TITANIC INTERVIEW - David Garrison

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David Garrison applying makeup
David Garrison applying makeup Photo by Photo credit: Starla Smith

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DAVID GARRISON -- J. Bruce Ismay

In many ways, Titanic is the story of its owner, J. Bruce Ismay, boss of the White Star Line which, in pre-transatlantic airplane 1912, was locked in a battle with Cunard and other steamship lines for dominance in the North Atlantic sea lanes between Europe and America.

"His dream," said Garrison, was to create the most luxurious and safest ship -- but which would cross the Atlantic in six days.

Repeated acts of hubris -- challenging the primacy of the gods -- make his life story a very theatrical one. For one thing, the Titanic and its sister ship, the Olympic, were named for Greek deities, the Titans and Mount Olympus. For another, he was quoted as saying, when he learns of the iceberg strike, "Damage? What damage? Even God couldn't sink this ship" -- which in dramatic terms is doom.

He is determined to make the Titanic's maiden crossing of the Atlantic into a legend. And in that, he succeeded. Pressured by Ismay to push the ship beyond its capabilities the captain ran it at full speed into an iceberg field, where it struck ice and quickly sank, killing two thirds of its passengers.

The ship embodies the hubris of mankind, the idea that technology could achieve anything. He truly believe the ship was not sinkable."

But fate and hubris had a special punishment for Ismay: he lived. He was one of the comparatively few men who hopped into one of the inadequate number of lifeboats; most of the others lived -- and died -- by the axiom of 'women and children first.' Ismay lived -- but spent the rest of his life an outcast. "The English thought he was not a gentleman for saving himself," Garrison said.

Garrison is used to hisses. He just came off playing Satan in Randy Newman's Faust in Chicago, and said the production is being prepared for Broadway sometime next season or the one after.

-- By Robert Viagas

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