himself, according to Lenzner, sailed for New York at the outbreak of war in 1940 aboard the Conte di Savoia. In his The Great Getty, Lenzner depicts Getty as having a superstitious dislike of transatlantic travel. What a waste to be able to afford travelling on the greatest liners and to dislike ships!

Lenzner references a legend that Getty bought a ticket on the Andrea Doria but had cancelled before sailing. I have never seen this referred to anywhere else and don't think it is true. He had, however, sailed on the Lusitania in 1914 with his parents.
 

Brian Ahern

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Here's a Normandie link:
http://www.carnegiemuseums.org/cmag/bk_issue/1996/sepoct/feat4.htm

It contains the following passage:
"The passenger list on the maiden voyage, which departed May 29, 1935, included Madame Albert LeBrun, wife of the French president, and the writer Colette - the first in the steady stream of rich, famous and otherwise celebrated who made the crossing. Fred Astaire, Irene Dunn, Gloria Swanson, Charles Boyer, David Niven, Harold Ikes, Sophie Tucker, Bill Tilden, Joe Kennedy and his sons Joe Jr. and John F., and Bernard Baruch were just a few of the luminaries who began their grand tour of Europe on the Normandie, for to do otherwise was to travel second class. Autograph seekers haunted the piers prior to Normandie's arrivals and departures, and card sharks booked passage hoping to consort with deeper pockets.
"The whole place is like a setting for a ballet," wrote writer Harold Nicholson in a letter to his wife, Vita Sackville-West. "Choruses of stewards, sailors, firemen, stewardesses, engineers. There are also some fifty liftiers in bright scarlet who look like the petals of salvia flying about those gold corridors. That is the essential effect- gold, Lalique glass and scarlet." "

It was supposedly aboard a ship that Joe Kennedy introduced his wife to his mistress, Gloria Swanson. I wonder if it was the Normandie!
 

Brian Ahern

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The writer John Malcolm Brinnin, in his 'Sway of the Grand Saloon', includes an anecdote about Ernest Hemingway and Marlene Dietrich meeting aboard the Ile de France. Hemingway was young and travelling in cabin class, but had been invited to dine with a friend in first class and lent a tuxedo. When Dietrich made a dramatic entrance into the saloon, she refused to sit at her allotted table on the grounds that she would be the thirteenth occupant. So the rambunctious Hemingway boldly stepped up and volunteered to be the fourteenth - apparently ditching the person who'd been kind enough to invite him up in the first place.

Other luminaries Brinnin mentions sailing on the ship are Arturo Tuscanini, Maurice Chevalier, Will Rogers, Maude Adams, John D. Rockefeller, Jascha Heifitz, Barnard Baruch, Ivar Kreuger, Jeanette MacDonald, Tallulah Bankhead, Gloria Swanson, Barbara Hutton, Helen Morgan, and Pola Negri.
 

Brian Ahern

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I finally bought Brinnin's book in a used book shop after years of skimming through it now and then in my local library. It describes itself as a "social history" of life on the Atlantic and is a must-have for any ocean liner enthusiast. He's a very good writer, in addition to providing a fascinating wealth of info, and his work rivals that of John Maxtone-Graham.

Among the famous personages popping up in his book are Oscar Wilde, who booked passage on the Arizona shortly after its famous accident, in spite of what his friend Lily Langtry said about the rats on the ship.
Another literary great whose shipboard travels are discussed is Henry James, whose first trip to Europe was on the Great Western. James liked the unpretentiousness of the Servia, though he generally suffered from seasickness, which kept him from enjoying his crossing on the Kaiser Wilhelm II, among others.
Mark Twain really liked North German Lloyd's Havel, thinking it a huge improvement on the Batavia of twenty years before, which I think was the first ship he sailed on. His round the world cruise on the Quaker City was the basis for his "The Innocents Abroad", which I must track down. This cruise, interestingly, was application-only; people interested in going were vetted for their social position.
Theodore Dreiser is mentioned in Brinnin's work as he is elsewhere as being a second class passenger on Red Star's Kroonland at the time of the Titanic's sinking.
It was apparently as a first class passenger that he later crossed on the Mauretania and the Aquitania.
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, according to Brinnin, splashed out on top-of-the-line accommodation on the Aquitania after the success of one of his first novels.

As far as film people go, Brinnin mentions how Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn were on the Nieuw Amsterdam's maiden voyage in 1948, discreetly in separate but adjoining rooms.

I remember in her book "Me", Hepburn revealed how she was in Europe when the film that made her famous was released in the States, and it was only then, that she was a star, that she and her husband changed their booking for the return trip from third class to first class. She said as she was always seasick, she'd always figured that she "may as well throw up third class as throw up first".
 

Brian Ahern

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Here's another site with a list of famous United States passengers. Passengers who made this list but were not on the earlier one I posted include Eleanor Roosevelt, JFK and Jackie Kennedy, D&M Eisenhower and a young Rhodes Scholar named Bill Clinton. Also royals like Queen Fredericka of Greece and the Emperor of Ethiopia.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Here is a 1925 photograph I received today, showing silent film actor Ramon Novarro aboard an unnamed liner in NYC. He had spent the previous 8 months in Italy filming Ben-Hur, a legendary film making story in and of itself, so I am guessing that this was taken aboard one of the Sabaudo or Cosulich ships, and not the Paris or the Olympic the two liners he seemed to most favor during the 1920s.
101105.jpg


His star waned during the early 1930s, and his publicist let it be known that he was 'retiring' from films to spend time in a monastery. His last voyage aboard the Olympic seems to have been in 1933, and after that he may have switched allegiance to the Normandie: he, Hedwig Kiesler (soon to be Hedy Lamar) and Danielle Darrieux co-chaired an onboard gala in 1937 at which he sang show tunes.
His death, on Halloween 1968, is a Hollywood legend (he was beaten to death with his own cane- probably not the walking stick in this photo- by a pair of male prostitutes) that has overshadowed his career legacy.

