SS United States Documentary

The Official Blog of "The Big U" The Story of the Ocean Liner S.S. United States.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Many have asked, what is my interest in producing this film, what is driving me? Here’s my story:

As young boy, I lived in Berlin, Germany where my father was posted on an overseas assignment. When I was 6 years old in the summer of 1968, we transferred back home and, like many US Government employees, my parents were given the option to fly or travel by ship. My folks had sailed before on the SS Constitution and the SS Independence, and so chose to sail, this time on the SS United States. So I sailed from Bremerhaven to New York City on The Big U.

I have a few memories of the trip, I’m not sure how vivid they really are, but they’ve stuck with me. I remember how large the ship seemed docked in Bremerhaven, and how neat it looked, black and white and red and blue and green. I don’t have too many memories of the cabin we stayed in, but I do remember the First Class dining room. I remember my dad ordering a ¼ head of iceberg lettuce (not something we had in Berlin) with Roquefort Bleu Cheese dressing, and letting me taste it. To this day I love Bleu cheese dressing and think about the ship whenever I order it.

I remember the pool, how excited we were to go swimming, and how small and dark and disappointing it was, especially when I jumped in and discovered it was salt water and that the pool itself was nothing more than an aluminum box – definitely no fun for a six year old boy! And I remember visiting our dog in the kennels – talk about trauma! The cramped kennels were located underneath the rear stack, if my memory is correct. In any event, it took my dog weeks to recover from the shock of being in there, especially with the fog horn blaring!

And my favorite memory is one morning my older brother announced that he was going to go to the movies. One by one, my sister and other brother said they were going to. Being the youngest, well, I wasn’t going to be left behind. My parents were happy to let us go off on our own adventure and said fine. So we went to see Bonnie and Clyde. Very cool. That afternoon, my brother announced that he was going to go see the movie again. Could you do that? Sure, why not? So off we all trooped to the movie theater once again. And then, after dinner, he made the same announcement. The same movie three times in one day? Awesome! And so off we went again!

And finally, my last memory was docking in New York City. I still recall the sensation of how big everything was, including the ship, of course, then seeing down on the dock, the size of ants, it seemed, my grandmother and grandfather who were there to meet us. We recognized them by their white hair.

So this tells a bit of my story aboard the ship, but doesn’t give any real indication as to why I (we) are making this film. I think the following part of the story mirrors what happened with the rest of the country, how if she never completely left our memory, we pretty much forgot about her anyway. When we settled in our new house in 1968 and turned on the television, watching those mammoth Saturn V rockets blasting off carrying Americans on their way to the moon left a huge impression on me. I mean, how cool was that? The raw power, the strength to blast a huge rocket to the moon – that certainly overshadowed any old ship. And then in 1970, we flew back to Germany on another assignment, this time on a brand new Pan Am 747! How cool was that, with its spiral staircase up to a second floor? And so while I never forgot about the ship, it certainly had to share memory space with other, equally impressive things.

Now, fast forward to 1999. I was in Philadelphia on business. Leaving the city, I was headed down Columbus Boulevard along the Delaware River. It was rainy and foggy and I tell everyone that it was very much a “Hollywood” moment, in that it was rainy and foggy and out of the mist alongside the road arose this huge, hulking shape! And I knew instantly exactly what it was – the SS United States! And the first thought I had was ‘what ever happened to that ship?’ I could see that it was rusty and run-down, but I had no idea of anything that had ever happened to it since I’d disembarked 30 years previous. As soon as I got back to the office, I did what we all tend to do these days, I got online. Within minutes, I’d found the SSUS Foundation website and called Robert Westhover. I told him then that this was a great untold story and that I wanted to make a documentary film on it. Within a few more minutes, I had Bob Scott, former president of Gibbs and Cox, Inc. on the phone, and the karma felt just exactly right.

In the intervening years, we’ve had some ups and downs in our development efforts, but starting in January of 2005, my company, Rock Creek Productions, committed fully to making this film, and here we are, many months and much work behind us, well on our way.


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