Encyclopedia Titanica

Finding Dorothy

Finding Dorothy by Randy Bryan Bigham, Reviewed by Monica hall

Titanic Review

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Finding Dorothy Front Cover Finding Dorothy Back Cover

Randy Bryan Bigham’s book, Finding Dorothy is interesting. Less so, perhaps, for the ‘techies’ amongst us, but certainly for the legion of humanities researchers who are primarily interested in the people aboard the Titanic. And what an interesting lot those people have proved to be over the years, and one does wonder if a modern ship would provide so much humanitarian interest.

So often we believe that the people who lived before us were fundamentally different, much less sophisticated, and probably without the sort of sense of humour which we would recognise or appreciate. Or, instead, that they were poverty-stricken, socially-constrained, work-burdened, and consequently far less energised.

There are many books which give the lie to this generalised impression. The Diary of a Nobody (the Grossmith brothers) proves that 19-year olds in the late 19th Century were very much like our own 19-year olds today (equally idiotic and, nonetheless, generally lovable, albeit with a bit of effort involved). And Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Anita Loos), set in the 1920s, reinforces the iDorothy Gibsondea that being economically secure and upwardly mobile via an alpha male’s maña was the main preoccupation of women until 40 odd years ago. However, anyone wanting to see how very similar we are to our forebears in terms of vitality and fortitude need go no further than the wonderful recently-restored films of Mitchell & Kenyon, pioneers in “going live” documentaries, way back at the turn of the 20th Century.

Which brings us back to Dorothy.

Dorothy Gibson was intriguingly contemporary in her outlook and career, and it is this which lends us her greatest interest. It might not be so intriguing if we knew our social history better, but since we mostly don’t, it inevitably is. As in the case of several contemporary female notables – Britney Spears, Charlotte Church etc. – her mother was a considerable influence, although it has to be said that Dorothy’s mother lasted longer as a mentor than most modern mothers seem to, despite having some rather troublesome personal attributes, such as predilection for fascism. Although, to be fair, one must remember that this was an era in which many people perceived that the only political choice was between fascism and communism.

Dorothy GibsonThe opening scene for the book is Dorothy and her mother on the Titanic returning from a trip to Europe. Their escape from the sinking ship is not especially riveting, although Dorothy’s apparent appreciation of the dire situation led to some men being saved as a result of her insistence on early evacuation, which must have been a cause of devout and continued thanksgiving for those concerned. Much more interesting is her life before and, even more so, after the Titanic disaster. It came to involve spying. One is reminded of Mata Hari, reputedly quite a good dancer, but apparently a very poor spy. She paid with her life in WW1, but Dorothy was luckier.

Finding Dorothy is a good account of a pretty woman’s career in the early movies, and the sad reasons for her subsequent demise of fame. But more than this, it is an evocative account of an era which we can only slightly grasp. There was, paradoxically, such freedom, so much enterprise, and such fun, and it was all over-shadowed by the two World Wars. Those of us constrained by the modern audit culture and globalisation can only wonder at such cultural quandaries.

For anyone interested in the Gilded Age, I would certainly recommend Finding Dorothy. If for no other reason than it describes an era constrained by social mores, which seem far less consequential than the constraints of rules and accountability that we live under now. It is also a very good tale, of and obvious interest to Edwardian researchers, and to those who are fascinated by the differences and similarities between that era and our own .

Randy Bryan Bigham has researched Dorothy Gibson assiduously, and so far as is possible at such a remove, successfully evoked her character and career. The only criticism I would have of this book is that it is quite rich in adjectives and adverbs. But that doesn’t really matter for students of the Gilded Age. They are used to it and, possibly, even regret its passing in more stark modern literature.

And the style is suitably evocative of the contradictions in the personality of the subject – a rather modern girl causing some much-needed mayhem in an un-emancipated age, and the rather sad demise of her career.

And the many lovely illustrations are to die for.


