Joe Rota's Gallery



You're in for a treat. 20+ images. (worth the download time!)

SS UNITED STATES crew member Joe Rota worked aboard the SS UNITED STATES in the mid 50s first signing on as Bellboy. In his various assignments he also worked for a time as a ship photographer. That's Joe below, circa 1957 in London, England while on his day off from the Big U.

About these Photos

Most photos from the SS UNITED STATES capture passengers enjoying the ship. But Joe has also included some of the most unique SS UNITED STATES photography ever seen. As you're about to see - two of Joe's images reveal a sense of CREW LIFE aboard the Big U.

These images have never been publicly seen and are impressively creative works by Joe. In this gallery you'll see Judy Garland, Hopalong Cassidy, Robert Montgomery and other famous, and not so famous SS UNITED STATES passengers. But, I think you'll agree, the most interesting images created by Joe are a self portrait of Joe in his SSUS quarters - listening to music and another image of a friend and fellow crew member named Sid Zwerling. Both of these images look like they belong in LIFE Magazine. And, perhaps they should have been - as they expose the human side of crew life aboard America's most accomplished flagship.

Joe Rota currently lives near Lake George, New York. We are very grateful that he has elected to share these images here at Enjoy!

Pause here for a moment and allow this page to completely download. Images are large sized - rather than in thumbnail. Once the page has downloaded you can scroll top to bottom and back to fully enjoy Joe's gallery of SS UNITED STATES images. It may take three or four minutes to fully download this page. Relax and imagine yourself aboard the Big U on your way to Europe.

Welcome aboard the SS UNITED STATES.


Welcome Aboard the Big U - Southampton Docks

Your SS UNITED STATES crew welcomes you aboard. Bell Boys Joe Rota and John Rizzo, with Rita, Don Denehy and Assistant Bell Captain John White are ready for the westbound crossing. It's 1956 and the SS UNITED STATES is at Southampton Docks in England. The ship towers nearby with A-Deck & Main Deck portholes partially visible.(ref: rota19)

Hello Joe - Gangway Duty

That's Joe far left - checking boarding documents at the Cabin Class Gangway. It's 1955 and the SS UNITED STATES is in LeHavre, France boarding passengers. At right, John Rizzo looks at the camera - standing next to a ship officer. (Ref: rota2)

A Very Famous Smile

With a smile recognized around the world French actor/comic Fernandel (at left) arrives at the entrance hall to the first class dining room on the Captain's Dinner Night.
With him is his interpreter. 1957. (Ref: rota16)

Fernand Joseph Desire Contandin (1903 - 1971) appeared in many movies including Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and Topaze (1951).


Dressing up for BINGO. Joe Rota assists these ladies during BINGO in the Cabin Class Lounge aboard the SS UNITED STATES. Years later, Joe would discover that the lady on the right is his best friend's Aunt. 1956 (ref rota15)

Crew's Lifeboat Drill

Joe snapped this shot during a crew life boat drill - with New Jersey in the background. Attention model builders: This color image gives you a chance to see some detail on the lifeboats - deck colors - and davit motor covers. (ref rota crewdrill)

Aft View - Southampton

Looking aft from the Cabin Class open deck in the Summer of '55. As passengers are about to board, crew members are busy loading hatches. In this part of the ship, baggage and mail would be loaded down in holds 4 and 5. You can make out a baggage handler standing on the working deck. In the center of the photo - the cylinder shaped object is the exhaust (muffler) for the aft emergency generator. Farther behind that you can just see the US Flag at the stern of the ship. (Ref rota10)

Drydock #10 - Building the Big U

Joe includes this photo - not by him, of the ship while under construction. Lifeboat davits are just being installed - and the forward part of the superstructure is still without ports. Photo most likely taken in the late summer 1951. (Ref: rota12)

Gangway Duty

Families board the Big U with the help of Joe - here at the Cabin Class Gangway. LeHavre, France 1955. (Ref rota3)

Dinner with Merle

Actress Merle Oberon shares a warm smile. In the 1st Class Dining Room. 1956.SS UNITED STATES. (Ref rota7)

Merle Oberon (1911-1979) appeared in 30 motion pictures including her role as Cathy - who tormented and rejected Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) in the 1939 classic Wuthering Heights.

Let the Games begin...

