(This article introduces a special section saluting The Queen Mary’s 50th year in Long Beach. Click here to download the section.)
On the last day of October 1967, the RMS Queen Mary, then 31 years old and the world’s most famous ocean liner, would leave her native United Kingdom forever. Thirty-nine days and 14,500 nautical miles later, she would arrive off the Southern California coastline in the cool of the morning of December 9th. An estimated 5,000 boats of all shapes and sizes would be waiting to greet her! Millions of admirers watched from the shores as the liner steamed toward her new home in Long Beach.
The R.M.S. Queen Mary left Southampton, England, on October 31, 1967, for her final cruise, arriving in Long Beach on December 9, 1967, to a welcoming party that included an estimated 5,000 boats. Our 16-page section takes a glimpse at the past 50 years and what lies ahead for the iconic ship. (Queen Mary photograph)
This would conclude one of the most brilliant sea-going careers in history. In war and peace, in fair weather and foul, the Queen Mary would make 1,001 crossings of the North Atlantic carrying nearly three million passengers over a distance of 3,794,017 nautical miles. In fact, her role as a troop ship in the Second World War was such that, had she been torpedoed or bombed, it could have dramatically changed the outcome of the European conflict. Sir Winston Churchill traveled in the ship several times, even planning Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, from his main deck suite.
In peacetime, the Queen Mary captured the hearts and imaginations of the traveling public. She was one of the only great liners to earn her way in the late 1930s. In the ’50s, wearing the laurels of her heroic wartime adventures, the ship was annually earning what it cost to build – $25 million. The Cunard Line, the ship’s owner, thought they had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!
However, towards the end of the decade, two remarkable jet airliners would emerge and make their debuts to the world. They were the Boeing 707 and the Long Beach-built Douglas DC-8. Traveling by jet, one could fly over the North Atlantic in just eight hours. No longer would it take five days to get to Europe in a ship sailing across some of the roughest ocean on the earth. Almost immediately, the number of passengers sailing in the Queen Mary began to fall. Captain Treasure Jones, the vessel’s last sea master, would comment, “In the ’60s the Queen Mary rattled across the Atlantic, using 1,000 tons of oil fuel every 24 hours with 1,200 crew looking after only a couple of hundred passengers.” It was the end of the era of the golden age of ocean travel.
Most ships are scrapped and recycled at the end of their lives and only live in pictures, memories, and hearts. But not the Queen Mary! This epic vessel would find immortality of sorts among all the names of the great liners. Thanks to the creative and far-sighted thinking of the City of Long Beach, California, the Queen Mary would know a second, even longer life as an iconic attraction, hotel, and place for special events.
On December 9th, we celebrate 50 fabulous years since the arrival of the Mary. Her popularity has never been greater, and she has a global following including 315,000 Facebook friends! The ship has had nearly 10,000 weddings performed onboard, some 2,000 champagne Sunday brunches held in the Grand Salon, and starred in more than 300 movies, including “The Aviator” with Leonardo DiCaprio and “Pearl Harbor” with Ben Affleck, as well as television shows and commercials. Even “American Idol” was filmed onboard with Ryan Seacrest, Randy Jackson, Niki Minaj and Mariah Carey. We have been visited by members of the royal families of Great Britain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as President Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Randolph Churchill and governors of nearly every state in the union. Countless musicians and singers have been seen on the ship in recent years including: Rod Stewart, Rick Springfield, The Beach Boys, Hugh Laurie, Britney Spears, Dionne Warwick and Snoop Dog, too!
So why this insatiable appeal and longevity of life for our beautiful Queen? I believe this intangible magic goes back to the very beginning of her life. The day the ship was launched in 1934, King George V would proclaim, “No longer will she be a number on the books, but a ship with a name in the world, alive with beauty, energy and strength!” The King also said, “May she in her career bear many thousands of each race to visit the other as students and return as friends.” The Queen Mary is still doing this all these years later!
In her current role as a floating Southern California icon, the Queen Mary has seen better than 50 million people come across her fabled gangways. Now 50 years and 50 million guests since the propellers have turned a single revolution, one must recall the words of a well-known English psychic, Lady Mabel Fortiscue-Harrison, also spoken on the day of the launch: “Most of us will be gone when this takes place including myself, but the Queen Mary will know her greatest fame and popularity when she never sails another mile or carries another fare paying passenger.” Quite an insight!
The Queen Mary has become to Southern Californians what the Eiffel Tower is to Parisians, what Big Ben is to Londoners, and what the Statue of Liberty is to New Yorkers. Now in Long Beach longer than she was at sea, the great vessel has become a symbol of our community. Surely an honor that she has earned.
So here’s to you Great Queen, dowager of the fleet, apple of my eye, and Queen of millions of hearts around the globe. May you live another 50 years and beyond as a clarion reminder of oceanic magnificence from another age as you so proudly breast the ebb and flow as the Queen of Southern California!
Long live the Queen!!!