Richard René Silvin


Richard René Silvin was raised in Switzerland and received two graduate degrees from Cornell University. He was the Chief Executive Officer of a publicly traded, investor-owned hospital corporation, listed on the Zurich and London Stock Exchanges (AMI International, Inc.). Silvin left the business world after surviving a late-stage cancer and took up writing as a retirement passion. Silvin has published five books, including a memoir about his friendship with the Duchess of Windsor, a coffee table book chronicling the life and work of society architect Addison Mizner, and, most recently, the spectacular “Normandie: The Tragic Story of the Most Majestic Ocean Liner.”

SS Normandie

A History of the Great Transatlantic Lines of the 20th Century Focusing on the Normandie

Paralleling the luxury excesses of the post-World War I era, shipbuilding took on an unprecedented importance. By the roaring 1920s, the European nations, which dominated transatlantic travel, embarked on a race to build the ultimate ship which had to be larger, faster and more opulent than their own predecessors and their competitors’ planned new fleets. A race to create a new class of behemoth had begun. The lecture will briefly describe the pre-World War I liners, including Cunard’s RMS Mauretania and White Star’s RMS Olympic, Titanic’s sister ship, and will focus on the grandest liners of the 1930s: Italy’s Rex and her sister the Conte de Savoia, Germany’s “greyhounds,” the SS Bremen and her sister the Europa, Cunard’s two Queens, “the Mary” and “the Lizzie” and most of all the French Line’s great Normandie.

Silvin will explain why he considers the Normandie the ultimate liner ever built, beginning with the national controversy of building the world’s then-largest, most powerful, luxurious and expensive vessel as Europe was only just beginning to emerge from the economic devastation of the Great Depression. Pictures of Normandie's spectacular interiors, highlighted through intimate stories of celebrities who often sailed on Normandie, follow a brief review of the ship’s technical specifications and audiovisual clips, including rarely seen glimpses of life aboard the short-lived floating palace. The audience will learn why this technological marvel, blessed with an avant-garde, rakish exterior design and her stunningly elegant interiors — considered the best example of fine Deco design — was never a commercial success.

The audience will become conversant with the importance of the three classes of travel the great liners all used, the idea of “sister ships” to assure a shipping company’s transatlantic dominance, and capturing the “Blue Riband” for the fastest North Atlantic crossing. Silvin will elaborate on how speed, the luxury of the ships’ interiors and the quality of their food and service all became carefully studied, debated and evaluated to determine each country’s and each shipping line’s supremacy. It was said about Normandie that “she flew over the water like a gull.”

Finally, the audience will learn about the ship’s premature and heartbreaking end when her brief, four-year working life was tragically aborted by a perfect storm of accidents while she was being converted into a troop ship to assist in the war effort to defeat Nazi Germany. In spite of persistent rumors that Normandie was destroyed by saboteurs, Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan (1902–1974) accurately said: “Carelessness has served the enemy with equal effectiveness.”

The lecture will conclude with an explanation of why luxury transatlantic travel never regained its prominence and how cruise ships eventually replaced ocean liners.
Register Early! There is a $5 charge for registering on the day of a one-time lecture or event.

Course # S1R8 — One Time Event
Place:Auditorium, Lifelong Learning Complex, Jupiter Campus
Dates:Thursday, April 21 2016
Time:3:15 - 4:45 PM
Fee:$25 / member; $35 / non-member

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 Last Modified 2/12/15