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Makers of 'Titanic' give money for memorial to ship's first mate

DALBEATTIE, Scotland (AP) -- Twentieth Century Fox is giving $8,000 to a fund commemorating the Titanic's first mate, after his family and neighbors objected to the movie's portrayal of him.

The blockbuster film presents William Murdoch as a murderer and bribe-taker -- but the residents of Dalbeattie, his hometown in southwest Scotland, say he was a hero.

After family and friends criticized the film, lawmaker Alasdair Morgan wrote to the makers of "Titanic" asking for an apology.

"Officer Murdoch was a decent, responsible and very human hero and should remain a source of pride for Dalbeattie, and in the memories of all who know of his life," Scott Neeson, executive vice president for Twentieth Century Fox, wrote back Tuesday to Morgan.

But Neeson stopped short of a full apology.

The film shows the first mate killing two passengers who are fighting to get off the sinking ship onto a lifeboat. He then shoots himself.

In his letter, Neeson said survivors had reported that some of the ship's officers fired guns into the crowds and at least one officer was known to have committed suicide.

However, Twentieth Century Fox then pledged money for a long-established commemoration fund that awards the Murdoch Memorial Prize for achievement each year to a pupil of Dalbeattie High School, Murdoch's alma mater.

At Dalbeattie's town hall, a granite plaque commemorates Murdoch's bravery in helping passengers off the ship.

Neeson will come to Dalbeattie to hand over a check on April 15, the 86th anniversary of the day the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank, killing 1,500 of the 2,200 passengers.

-- Dan Draghici (, April 08, 1998



In response to an outpouring of complaints by the family of Titanic's First Officer, William Murdoch, about how he is portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie, an executive of 20th Century Fox has conceded that "there is no irrefutable link" between the movie character and the real Murdoch. Murdoch, who drowned in the disaster, has been honored with a plaque in the town hall of Dalbeattie, Scotland, his home town, for reportedly showing great heroism in his final hours and, in the end, giving his life jacket to another passenger. Accounts of his valor have been confirmed by historians. In the film, however, he is shown shooting passengers trying to board lifeboats and then turning his gun on himself. As reported in today's (Wednesday) London Times Fox executive vice president Scott Neeson has told Murdoch's relatives that he was happy to set the record straight and that the studio will contribute to an $8,500 memorial fund for Murdoch -- but he stopped short of issuing an apology. 08-Apr-98

-- Dan Draghici (, April 08, 1998.

As has been discussed on this board previously, there are survivor accounts which partially corroborate the some of the actions attributed to first officer William Murdoch in Cameron's Titanic.

Those accounts are somewhat contradictory, though, and in all the accounts, the gunman is only identified as "an officer." One account states that this officer shot and killed two men, then shot himself in the head, which is how it is depicted in the film.

Most of the speculation has centered on Murdoch because; a.) he was the officer of the watch at the time of the collision; b.) a couple of the accounts identified the shootings as taking place on the starboard side around collapsible A, which Murdoch was working on, and; c.) Murdoch's body was not recovered.

Another candidate for this dubious distinction has been Chief Officer Henry Wilde, simply because his actions after the collision are largely unaccounted. However, barring the discovery of some new survivor account (which **is** possible, since two or three have been discovered since the film's premiere), we'll likely never know.

I will point out, though, that there is absolutely **no** evidence of any officer accepting bribes from passengers for admittance to the lifeboats. That was a bit of dramatic license which Mr. Murdoch's descendants have reason to be upset about.


-- Kip Henry (, April 08, 1998.

Hello Kip! Wasn't one of the "suicide" by way of a gun stories also applied to Captain Smith? Although I do not believe that and think he died on the bridge as depicted in the film, but it does show the feeling that the officers were thought of as an armed camp and reckless firing of weapons was the rule. I really don't believe Murdoch shot anyone, including himself and have a hard time believing that any passenger was shot. Every account I have read says that there was no panic while loading the boats and although there may have been a "rush" at some point, I think that that was the point at which the shots were fired "straight down", according to the U.S. testimony. Seems the whole issue is confused and we will never know the answer. 86 years is a long time for stories to get turned around and embellished, I would think.

Regards, Peter

-- Peter Nivling (, April 08, 1998.

Hi Peter!

Yes, there was an early account of EJS's suicide distributed by Reuters. They later retracted the story (a reproduction of the retraction, and the original wire service report is in the Special Illustrated Edition of ANTR).

In TNLO, Walter Lord references two letters; one from Third Class passenger Eugene Daly, apparently written from New York; and another from First Class passenger George Rheims, written 4/19/12, also from New York. Both describe "an officer" shooting a passenger (Daly said two passengers), then turning the gun on himself (See Chapter 10, "Shots in the Dark").

Again, there are inconsistencies in their accounts, and "an officer" could be any of the three lost deck officers (Wilde, Murdoch and Moody). Barring the discovery of a new unpublished account, though, we'll never know for sure (maybe Jim Harper will come up with something tomorrow).


-- Kip Henry (, April 09, 1998.

I think this controversy is just one more example of parochial criticism that this phenomenally succesful movie has generated. Part of the mystique of the Titanic story are various incidents and events recalled by survivors and handed down in letters and testimony, and I'm glad J. Cameron decided to incorporate the Murdoch "story" into his script. He was one of the most dramatic, tragic and poignant characterizations in the movie (next to Thomas Andrews) and definitely not a figure of contempt or derision that the critics allege.

-- Eugene O'Neill (, April 16, 1998.

Ironically enough, another 20th Century Fox production may shed some light on the motivations of the good people of Dalbeattie:

Just for the record, it should be noted that all interactions of real people (on Titanic) with fictional characters are, by definition, fictional. Furthermore, James Cameron has stated (in the big coffee table book) that Murdoch was competent, dutiful and heroic in his final hours.

However, Cameron *does* note that some of his choices in depicting the historical events will be controversial.

-- Thomas M. Terashima (, April 27, 1998.

It should be noted that all timeline and ACTUAL persons dipicted in the film TITANIC are historically accurate. Much of their dialog can be referenced in the senate and british testomonies. Regarding the events of First Officer Murdoch in lite of recent letters it is believed it was Murdoch who shot, gave a military salute and comitted suicide. The location as stated in the new evidence revolves around the location of the ship in which murdoch was assisting in lifeboat operations. Although when questioned at the senate hearing Cmdr. Lighttoller stated that it would have been out of character for Murdoch. But was he protecting the honor of Murdoch or the White Star Line from shame or liability?

-- RL-Memeber Titanic Historical Soceity (, January 22, 1999.

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