Monica Hall, UK


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  1. Jennifer Leigh Mills

    Jennifer Leigh Mills said:

    Hello ET! This is my first posting, although I feel like I've been a part of the site for a long time, having heard about it and its interesting personalities from Randy Bigham. Randy has been a coworker of mine and a very close friend for several years. So it's great to now be working with him on another project - and one he feels so deeply about. For me, the Titanic was always an interesting topic but I didn't realize the extent of the actual disaster until seeing the 1997 movie. On meeting Randy, when we were both junior reporters, and learning about this passion of his, I started seeing it as more than a disaster but as a window into a very fascinating period of history. Randy's knowledge of the culture of that era - particularly as it relates to the changing role of women - has opened the story up to me in a new way. He has made it live. And that's what we hope the first five women we have selected for our "Titanic First Ladies" book series will do - live. We want them

  2. Michael Tennaro

    Michael Tennaro said:

    Jennifer, welcome to the board. We look forward to hearing more about this project as it grows and develops. all the best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T

  3. Randy Bryan Bigham

    Randy Bryan Bigham said:

    Thanks Jennifer for making the effort to reach out. Hopefully, you'll get to know some of the group here. Also thanks to all of you who've been helping us get the Titanic portion of the story just right. Drafts will go out next week. I appreciate you and so does Jen. Jen is very modest but she's a big part of this project. She is only 24 but is the best editor anyone could have (though she's just a little bossy ). I hope you all get to meet her. She's not only talented but is one of the most charming, attractive young women you could hope to know. Thanks again to everybody. I hope you will enjoy this book. Randy

  4. Randy Bryan Bigham

    Randy Bryan Bigham said:

    "Finding Dorothy" is nearing publication — just 4 weeks away, pending the arrival of photographs from several archives and private collectors. A press release will be going out to Michael Tennaro next week for his Website, along with files of the front and back covers. Meantime advertisements will be going up on a number of silent movie Websites while print ads will be published in upcoming issues of several magazines and journals, including the Atlantic Daily Bulletin. Thanks to all in the Titanic community who have helped us make the chapters on Dorothy’s experiences in the disaster as accurate as possible. Along with the participation of the leading authorities on Titanic, this book has enlisted the assistance of numerous other experts, including film historians Frank Thompson and Marc Wanamaker and art historian Q. David Bowers. Numerous collectors of art and movie memorabilia have lent material from their collections. There have been incredible gestures of

  5. Shelley Dziedzic

    Shelley Dziedzic said:

    Dorothy and Lusitania's Rita Jolivet have fascinated many for a long time-more for their personal lives than anything on screen I suspect. I recall Don Lynch really ignited the interest in Dot when he was helping author Rustie Brown with Titanic, Psychic and the Sea-which was one of the very early books before the deluge of Titanic material. Don was a real catalyst in inspiring many young people to pursue passenger investigations, His work on Dot was around 1984 I recall because Rustie Brown was visiting and working on her book Maritime Trivia, and a lighthouse opus which I heard was published before her untimely death. She came out to meet Marshall Drew, and I was glad she did as he passed away about a year later. Jack Eaton also did an issue of Voyage#8 in June of 1991 featuring Titanic in Films with a large segment on Dot, extracts from The Moving Picture World. May 11. 1912 and the four stills of Dot from the Library of Congress collection. The one of Dot looking pale and

  6. Randy Bryan Bigham

    Randy Bryan Bigham said:

    Shelley: You’re right, there were many people interested in Dorothy’s story long before I or Phil Gowan came along. Don, however, told me he found very little, although he was in touch with the family. At any rate Don has since helped me a lot and he is duly credited, as is John Eaton, whom I don’t know, but his article (which you sent me long ago) was very helpful in my research. As to the six posters mentioned in the Moving Picture World ad, only two are known to exist — they are at the UCLA Library. The actual stills of "Saved From the Titanic," of which only four are known to have been made, don’t exist, although several collectors do proudly own issues of the film magazines in which reproductions appeared. Frank Thompson, who wrote "Lost Films," is loaning me his beautiful copies of the stills. Thompson’s book was actually one of the first to explore Dorothy Gibson and both Stephen Bottomore and Simon Mills did great sleuthing in their books as well. So,