The body language in this image might suggest that maybe someone is keeping these ladies waiting (empty chair). But it can't be Joe who is standing ready. All the same, it's a great image to study - for the fashion and ship interiors. Cabin Class Lounge - Bingo. 1956 (ref rota9)

Three Coins in The Fountain

To the right is Italian actor Rossano Brazzi - with his wife. 1955 First Class Lounge. (Ref rota1)

Brazzi (1916-1994) appeared in over 200 movies. Credits include Three Coins in the Fountain, South Pacific (lead with Mary Martin), The Barefoot Contessa and Summertime and Legions of the Lost with John Wayne and Sophia Loren.

Arriving Passengers

Take a look at those smiles. Welcome aboard the SS UNITED STATES.
Passengers boarding are assisted by Bellboy John Rizzo. John was from the Island of Malta. Joe Rota stands left of the port doors - or is that Kevin Costner? 1956 (ref rota4)

Going to Dinner

This couple is about to enter through the doors into the 1st Class Dining Room on A-Deck at midship. That's Actor Robert Montgomery and wife Elizabeth Allen - parents of Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched). 1957 (ref: rota5)

One Night Out - Sid and Judy

It's the Captain's Dinner Night. And it is the one night that Judy Garland left her stateroom. Pictured: Sid Luff and his wife Judy Garland with a friend at right. 1956 1st Class Dining Room - SS UNITED STATES (ref rota6)


In Le Havre, SS UNITED STATES passengers disembark from the Big U. Bellboys (right to left) are Zumwalt, Gopaul, Rota, Orturo and Ortez. (Ref rota11)

Etched Glass and an Artist

In the 1st Class Ballroom on the SS UNITED STATES the dance floor is surrounded by etched glass panels and seating for ship passengers. Sitting at right is the Spanish surrealist painter Salvatore Dali. (1904-1989). 1957 (ref rota13).

Private Dinner


Aboard the SS UNITED STATES there was no shortage of good food. And, there were no less than 3 large dining rooms, dozens of mess halls for the crew and this the Private Dining Room - with seating for a select few. Here it's William Boyd and his wife. Boyd (1898-1972) became a cowboy hero with his 1935 film and first appearance as Hopalong Cassidy. Later he appeared in the famed TV series which ran from 1952 to 1954. When aboard the SS UNITED STATES Mr. Cassidy would hand out his own money - the Hoppy coin . A fond memento for some crew members and passengers. (Ref rota8)

Crew Quarters with Joe Rota

You're looking at Joe Rota in his quarters on the Big U. The SS UNITED STATES carpenter would often build "add-ons" for crew members to customize crew spaces. In this case, a place was built for Joe's phonograph player next to his bunk. If you study this picture - you'll see Joe has a Big U sailing schedule on the wall under his bunk lamp. In his hands - a record - Night on Bald Mountain. We're on D-Deck - far forward in the ship. (Ref rota14)

'ello gov!

Joe gets a friendly shake from the Southampton Docks Master at Arms. Joe has just returned from a shopping trip in Southampton and is about to head for his quarters aboard the Big U. 1956 (ref rota18)

Getting Ready for Work or Rest - Sid Zwerling

Joe Rota asked his friend and fellow crew member Sid Zwerling to pose for this incredible double image and moment of reflection aboard the SS UNITED STATES. Taken in crew quarters (B-Deck) it shows Sid either getting ready for a day of work - or just ending one. In the background, a crew jacket hangs beyond the shelf which is topped with towels here in a crew lav. In Sid's hand, a glass of water - complete with the UNITED STATES LINES eagle etched on the water glass. The late Sid Zwerling went on to become a successful lawyer in New York. (Ref rota17)

A First Class Friend

That's Joe Rota in First Class on the SS UNITED STATES. Summer 1957.
And in his blue suit, Joe looks like he's heading off for dinner in the Big U's private VIP dining room with Burt Lancaster. But in fact, Joe is in uniform. The gold embroidered title on his lapel: PHOTOGRAPHER.


Many thanks to Joe Rota for sharing these images from his personal collection. Tell him yourself. You can contact Joe Rota directly via email at for visiting today and taking a trip back in time aboard the SS UNITED STATES. Tell your friends about the SS UNITED STATES. Invite them to learn more about the Big U. It's an incredible story about an amazing ship and crew. You know, it's really a great American story.


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Images Copyright Joe Rota 2004. All Rights Reserved.