July 19, 2019

'Are the passengers saved?': Alumna tells the survivors’ story of the Andrea Doria

Wayne State alumna Pierette Domenica Simpson was 9 when she immigrated to America from Italy to meet her mother, who she had not seen for eight years. 

Accompanied by her grandparents, their American dream was interrupted on the foggy night of July 25, 1956, by the tragic collision at sea between the Swedish liner Stockholm and their Italian liner, the Andrea Doria.

Pierette Domenica Simpson on the set of Andrea Doria: Are the Passengers Saved? Written and produced by Simpson, the docufilm airs July 25 on WTVS Detroit Public TV. 

The experience — and later discovery that her captain, crew and Italian shipbuilders were unjustly maligned for the tragedy — inspired Simpson’s literary and cinematic works. Andrea Doria: Are the Passengers Saved? written and produced by Simpson and directed by Luca Guardabascio of Rome, will air at 9 p.m. Thursday, July 25, on WTVS Detroit Public TV in the Detroit metropolitan area and throughout Canada. 

The docufilm features vivid dramatization filmed in Italy and the U.S., as well as archival footage. Interviews with maritime experts and fellow survivors provide supporting evidence which uncovers the true story leading to a vindication of the Andrea Doria captain and crew, Simpson said.

“Although we’ve traveled far and wide with the docufilm, I’m very grateful to Dave Devereaux, senior vice president of broadcasting at Detroit Public TV, for broadcasting this to nearly 3 million households,” Simpson said. “This will have a greater impact on my 16-year mission — to confront the historical record and vindicate my captain, crew and shipbuilders.”

front of ship with wreckage
The aftermath of the July 25, 1956, tragic collision at sea between the Swedish liner Stockholm (pictured) and the Italian liner Andrea Doria, which capsized and sank the following morning.

Simpson and her grandparents, who also survived, settled in the Detroit area. Simpson graduated with a liberal arts degree and teacher certification from Wayne State University, and taught foreign language in Farmington Public Schools and at Detroit Country Day.

Based on Simpson’s book — Alive on the Andrea Doria: The Greatest Sea Rescue in History — and the Italian version — L’ultima notte dell’Andrea Doria — the docufilm has won six awards, including Best Feature Documentary from the Salerno International Film Festival and Audience Choice award from the Royal Starr Film Festival of Royal Oak. It has been screened in the U.S., Canada and Italy — including at the Italian Parliament. Guardabascio won four awards for his direction.

Detroit area actors — including Eva Evola, Richard Haskin, Elizabeth Atkins, Judges William Giovan and Joseph Toia, and local survivor Germaine Strobel — have roles in the program, which was partially filmed in Ferndale by M-I Studios of Ferndale.