French Line’s SS CHAMPLAIN

Ahoy There!  Brooke Astor – The late Brooke Astor, from the 1900s to 1950s, sailed trans-Atlantic on scores of famous liners including the SS Champlain.  These were not cruise ships but floating palaces known as ocean liners.  They would have had three or four classes of travel… First, Cabin, Tourist, 3rd Class and Steerage.  Brooke Astor sailed first or cabin.  Cabin before world WW2 was first class on many liners.  This is a type of service you will never see today on the floating condos called cruise-ships.

The SS Champlain was a cabin class ocean liner built in 1932 for the French Line by Chantiers et Ateliers de Saint-Nazaire, Penhoët. She was sunk by a mine off La Pallice, France, in 1940 — one of the earliest passenger ship losses of the Second World War.

(Left: SS Champlain, Salon – The French Line’s SS Champlain of 1932 was another truly modern ocean liner and embodied many design features later incorporated in the more famous SS Normandie. Her gorgeous in-teriors were designed by Rene Prou who déc­or­ated spaces in several earlier French Line ships.)

Although not as well remembered as her larger fleetmates, the Champlain was the first modern ocean liner and embodied many design features later incorporated into the French Line’s SS Normandie. Her interiors were designed by Rene Prou who decorated spaces on several earlier French Line ships, including the cabin motorship Lafayette. When she made her début in June 1932, the Champlain was the largest, fastest, and most luxurious cabin class liner afloat.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Champlain was pressed into evacuee work, transporting refugees from Europe to the safety of North America. This included many European Jews escaping Nazi Europe. Vladimir Nabokov and his family were passengers on the last voyage to New York in May 1940. It was on the return trip that the Champlain met her fate. On 17 June 1940, the liner struck a German air-laid mine while swinging at anchor in the waters off La Pallice, France, near Île de Ré, and quickly heeled over on her side.

SS Champlain sailing into New York… 1930s…

A few days later a German U-boat fired a torpedo into the hulk — possibly to finish her off, as much of the ship lay above water level. Many sources quote a wire service report from 1940 that as many as 300 lives were lost but this is erroneous. Although there were many injuries there were only 11 or 12 fatalities. She was one of the largest ships sunk in WWII. Her wreck lay quite visible for over twenty years and was eventually scrapped in 1965.

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About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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