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Dorothy Gibson (May 17, 1889 – February 17, 1946) was a pioneering Americanmarker silent film actress, artist's model and singer active in the early 20th century. She is best remembered as a survivor of the sinking of the RMS Titanicmarker.

Early life and career

The daughter of John A. and Pauline Boesen Brown, Gibson was born Dorothy Winifred Brown in Hoboken, New Jerseymarker. Her father died when she was three years old and her mother remarried John Leonard Gibson. Between 1906 and 1911, she appeared on stage as a singer and dancer in a number of theatre and vaudeville productions, the most important being on Broadwaymarker in Charles Frohman's musical The Dairymaids (1907). She was also a regular chorus member in shows produced by the Shubert Brothers at the Hippodrome Theatre.

In 1909, the year before she married George Battier, Jr., Gibson began posing for famous commercial artist Harrison Fisher, becoming one of his favorite models. Her image appeared regularly on posters, postcards, various merchandising products and in book illustrations over the next three years. Fisher also often chose her likeness for the covers of best-selling magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, and the Saturday Evening Post. Gibson was widely publicized during this time as "The Original Harrison Fisher Girl".

Meanwhile, Gibson separated from Battier, though the couple was not divorced until about 1916.

Film career

Represented by top theatrical agent Pat Casey, Gibson entered movies in early 1911, joining the Independent Moving Pictures Company (IMP) as an extra and later the Lubin Studios as a stock player. She was hired as leading lady by the new U.S. branch of Paris-based Éclair Studios in July 1911. She was an instant hit with audiences, becoming one of the first actresses in the new medium of film to be promoted as a "star" in her own right. Praised for her natural, subtle acting style, she was particularly effective as a comedienne in such popular one-reelers as Miss Masquerader (1911) and Love Finds a Way (1912), all of which were produced at Fort Lee, New Jerseymarker, then the center of the burgeoning American motion picture industry.



Despite her popularity in comedies, one of her most important parts was that of Molly Pitcher in the historical drama, Hands Across the Sea (1911), Eclair's debut vehicle and her first star turn. One of Gibson's most famous screen roles was that of herself in Saved From the Titanic (1912), based on her experiences in the legendary disaster. Saved From the Titanic, released a month after the sinking, was the first of many films about the event.

Dorothy Gibson in a promotional photo for Saved From the Titanic (1912)


The Titanic is the best known aspect of Gibson's life. After a six-week vacation in Italymarker with her mother, she was returning aboard Titanic to make a new series of pictures for Eclair at Fort Lee. The women had been playing bridge with friends in the lounge on the night of the ship's fatal collision with the iceberg. With two of their game partners they escaped in the first lifeboat launched. After arriving in New York on the rescue ship Carpathia, Gibson was convinced by her manager to appear in a film based on the sinking. She not only starred in the one-reel drama, but wrote the scenario. She even appeared in the same clothing she had worn aboard Titanic –– a white silk evening dress topped with a cardigan and polo coat.

Although Saved From the Titanic was a tremendous success in America, England, and France the only known prints were destroyed in a 1914 fire at the Éclair Studios. The loss of the motion picture is considered by film historians to be one of the greatest of the silent era. Gibson's other accomplishments in early cinema included starring in one of the first feature films made in the United States (Hands Across the Sea, 1911), co-starring in the first American-produced serial or chapter play (The Revenge of the Silk Masks, 1912), and making one of the first-ever public appearances by a movie personality (January 1912).

With contemporary Mary Pickford, Gibson was the highest paid movie actress in the world at the time of her premature retirement in May 1912. In a brief but eventful cinematic career, Gibson appeared in an estimated sixteen Eclair films and in an unspecified number while at Lubin and IMP studios. Gibson left movies to pursue a choral career, her most notable appearance in that venue being at the Metropolitan Opera House in Madame Sans-Gene (1915).

Personal life

In 1911, Gibson began a six year love affair with married movie tycoon Jules Brulatour, head of distribution for Eastman Kodak and co-founder of Universal Pictures. Brulatour was also an advisor and producer for Eclair; he backed several of Gibson's films, including her 1912 hit Saved From the Titanic. A year later, while driving Brulatour's sports car in New York, Gibson struck and killed a pedestrian. During the resulting court case, it was revealed in the press that she was his mistress. Although Brulatour was already separated from his wife, the humiliation of the scandal determined her to sue him for divorce, which was finalized in 1915. Brulatour's rising fame and political power forced him to legitimize his relationship with Dorothy Gibson, and the pair were finally wed in 1917.

Its legality challenged, the union was dissolved two years later as an invalid contract. To escape gossip and start a new life, Gibson left New York for Paris, where she remained, except for the four years she spent in Italymarker during World War II.

Later life

A Nazi sympathizer and alleged intelligence operative, Gibson renounced her involvement by 1944. She was arrested as an anti-Fascist agitator and jailed in the Milanmarker prison of San Vittore, from which she escaped with two other prisoners, journalist Indro Montanelli and General Bartolo Zambon. The trio was aided through the intervention of Cardinal Ildefonzo Schuster and a young chaplain for the Milanese resistance group Fiamme Verdi, Father Giovanni Barbareschi.

Living in Francemarker, in 1946, Gibson died of a heart attack in her apartment at the Hôtel Ritz Parismarker at age 56. She is buried at Saint Germain-en-Laye Cemetery. Gibson's estate was divided between her lover, Emilio Antonio Ramos, press attaché for the Spanish Embassy in Paris, and her mother.

Legacy

Dorothy Gibson's only surviving film is the adventure-comedy, The Lucky Holdup (1912). Salvaged by collectors David and Margo Navone in 2001, it was preserved by the American Film Institute and is now archived at the Library of Congressmarker.

The character of Susan Alexander in Orson WellesCitizen Kane (1941) may have been partly based on Dorothy Gibson, along with other real-life figures Marion Davies, Hope Hampton, and Ganna Walska. She was also the inspiration for a character in her friend Indro Montanelli’s novel General della Rovere, which was turned into an award-winning film by director Roberto Rossellini in 1959.

Authors Don Lynch and John P. Eaton were the first contemporary historians to rediscover Dorothy Gibson, writing and lecturing about her as early as the 1980s. The first in-depth study of Dorothy's mysterious later life was conducted by Phillip Gowan and Brian Meister and published in the journal of the British Titanic Society in 2002. In 2005, the first full-length biography of Dorothy Gibson, by Randy Bryan Bigham, was released.

Filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1911 A Show Girl's Stratagem
The Angel of the Slums
Hands Across the Sea in '76 Molly Pitcher, French Court Beauty, Soldier's Widow, etc
Miss Masquerader Heiress
The Musician's Daughter Prima Donna
1912 Love Finds a Way Helen
The Awakening The Sweetheart
The Kodak Contest The Wife
It Pays to Be Kind The Sister
A Living Memory Her Memory
Brooms and Dustpans Kissing Cousin
The White Aprons
A Lucky Holdup Miss Barton
The Easter Bonnet Dora
Revenge of the Silk Masks Society Girl
Saved from the Titanic Miss Dorothy Alternative title: A Survivor of the Titanic
Screenwriter
Roses and Thorns
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