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This summer marks the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, the film that changed the face of Hollywood. It marks the birth of the summer blockbuster, and holds up today. It will hold up forever, for that matter. Here are 16 things to know about the film and its history…
1. The mechanical shark, which became infamous, spent most of the movie broken-down, and was unavailable for certain shots. This led Steven Spielberg to use the camera as the “shark”, and film from the shark’s point of view. Many think this added to the “chilling/haunting” quality in the final release saying that it would have made it too “cheesy” had they shown the shark as much as originally planned.
2. After the shark was built, it was never tested in the water, and when it was put in the water at Martha’s Vineyard, it sank straight to the ocean floor. It took a team of divers to retrieve it.
3. Roy Scheider stated in an interview that in the scene where Lee Fierro (Mrs. Kintner) smacks him in the face, she was actually hitting him. Apparently, the actress could not fake a slap and so the multiple takes were some of the “most painful” of his acting career.
4. Robert Shaw could not stand Richard Dreyfuss and they argued all the time, which resulted in some good tension between Hooper and Quint.
5. Though respected as an actor, Robert Shaw’s trouble with alcohol was a frequent source of tension during filming. In later interviews, Roy Scheider described his co-star as “a perfect gentleman whenever he was sober. All he needed was one drink and then he turned into a competitive son-of-a-bitch.” Shaw was having a drink between takes, at which point he announced “I wish I could quit drinking.” Much to the surprise and horror of the crew, Richard Dreyfuss simply grabbed Shaw’s glass and tossed it into the ocean. When it came time to shoot the infamous USS Indianapolis Scene, Shaw attempted to do the monologue while intoxicated as it called for the men to be drinking late at night. Nothing in the take could be used. A remorseful Shaw called Steven Spielberg late that night and asked if he could have another try. The next day of shooting, Shaw’s electrifying performance was done in one take.
6. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, was used as Amity Island primarily because even 12 miles out to sea, the sandy bottom was only 30 feet down, allowing the mechanical shark to function. Residents were paid $64 to scream and run across the beach as extras.
7. Preview audiences screamed when the head of a shark victim appears in the hole in the bottom of the boat. Director Steven Spielberg re-shot the scene in editor Verna Fields swimming pool because he wanted them to scream louder.
8. When composer John Williams originally played the score for Steven Spielberg, Spielberg laughed and said, “That’s funny, John, really. But what did you really have in mind for the theme?” Spielberg later stated that without Williams’s score, the movie would only have been half as successful.
9. Although Steven Spielberg wanted Charlton Heston to play Brody, the main reason Spielberg decided against casting him was because of Heston’s “saving the day” role in his previous movies, Airport 1975 and Earthquake. Spielberg reasoned that if Heston would have been cast, it signifies to the audience that the shark has virtually no chance against the hero.
10. Quint’s boathouse set was built in Martha’s Vineyard on an abandoned lot. The city council made the production crew sign an agreement to demolish it after filming and replace everything exactly as it had been – right down to the litter.
11. Steven Spielberg was not the original director of Jaws. The first, unnamed person was fired after a meeting with producers and studio execs. In the meeting he said that his opening shot would have the camera come out of the water to show the town, then the whale (instead of the shark) would come out of the water. The producers said that they were not making ‘Moby Dick’ and would not work with someone who did not know the difference between a whale and a shark.
12. Author Peter Benchley was thrown off the set after objecting to the climax.
13. In a biography, Steven Spielberg revealed how Robert Duvall helped to encourage him into making the movie. In return, Spielberg offered the role of Brody to Duvall but he turned it down, fearing that it may make him too famous as a result.
14. There were two 300-pound weights attached to Susan Backlinie (the first victim) that were being tugged by two groups of crewmen on shore. One group would pull right, and the other would pull left. It took three days to film that sequence.
15. Robert Shaw ad-libbed the “Here lies the grave of Mary Lee” line after Steven Spielberg prompted him to give Brody’s wife a hard time. Asked later where he quoted it from, as it would require getting a license and release from the author to be used in the film, Shaw said that was unlikely, as it was off an old grave marker in Ireland.
16. The last known surviving mechanical shark of “Bruce” is suspended atop two metal poles in the middle of an auto wrecking yard, at U Pick Parts in Sun Valley, CA, in the San Fernando Valley. The lot is owned by a man named Nathan Adlen.