This controversial ‘Titanic’ prop sold for more than $700,000 at a memorabilia auction

Mar 28, 2024, 6:32 AM

The ocean liner's demise remains a point of cultural fascination, more than a century later. (Movie...

The ocean liner's demise remains a point of cultural fascination, more than a century later. (Moviestore/Shutterstock via CNN Newsource)

(Moviestore/Shutterstock via CNN Newsource)

It’s one of the most iconic, and hotly-debated, props in cinematic history: The floating wood panel that spared Kate Winslet’s “Titanic” character Rose DeWitt Bukater from icy North Atlantic waters after the titular ocean liner’s sinking — but not Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson. And it’s now been sold at auction for more than $700,000.

“Often mistakenly referred to as a door, the ornate structure was in reality part of the door frame just above the first-class lounge entrance,” Heritage Auctions wrote in the auction notes.

The prop’s pivotal role in the “big scene, big goodbye” moment, as the auction house had described it, features Rose floating on the floral-carved panel as Jack, having tried and failed to also rest atop, has succumbed to the cold. As a rescue boat arrives, Rose is forced to pry her hand from his frozen grip — while uttering the famous line “I’ll never let go, I promise,” through chattering teeth — as she swims to her rescuers.

The ornate balsa wood panel had previously been displayed at a Planet Hollywood in Orlando, Florida, before being stored in their archives for some two decades, the auction house told CNN.

Heritage Auctions described the prop as “king of the auction,” in a wry nod to the movie’s script. (Heritage Auctions via CNN Newsource)

It was sold alongside a roster of other props at the “Treasures From Planet Hollywood” auction, which included memorabilia items once displayed at Planet Hollywood locations worldwide and from its archives. These included pieces such as the whip from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and the ax from “The Shining.”

Across almost 1,600 lots in total, the five-day-long auction brought in $15.7 million, according to a press release.

But the “Titanic” flotsam took the prize for the highest-priced piece, far exceeding its starting price of $40,000 and selling for a grand total of $718,750 following a high-energy bidding war.

Several other “Titanic” props were also put up for sale, including the pastel chiffon evening gown Rose wears in the movie on the night of the sinking and the ship’s helm wheel, which sold for $118,750 and $200,000 respectively.

A 2012 episode of the Discovery show “MythBusters” infamously found that two people could have survived long enough on the panel — which measures approximately eight feet (2.4 meters) long and just over three feet (1 meter) wide — if they added a life jacket for extra buoyancy. Remarking on the results, however, “Titanic” director James Cameron told the show’s hosts, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, that Jack needed to die regardless.

And in 2022, Cameron, alongside a hypothermia expert, tried to put an end to the debate once and for all with a simulated test to see if two people of the same body mass as Winslet and DiCaprio could have really stayed afloat on a piece of wood of the same size. Their final answer was no, it was not possible.

There was no additional testing of these theories on the prop itself prior to its sale, as the auction house chooses to “handle all items with great care when in transit and in storage,” Heritage Auctions told CNN. But its new owner, who is choosing to remain anonymous, could well be planning a pool day, having been drawn in by the allure of the over two-decade-long mystery.

“What you’re seeing is this massive interest in the films of the 1980s and 1990s,” said Joe Maddalena, executive vice president of Heritage Auctions, in a statement. “There has been a generational shift to where these massive franchises of the 1980s and 1990s — the ‘Home Alone’s, the ‘Indiana Jones’ films, the ‘Die Hard’s — are now collectors’ favorites… Collectors are finally rewarding these artifacts as what they are: cultural artifacts akin to the fine art of old.”

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This controversial ‘Titanic’ prop sold for more than $700,000 at a memorabilia auction