Women of the Titanic

Unless you’ve been lost at sea since Christmas, you’ve most likely seen Titanic by now. Maybe you’ve even gone down with the ship a second time. Be honest: You fell for every over-the-top romantic moment, hook, line and sinker. Still, one question keeps rising from the depths: How did director James Cameron, best-known for helming he-man action flicks like 1984’s The Terminator and 1994’s True Lies (both starring Arnold Schwarzenegger), pull off the 10-hankiest melodrama of the ’90s? A major factor: Titanic is buoyed by strong, talented actresses. But the film’s hale females—Oscar nominees Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart plus Kathy Bates and Frances Fisher—did have their limits. One day, while waiting endlessly for the cameras to roll, Fisher organized an undercover revolt: “The ladies and I got together,” she admits, “and decided we weren’t going to suit up into our corsets until they were ready.” For the women, Titanic was a tight to remember.


Just two years after her Best Supporting Actress nomination for Sense and Sensibility, Kate Winslet, 22, is back in the Oscar running with a Best Actress nomination, for Titanic. The actress, who was on a train in England when she got the news, later said “it will be nice to see my mum and dad behaving like two little kids again on Oscar night.”

Despite her enthusiasm for the role of sensitive socialite Rose DeWitt Bukater (she ecstatically delivered roses to Titanic director James Cameron after getting the part), Winslet was nowhere to be seen at the Dec. 14 Los Angeles premiere. Instead, she was back home in England attending the funeral of her best pal and former boyfriend, 34-year-old television writer Stephen Tredre.

Tredre, whom Winslet once called “the most important thing in my life after my family,” lost a battle with bone cancer on Dec. 8, 11 days before Titanic opened. The two met in 1991, when both were acting on the BBC-TV children’s sci-fi show Dark Season. They set up house in London almost immediately, but 4½ years later the romance fizzled. Save for a three-month fling with actor Rufus Sewell, Winslet has been single since. “I now know that I will never get involved in a relationship if I don’t feel it is going somewhere profound,” she told Britain’s Sun. “Instead, I will sit back and wait until that certain person walks into my life.”

When it comes to her career, however, Winslet has rarely taken a passive approach. Growing up in Reading, 40 miles west of London, she and her two sisters (Anna, 25, and Beth, 19) were inspired to act at a young age by their grandparents, who ran a local repertory theater. An adolescent weight problem saw the 5’6½” actress tipping the scale at 185 pounds by age 16, but Winslet slimmed down soon after with a pro’s determination. “I just knew I wouldn’t work if I stayed that way,” she told PEOPLE. Now that she has finished her next film, Hideous Kinky, not yet set for release, Winslet says her top priority is to be completely herself. “When someone close to you dies,” she told the Daily Mail, “it throws a hell of a lot into perspective.”


No, Gloria Stuart, 87, can’t recall the sinking of the Titanic (she was only a year old when it went down in 1912). But Stuart just became the oldest performer ever nominated for an Oscar. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed of,” she says of her Best Supporting Actress nomination. A Los Angeles native, Stuart began her film career in the 1930s but quit in ’39 “because I hated the parts I was getting: girl reporter, girl detective, girl overboard, Shirley Temple’s sister,” she says.

She and her screenwriter husband, Arthur Sheekman (their one child is gardening author Sylvia Thompson), headed for New York City, where she attempted a Broadway career and took up painting. But in 1974, with her husband ailing (Sheekman died in 1978), Stuart returned to L.A. and resumed acting, mostly on TV.

More recently, she had to move to a hotel for three clays after her house—which is on Bundy Drive, across the street from the condo in which Nicole Brown Simpson lived and was murdered—fell under siege. “It was incredible,” she says. “People came to the door. Trash on my front lawn. It was a year before the bus tours and people stopped.”

But thanks to the raves attending her latest role, the great-grandmother of 10 has already turned down three scripts. “One was too violent, one was too stupid, and the other one I didn’t have enough to do,” says Stuart, who admits, “It’s going to be difficult to find something that is interesting after this.”