  7. Inger Sheil

    Inger Sheil said:

    Looking forward to the new book, Randy - and thanks to all those researchers who contributed to what we know of her life. Phil G certainly did cast a fascinating new light on this woman. I might not be a Dorothy fan (although perhaps that impression will change once I've put the events in the Titanic's aftermath in the context of the rest of her life), but she was one of the more colourful individuals on board and it is fortunate that Randy and people like Phil and others named in this thread have investigated her life and career, and that Randy has decided to give it a fuller biographical treatment.

  8. Randy Bryan Bigham

    Randy Bryan Bigham said:

    Inger, Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate the support. Randy

  9. Fiona Nitschke

    Fiona Nitschke said:

    I freely admit to not being particularly interested in Dorothy Gibson until I read Stephen Bottomore's excellent book on early cinematic Titanica. Now that he's piqued my interest in her, I'd like to know more about what made her tick. All I can say to a full length biography is 'bring it on.' That's excellent news.

  10. Jason D. Tiller

    Jason D. Tiller said:

    I'm looking forward to the book as well, Randy. Other than what's in her bio on here, I don't know much about her, so I'm sure it will be a fascinating read on her life. The title suits the book perfectly.

  11. Randy Bryan Bigham

    Randy Bryan Bigham said:

    Hi, Fiona and Jason! Thanks for the encouragement. We are working hard to meet our deadline. Fiona, I also didn’t think there was much to Dorothy Gibson. After her Fascist politics were revealed, it almost derailed my interest in her! But I’m glad I stuck it out because there’s a lot more to her than that phase of her life, a lot more to her even than her Titanic experience. Some will come away with a new-found respect for Dorothy, others may still not give a whit about her, but I think everybody who reads the book will understand her a little better. She has thus far been presented as an innocent and a near-villain. The truth lies, as usual, somewhere in between. Some of my opinions differ from other writers — and my approach definitely does — but I’ve tried not to make many conclusions. I’ll leave the reader to that. Jason, I’m glad you like the title. I was squeamish about it at first, but so much has come to light in a few short months that I think

  12. Jennifer Leigh Mills

    Jennifer Leigh Mills said:

    Dorothy Gibson is soon to be revealed! Thank you all for your patience and encouragement throughout the process of getting her complete story told. Randy and I have been amazed at the response of those we know and also contacts by complete strangers excited about the publication of this book. We hope you will not be disappointed. True there have been delays in the production, but our hearts have also been lifted in hopes of reaching the much-anticipated finale of it all. The wait is over! With about 100 pages teeming with photographs (200 at least!), be prepared for a photo spread like no other. Now that our part of the creative process is over, our printer will work his magic on Ms. Gibson, putting the availability of the book at mid-February. So much has happened since either Randy or I posted. I admit it has been just over five months for me. I left most of the updates and suspense building to Randy, which he is very good at. As usual, I work best behind the scenes. Coming

  13. Randy Bryan Bigham

    Randy Bryan Bigham said:

    Thanks to Michael Tennaro for posting our press release at TitanicBookSite.com: www titanicbooksite.com bigham_randy_bryan.html And thanks of course to Phil Hind for featuring an excerpt from the intro of the book here on ET: Star Turn: The Pictures and Passions of Dorothy Gibson

  14. Inger Sheil

    Inger Sheil said:

    Looking quite lovely, eh? Here's the back cover:

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2005) Finding Dorothy (Titanic Review, ref: #4623, published 19 July 2005, generated 23rd November 2022 02:01:33 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/finding-dorothy-review.html