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April 14, 2012

Famous 'unsinkable' passenger remembered at museum

DENVER — Thousands of miles from the ocean, a museum tells the story of a woman made famous by the Titanic. No, her name was not Rose, and a movie about her life, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," starring Debbie Reynolds as a plucky lifeboat survivor, was a hit decades before Kate Winslet's doomed romance in "Titanic."

Molly Brown was a real person, but the movie created a myth that the museum, located in Brown's Denver home, attempts to dispel.

Born in 1867 to Irish immigrants in Hannibal, Mo., Brown struck it rich, with her husband, from a Colorado gold mine years before she boarded the Titanic, and in later years, she fought for women's suffrage and labor rights.

No one called her Molly during her lifetime — her name was Margaret — and biographer Kristen Iversen, author of "Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth," writes that there's no proof she ever referred to herself as "unsinkable." The nickname seems to have originated with a Denver gossip columnist who may have been mad that Brown gave her account of the Titanic disaster to a newspaper in Newport, R.I., where she also spent time. Iversen says two books written in the 1930s created the image of Brown as a gun-packing, wisecracking former saloon girl, accounts that became the basis of the Broadway play and later the 1964 musical starring Reynolds. Molly Brown also appears in James Cameron's "Titanic," portrayed by Kathy Bates.

Brown eventually separated from her husband and, unlike on screen, they never reunited. That gave her the freedom to indulge in travel, and in 1912, she headed to Egypt with John Jacob Astor and his wife. She cut the trip short to visit her ailing grandson back in the U.S., and set sail on the Titanic from France, where the ship made one stop to pick up passengers and provisions.

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