Last year brought rough waters to Kathy Bates, both on and off the screen. While the brash, versatile 49-year-old actress made a splash in her role as the Unsinkable Molly Brown in Titanic, even after James Cameron edited the part down to help trim the film’s gargantuan length, her recovery from a string of personal setbacks has been anything but smooth sailing.

At the same time the Memphis native was scoring prominent parts in Titanic and Primary Colors, due March 20, she was going through a painful divorce after four years of marriage to actor Anthony Campisi, 48. Making the year worse were the deaths of Bates’s mother, Bertye, 91, and her beloved terrier Pip, 16. But now, says Susan Smith, her longtime friend and agent, “I can tell you that she is happy, because it’s like coming through a tunnel.”

For Bates, who found stardom playing a deranged fan in 1990’s Misery, the light at the end of that tunnel looks increasingly lighthearted. After her satirical turn as a cynical campaign adviser in Primary Colors, the former Broadway star plunges into farce as Adam Sandler’s overprotective mom in Waterboy. “She can go from drama to comedy with ease,” says Misery director Rob Reiner. Off the set, Bates is keeping busy attending an advanced creative writing course at UCLA and redecorating her Hollywood Hills house. “It was a home that she lived in when she was married,” says Smith. “Now, it is like another home without moving.” And though Bates isn’t romantically involved with anyone, a friend says the actress is more content than ever because “she is creating down to her soul.”


The icy, aloof mother Frances Fisher plays in Titanic has little in common with her real-life role—as a nurturing parent raising her daughter alone. Four-year-old Francesca Ruth Fisher-Eastwood is the product of the actress’s intense six-year relationship with Clint Eastwood. Today, Franny, as she is called, lives with her mom in Fisher’s five-bedroom, toy-filled West Los Angeles home, where mother and daughter have been known to skinny-dip together in the pool. Although Eastwood, 67, “has no set schedule to see her,” says Fisher, 45, Franny visits with him occasionally. “She loves him,” her mom says. “He’s her daddy.”

Fisher met the cinema icon when he cast her in 1989’s Pink Cadillac—”One of those life-changing moments,” she says, that led Eastwood to end his 13-year relationship with Sondra Locke. But unlike Locke, who wrote a bitter memoir of her years with Eastwood (The Good, the Bad & the Very Ugly), Fisher says simply of the pairing, which ended in 1994, “If the other person is not willing to grow and work on it, you can’t do it yourself.”

Fisher learned a lot about working through transitions as a child. Her father, Bill, 82, supervised the construction of oil refineries, moving the family to locales as different as Brazil, Turkey, Iowa and France. Born in England, she changed schools almost once a year before the family settled in Orange, Texas, when she was in seventh grade. She was 15 in 1967 when her homemaker mother, Olga, died of heart failure. At 18, Fisher married high school sweetheart Billy Mack Hamilton, but they divorced two years later in 1972, and she soon moved to New York City to study acting. “I was not meant to go deer hunting every fall,” she says. Cast as the wealthy Deborah Saxon on The Edge of Night in 1976, she spent four years in the role before studying at the Actors Studio, where she appeared in plays like Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love before moving to L.A. in 1988. Almost a dozen TV appearances and 14 films later, she was ready for Titanic.

Fisher was so attached to Eastwood during their involvement that she chose her movie parts to accommodate him (she played a prostitute in Unforgiven) and took up golf, his sport. Though he initially resisted her desire to have a child, “after their daughter was born,” recalls Henry Jaglom, who directed Fisher in Babyfever, “he was happy and seemed to enjoy the baby.” Yet less than a year later, Eastwood left Fisher; he married Salinas, Calif., newscaster Dina Ruiz in March of ’96. Since the breakup, Fisher has focused on motherhood but says she would love to star in a romantic comedy—in life as well as onscreen. “Maybe someone will read this and be my guy,” Fisher says with a laugh.



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