April 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the first and last voyage of the RMS Titanic. When I was doing some research, I came across some interesting information. I learned of Beatrice Wood, the person that director James Cameron used as a model for the character Rose Dewitt Bukater Calvert.
When I sat down to research Wood, I found her to be an exceptional person. I will attempt to sum up her rather eventful life, which is rather difficult to do when she lived to be 105 years old.
When asked what her secret to longevity was, she said, “art books, chocolates, and young men.”
Facts and Fiction About Rose from “Titanic”
- Rose’s character was based upon a real woman, Beatrice Wood.
- Both the character and the real person were artists.
- The real person did not travel on the Titanic.
- The screenwriter was inspired by Beatrice’s humor, charm, and creativity.
Rose Calvert (formerly Rose Dawson, born April 5, 1895 as Rose DeWitt-Bukater) is the protagonist in the film Titanic and the love interest of Jack Dawson and widow of Mr. Calvert. Beatrice Wood was born in San Francisco, California in 1893 to wealthy and socially conscious parents. At the age of five, her family moved her to New York City. Her mother immediately began to prepare Beatrice for her eventual coming out party. She sent her to Paris for a year in a convent. She was enrolled in finishing school and she enjoyed summer holidays in Europe. While in Europe, she was exposed to art galleries, museums and theatre.
In 1912, when she was supposed to throw her much-planned coming out party (and the year the Titanic sank, without Beatrice aboard), she cancelled the plans and defiantly told her mother that she wanted to become a painter. As you can imagine, her mother once again set out to do things in high style. She sent her to France with a chaperone to study painting. Beatrice wasn’t impressed with the school and moved to Giverny, the hometown of Monet, where many aspiring artists seemed to flock. She got in a fight with her chaperone and took up residence in an attic. Her mother got wind of this and came to Giverny to check on her. She found the conditions in the attic not to her liking and promptly took her back to Paris.
In Paris, she shifted her focus to theatre. She took private lessons, but with the onset of World War I, her parents thought it best to bring her back to New York. Her mother tried her best to prepare Beatrice for the New York Stage, but she joined the French National Repertory Theatre. She played in over 60 roles under the stage name Mademoiselle Patricia.
While working at the theater, she was told about a Frenchman who was in the hospital and lonely. Someone suggested that she go visit him since she spoke French. During her second visit, she was introduced to the man’s friend, Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp was best-known for his painting Nude Descending a Staircase. She and Duchamp hit it off immediately and he would go on to introduce her to Walter and Louise Arnsberg, who held artsy parties at their contemporary home. Beatrice was exposed to the dada movement, which is best described as an anti-art movement. Duchamp also introduced her to the writer Henri-Pierre Roché, who would become her first love interest. Duchamp, Roché, and Beatrice seemed to have some sort of love triangle; it is thought that this was the inspiration for Roché’s book, Jules et Jim. He was the first man to break her heart.
In 1918, Beatrice left New York and ran off to Montreal. Of course, her mother tracked her down with a private detective. Her good friend Paul, who was the theater manager with whom she shared an apartment, convinced her that the only way to be out from under her mother’s thumb was to marry him. So she did. It was a marriage of convenience, mostly for Paul, who managed to use her and her friends to support his gambling habit. Beatrice’s parents saw to it that the marriage was dissolved years later.
When Beatrice returned to New York, she found that the dada movement had died down. Duchamp was traveling in Europe, the Arensbergs had moved to Los Angeles, and Roché had gone back to Paris. She then fell in love with the British actor and director Reginald Pole. But Pole would also end up breaking her heart. She decided to move to Los Angeles to be near the Arensbergs.
Taking up Ceramics
On one of her trips, Beatrice purchased a set of baroque dessert plates with a stunning luster glaze. When she couldn’t find a matching teapot, she decided that she would just simply figure out how to make one herself. She enrolled in a ceramic course at Hollywood High School in 1933. She soon figured out it wasn’t as easy as it looked, but she was intrigued with the glaze chemistry and practiced at throwing pots. She eventually began to sell some of her pieces to support herself. She later trained under ceramic artists Glen Lukens and Gertrud and Otto Natzler.
East Meets West
By 1947, Beatrice Wood’s career as a potter was established enough that she decided to build a home in Ojai, California.
She had been included in major exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Major department stores like Neiman Marcus, Gumps, and Marshall Fields placed orders with her.
She began teaching ceramics for the Happy Valley School (now called the Besant Hill School) and operating her studio and showroom.
Her house was across the street from the speaker and thinker Krishnamurti. She was a fan of his philosophy and had even travelled to Europe to hear him speak. According to her biography, she had “always embraced a life that combined the wisdom of the East, positive thinking, a strong work ethic, a Dadaist sense of humor, and a romantic view of life.”
In 1974, Beatrice moved to another location on a 450-acre parcel of land in Ojai Valley owned by the Happy Valley Foundation, with the understanding that the home would be gifted to the Happy Valley Foundation upon her death.
Then, in her late 80s, she published her first book, called The Angel Who Wore Black Tights. Only a few years later she published her autobiography, I Shock Myself. She went on to publish Pinching Spaniards and 33rd Wife of a Maharajah: A Love Affair in India. She also wrote books under the pen name of Countess Lola Screwvinsky.
The Character in “Titanic”
When James Cameron was working on the character of Rose Dewitt Bukater Calvert for the film Titanic, he had already envisioned a feisty character with a dominating mother. Bill Paxton’s wife was reading Wood’s autobiography at the time. Reading it himself, Cameron discovered the perfect real-life version of the character he was creating.
James Cameron invited Beatrice to the premiere of Titanic, but she declined due her health. Bear in mind, she was a mere 104 years old at the time! So Cameron and Gloria Stuart (who plays the older Rose) dined with Beatrice in her home and presented her with a video of the movie. She vehemently declined to watch it, saying that she knew it would be a sad movie and that it was too late in life to be sad. She died only a few days later, at the age of 105.
It should be noted that actress Gloria Stuart celebrated her 100th birthday on July 4, 2010. It sounds like she’s very much like Beatrice. Sadly, Stuart passed away Sunday, September 26, 2010.
Casting Kate Winslet
A myriad of actresses were considered for the role of Rose. Strong early contenders were Drew Barrymore and Claire Danes, who had previously worked with Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. Other names in contention were Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman, and Madonna.
Kate Winslet has admitted that she was brought to tears after reading the script. She became determined to get the leading role. This took a fair amount of effort as she was not yet a big star back in 1996. According to an interview she gave to Rolling Stone, Winslet was able to get Cameron’s phone number from her agent. She was able to reach him on his car phone while he was driving and told him that he would be mad not to cast her as Rose. The gutsy perseverance paid off as Winslet was rewarded with an audition. Afterwards, she sent Cameron a bouquet of roses with a note that read “From your Rose.”