The arched window behind him - with shutters- is a clue as to which liner this was. I've not seen exterior shutters on an ocean vessel before and suspect that they will make it say to ascertain which ship this was.
101106.jpg
 

Jim Kalafus

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>It was supposedly aboard a ship that Joe Kennedy introduced his wife to his mistress, Gloria Swanson. I wonder if it was the Normandie!

It wasn't. She tells the story in Swanson on Swanson, and I'm fairly sure she names the ship, too. The affair ended ca 1931....and although I wouldn't swear to this in court, I think it was the Leviathan.
 

Brian Ahern

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Thanks, Jim! I stumbled onto Novarro's biography in a Barnes & Noble a few years ago and wish I'd bought it. Not a happy life. At the time, I was surprised to find a full-length book on his life because I'd barely heard of him myself.
 

Brian Ahern

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As I said, "The Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill" edited by their daughter Mary Soames, provides an insight into ocean travel in the first half of the twentieth century.

Including travel on a few non-transatlantic liners.
In November of 1938, Clementine sailed from England to Jamaica on the SS Carare. She was traveling to join the Rosaura, the yacht of the famed Lord Moyne. This ship was sunk during World War II
http://www.ilfsac.org.uk/carare.php
After a blowout with other guests over politics, she left the yacht at Barbados in January to sail home on the SS Cuba. There have been several ships called the Cuba. One was sunk off the Isle of Wight during the war; I am not sure if it is the same ship she sailed on.
Another ship that the Churchills traveled on that met its death in the war was the Esperia.
http://www.regiamarina.net/others/esperia/esperia_us.htm
Winston sailed on this Italian ship with his son and brother from Genoa to Malta in January of 1927. He remarks in a letter that he and Clementine had sailed on the same ship 6 years earlier.
Clementine and her cousin Sylvia Henley, both in ill health in February of 1956, took a recuperative trip to Ceylon aboard P&O's Himalaya. They came home on P&O's Stratheden. These ships appear quite beautiful:
http://ozhoo.net.au/~strathsisters/himalaya/index.htm
http://ozhoo.net.au/~strathsisters/stratheden/index.htm

As far as transatlantic liners go, Winston, his son, brother and nephew sailed to Canada on the Empress of Australia in 1929. He thought the ship comfortable with splendid cabins. The Empress-class liners have always struck me as especially appealing: handsome but cozy.
Clementine sailed to New York to visit her son on the German liner Europa (later the French liner Liberte) in February of 1931. She again took this ship to New York, this time with her husband and daughter Diana, at the end of that year. It was on this trip to New York that Winston was hit by a taxi cab. In January, after he had recovered, he went on a speaking tour and Clementine returned home on the Berengaria.
During the war, Winston sailed on the Queen Mary - naturally under heavy escort - to visit President Roosevelt in May 1943. He reported a very pleasant voyage to his wife. She was with him when he again crossed on the Queen Mary to attend the Second Quebec Conference in September of 1944.
Winston made a peace-time crossing on the ship during his tour of the US and Canada, departing on New Year's Eve of 1951.
With his wife, daughter and son-in-law, he had crossed on the Queen Elizabeth to New York in March of 1949.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>At the time, I was surprised to find a full-length book on his life because I'd barely heard of him myself.

Such is the nature of fame. One can have a career which spans 1917-1968, be one of the biggest stars of an era, make the transition into sound and television, and STILL only be remembered for the chapter in Hollywood Babylon about your messy demise. BTW- the story about the murder weapon being a unique 'gift' from Rudolph Valentino, which has been circulating since 1968, isn't true.
 

Brian Ahern

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In July of 1907, future President Warren G. Harding and his controversial wife Florence sailed to Europe with her parents aboard the Arabic. They sailed home on the Kaiser Wilhelm II, which Harding wrote to a friend was costlier and cost his wife and mother-in-law some European shopping.

This is according to Florence Harding's biographer Carl Sferazza Anthony. I've only skimmed through the book but the lives of Florence and Warren Harding (both born before the American Civil War) are definitely an example of what could go on behind closed doors. He was a womanizer and she was the mother of an illegitimate child. She was also a close friend of Evalyn Walsh McLean, who of course had Titanic connections.

Also according to Anthony, the couple sailed out of New York again in February of 1909 aboard the Deutschland. They traveled with a couple named Phillips and Florence was unaware that her husband was romancing Mrs. Carrie Phillips on deck after she had gone to sleep at night.
 
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Wallis Simpson has always been a favorite of mine, and due to her intense fear of flying, she and the Duke of Windsor always crossed on the liners, the Queen Mary and United States being favorites. They always had a luxury suite on M deck on the Queen, and Wallis travelled with her many pug dogs. Lauren Kirk has a wonderful story about the globetrotting Windsors here
http://uncommonjourneys.com/pages/windsors.htm
 

Jim Kalafus

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>Also according to Anthony, the couple sailed out of New York again in February of 1909 aboard the Deutschland.

And the chain of events that led to his brilliantly timed unfortunate end began with a heaping serving of tainted seafood on a coastal liner in Alaskan waters, although the name of whatever ship it was escapes me at the moment.
 

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