Eighty-four years later, the curse of the Titanic is still running at full throttle. On Aug. 9, about 50 members of the cast and crew of director James Cameron’s $100 million-plus adventure Titanic, which was shooting in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, at the time, were rushed to the hospital after enjoying a midnight buffet that included shellfish. The first suspect: food poisoning.
But on Aug. 28 — just days before a real-life expedition south of Newfoundland failed to raise the hull of the ill-fated vessel — the Halifax Regional Police Service issued a statement that confirmed what many on the set had already suspected: They had been drugged. Someone had laced the lobster chowder with phencyclidine — better known as PCP or angel dust. ”I didn’t have any experience with drugs,” says one affected crew member, Marilyn McAvoy. ”But [others] were saying it was like the beginning of an acid trip.”
Exactly who spiked the chowder remains a mystery — and the source of an ongoing criminal investigation — but for actor Bill Paxton (Twister), who plays a modern-day treasure hunter, it was truly a night to remember. After planning to eat Italian food in his trailer, Paxton opted instead to join Cameron for a bowl of lobster chowder. Within 15 minutes after eating, he recalls, ”the crew was all milling about. Some people were laughing, some people were crying, some people were throwing up.” Assuming that bad shellfish had caused the problem, Paxton jumped in a van headed for Dartmouth General Hospital. ”One minute I felt okay,” he says, ”the next minute I felt so goddamn anxious I wanted to breathe in a paper bag. Cameron was feeling the same way.”
”These people were stoned,” says Dr. Rob Roy, who treated several Titanic victims, none of whom were seriously harmed (shooting continued the same day). ”They had no idea what was going on.”
Just what did go on? Even before Halifax police reported the chowder had been spiked, conspiracy theories began to surface. One reported account alleged that disgruntled food-service employees from one of the two companies that catered the production had tainted the chowder. Earle Scott, CEO of UNAD Quality Foods Ltd., denies it was any of his workers and insists ”it was the Hollywood crowd bringing in the psychedelic s—. I don’t think it was purposefully done to hurt somebody. It was done like a party thing that got carried away.”
Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox, co-funders of the epic slated to open next summer, decline to comment on the incident. And officials have named no suspects. ”Whether it was any specific crew member or persons or the entire crew that was targeted, we don’t know yet,” says Halifax police Sgt. Richard Hollinshead. ”We’re not even sure if it was a prank or a mistake. We’re still investigating.” Cameron, however, did tell Variety that he didn’t suspect anyone on the crew.
He and his cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, continue production later this month in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, where 600 feet of the ship is being reconstructed in a mammoth tank.