The Titanic Getty Images Europe/Peter Macdiarmid
By Amy Phillips Penn
“Well, yes, ma’am, I do… I mean, I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s gonna happen or, who I’m gonna meet, where I’m gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having Champagne with you fine people. I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you… to make each day count.” — Jack Dawson, Titanic


Oh, the journeys we take in life — in our dreams, our fantasies, by watching, listening, and yearning.

Along with an audience cast of millions, I loved Titanic.

When I was in my teens, my parents and I boarded “The SS France,” an extravagant ocean liner with endless caviar and black tie in an elite First Class.

My parents’ close friends and their son Charles were along for the voyage.

I’d had a crush on Charles since I was 10 and he made fun of my glasses. They were shoe polish red, and shaped like wings — Charles had a point.

Out went the glasses, and anything else that he could taunt me with.

Charles called me every evening and arranged to meet me after we had dinner with our parents. I was over the moon, Saturn, and Venus.

A schoolmate’s mother, Stephanie, was on board, accompanied by her doting and very concerned parents.

Stephanie was recovering from a tragedy; We had all heard the sad story. Stephanie had remarried and they were head over heels, “movie love” in love. My spirit soared a few octaves up when we were in their company. It was a high to inhale their joy.

Then the unthinkable happened; Stephanie’s husband was killed in a car accident in Palm Beach.

This beautiful woman sat at a nearby table, and everything about her seemed to be crying except her eyes.

There was nothing that any of us could do to make it go away.

After dinner, Charles and I would sneak into second class to go dancing and have a few drinks. We would wait until someone would open the door to second class, and walk-in with a wink and sense of rebellious accomplishment that was shared with those who had managed to make their way into First Class.

The ease of second class, dressed down with people who loved to party with abandon, and not immersed on dish-cussing what diplomat or heir was sitting nearby, was a welcome playground.

Aileen Mehle, aka Suzy Knickerbocker, was a reigning queen of society columnists.

In my stint as a society columnist, I remember a few wise words that she wrote. She beckoned her readers to ask her how many really fun parties she attended in a year. It was implicit that there were very few.

Was “society” really one weary buttoned up hotel charity benefit after another — the same crowd, food and music, and unmemorable conversation?

When my life became polo obsessed, parties redefined themselves. There were a few black tie affairs, with polo and horse talk, often followed by clubbing in Palm Beach, or sensual moments in pools and tack rooms.

There were polo barbecues almost every night. Fortune Five Hundred patrons shared their asada (Argentine barbecue) with their body guards, horses’ grooms, and dogs, both pedigreed and not.

There was no litmus stick or mallet to identify who was more important in whose eyes.

“A good time was had by all.”


“I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

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