The Unsinkable Margaret Brown Was a Crusader Before She Became a Musical Heroine

Margaret Tobin Brown was not the perky, Debbie Reynolds-like character from The Unsinkable Molly Brown. In fact, she was not even known as Molly when she lived in Denver. The "Indomitable Mrs. James J. Brown" might have been a better nickname, since despite being snubbed by this city's society mavens after she moved here from Leadville with her husband -- the manager of a silver mine who found a deposit of gold that made them filthy rich -- she proceeded to launch a series of good works. And, yes, the couple also bought a gaudy mansion on Pennsylvania Street that survives today as the Molly Brown House Museum, a historic landmark. See also: Beth Malone on Molly Brown, Playing Strong Historical Characters, and Coming Back to Denver Margaret Brown pushed for safer mining conditions, pushed for public bathhouses and parks, pushed for juvenile justice and pushed for a woman's right to vote. She even ran for the state Senate. And she didn't just push in Denver: She traveled a lot -- with and without her husband (they separated in 1909).

Brown was returning from a European trip when she booked passage on the brand-new Titanic in April 1912. When that vessel hit an iceberg, she drew on her experiences in the wild, wild West to rally the passengers on her lifeboat before they were rescued by the Carpathia. When that boat arrived in New York, reporters asked how she had survived. "Typical Brown luck," she replied. "We're unsinkable."

That's when she became the Unsinkable Mrs. Brown. The Molly followed later.

And the Molly version of Brown is what lives on in the Meredith Willson musical that washed up on Broadway in 1960, became a movie starring Reynolds, and is now in previews at the Stage Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Colorado native Beth Malone is playing the spunky, homegrown heroine.

For more on Margaret Brown, go to the Molly Brown House website; a show on her work during World War I continues there through September 28. For showtimes and tickets for The Unsinkable Molly Brown, go to

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun