27 Killer Facts You Didn’t Know About Jaws
Jaws (1975) is the classic film that nearly turned you off beach holidays forever! Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss (the three R’s), Jaws quickly became America’s highest-grossing movie of all time.
But fans of the movie might not realise just how much crazy stuff happened behind the scenes, so we’ve put together a handy article with 27 things you (probably) didn’t know about Jaws. Enjoy!
27. Producers wanted to train a real great white shark
Producers originally wanted to defy the laws of nature and train up a real great white shark for use in the film. However, it quickly became obvious that it’s impossible to train a shark to perform tricks, so they had to put their heads together and come up with a different solution instead. Spielberg eventually decided that they would have to build three giant robotic sharks for the film.
Instead of paying for shark training lessons, the veteran director forked out a whopping $250,000 each for the robotic sea creatures. Spielberg famously decided to name the sharks ‘Bruce’ after his lawyer. We’re just slightly worried that training up a great white shark was originally on the table at one point! Surely somebody must have realised that would be impossible? It’s almost as ridiculous as the next point on our list…almost.
26. Original director Dick Richards was fired from the movie after he kept referring to the shark as a whale
Did you know that Steven Spielberg was only the second choice director for Jaws? Dick Richards had originally signed on to make the movie. But he was fired after a meeting with producers and studio executives. Why? For some reason, Richards kept referring to the shark as a whale the entire time! The bizarre error cropped up when he was explaining his ideas for the opening shot of the film. Richards said that his opener would feature the camera emerging from the water to show the town, then the ‘whale’ would come out of the water too. Obviously these remarks had producers scratching their heads.
Studio executives told Richards they weren’t making Moby Dick and fired him because they didn’t want to work with someone who didn’t know the difference between a whale and a shark. Instead Spielberg was invited to direct – thankfully his knowledge of marine creatures is a lot better than that of Richards. Meanwhile Richards needs to think about how he preps for a director’s meeting in the future, especially when it costs him a blockbuster like Jaws. Imagine how much he was kicking himself for his mistake afterwards! Yikes.
25. Spielberg hated the robotic sharks and cut them from most of the movie
After deciding on robotic sharks, Spielberg had to wait for them to be made. When they arrived on set, the director was really unhappy with them. He didn’t feel as though they looked real enough and promptly edited them out of the first 81 minutes of the movie. This decision actually had an inadvertent effect on the movie – it really helped to build up suspense until the killer shark’s first appearance! Spielberg’s hatred of the animatronics meant that people were on the edge of their seats waiting for the shark to emerge from the sea. And we all remember the first time we see that shark’s head come up behind Brody when he least expects it to.
The director also had a hilarious nickname for the robot fish, which didn’t work that well when submerged in actual seawater. He could often be heard referring to the robot as ‘the great white turd’ on set. Oops! It’s quite funny to think that the blockbuster king Spielberg had to put up with stuff like this on his early projects. He definitely learned how to work his way up the directing ladder, animatronic sharks and all.
24. One of the film’s most famous lines was completely ad-libbed
Jaws has plenty of famous speeches throughout the course of the movie. But far and away one of the most famous quotes from the film is when Martin tells Quint: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”. Did you know that this wasn’t in the original script at all?! Apparently Roy Scheider ad-libbed the line on the day of the filming. And according to rumours from the set, this isn’t the only line that was improvised when the cameras were rolling.
Shaw ad-libbed his line stating “Here lies the body of Mary Lee” after Spielberg told the actor to give Martin’s wife – who was waiting on the dock – a hard time. Shaw was later asked where he got the line from, in case it would require licensing to be used in the movie. However, the actor said that he found it on an old grave marker in Ireland, so licensing definitely wouldn’t be an issue.
23. The first shark killed in the movie was a real specimen caught in Florida
- Credit: Jeff Yonover
Bruce isn’t the first shark to make an appearance in the film. In the first half of the movie, the townsfolk believe they have killed the man-eating shark and haul it up on the dock for everyone to see. The shark looked so real on camera because, well, it was a real shark. The giant shark had been killed off the coast of Florida and had to be brought up to the shooting location at Martha’s Vineyard, because they couldn’t find one big enough in Massachusetts. Apparently this authenticity came with some very unpleasant problems though. By the time the body arrived on set, it had already started to decompose.
Imagine how much one of these things must start to smell after a few days? Their bodies are absolutely enormous and full of sea water. Unfortunately the crew learned the difficulties of transporting a shark carcass too late. The delay meant that the shark corpse stunk to high heaven. Things only got worse when the filmmakers hung the shark from its tail. As they did so, its internal organs broke loose and piled up in the back of its throat, which made things even more unpleasant for the people having to work with the body.
22. Spielberg’s prank on George Lucas went badly wrong
Spielberg decided to have some fun on the set of Jaws – but it ended up backfiring. During pre-production for the movie, Spielberg went with his friends Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and John Milius to the effects shop where Brucey was being made. Naturally they wanted to have a good look around at how things were progressing on the fake sharks. Lucas decided to stick his head in the open shark mouth to see how it worked, and as a joke, Milius and Spielberg snook over to the controls and clamped the jaws shut.
Unfortunately, this backfired when the shark head malfunctioned and Lucas remained stuck in the mouth! Eventually they managed to get him free but afterwards they were worried that they had done some serious damage to the prop. So what did all four of them do? They ran out of the workshop as quickly as possible! This is hilarious, and it just goes to show how close Lucas and Spielberg are. They started their early careers messing about with fake shark heads, and now they’re both film legends.
21. Robert Shaw’s alcoholism caused some serious issues on set
Robert Shaw was a legendary actor – but he lived a hard life, especially when it came to the booze. Shaw suffered from alcoholism for most of his lifetime and the issue became a genuine problem during filming of Jaws – the actor would often swig alcohol between takes and even ruined scenes with his drinking. Once Shaw was drinking and drunkenly declared “I wish I could quit drinking”, to which Roy Scheider grabbed the glass out of his hand and threw it into the sea. Scheider later stated in an interview that Shaw was “a perfect gentleman whenever he was sober. All he needed was one drink and then he turned into a competitive son-of-a-bitch.”
This tension came to a head during the infamous USS Indianapolis scene. Shaw became heavily intoxicated before filming because in the script, the characters were supposed to have been drinking late at night. Shaw couldn’t get through the scene and after several takes, none of his performance could be used. The actor was so embarrassed the next day that he rang up Spielberg to apologise and asked if he could have one more try. The next day, Shaw’s electrifying rendition of the speech was completed in one take.
20. Charlton Heston was seriously annoyed about not being cast in the film
Charlton Heston auditioned for the role of police chief Martin Brody. Sadly he lost out on the part to Roy Scheider. Heston didn’t react at all well when he found out the news. In fact, he got so angry that he started publicly criticising Spielberg and vowed never to work with him. Spielberg explained that Heston had just starred in two films which saw him saving a passenger jet and rescuing people from a collapsing building. The audience just wouldn’t buy that the actor could be so scared of a shark.
Heston didn’t like Spielberg’s assessment of how he would fare in the leading role and swore never to work with the director again. Heston stayed true to his word on the vow never to work with Spielberg – which probably lost him a lot of money in the long run! He turned down the director’s offer of appearing in 1941 as General Stilwel.
19. Mass hysteria about sharks took over after the film was released
Nobody really wants to go swimming in the sea after the first time they see Jaws. When the movie was released in cinemas in 1975, a bizarre mass hysteria took over the general public and hundreds of incidents involving sharks occurred across America. People were so jumpy that sharks weren’t the only sea creatures suffering. A beach in Southern California had to be completely cleared by lifeguards due to ‘sharks’ being spotted in the water – which turned out to be a pod of dolphins.
In Florida, something even more dramatic occurred which made people think twice about overreacting to the movie. A young pygmy sperm whale beached itself and was beaten to death by onlookers who were convinced it was a shark. It’s no wonder that the movie made such an impression on the American public – did you know that Jaws was the first film to reach $100 million in theatrical rentals? It was also the highest-grossing film in the US until Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope was released in 1977.
18. The plot of Jaws basically occurred in real life in Egypt
- Credit: Marc Ryckaert/Wikimedia
Jaws basically came to life a few decades later. In 2010, the Egyptian holiday resort of Sharm El Sheikh (which relies completely on tourism to survive) suffered a string of killer shark attacks. Apparently the local police force decided to use Jaws as a blueprint on how to respond. The Egyptian authorities initially denied the problem – despite the fact that people were dying – and refused to close any beaches. They only closed them down after a near shore attack happened… just like in the movie!
They even killed the wrong shark and re-opened the beaches to plenty of publicity. Guess what happened next? Yep that’s right – the killer shark struck again. Eventually though, the shark in question simply got bored and swam off to a new hunting ground. Lesson learned: Jaws probably isn’t the best movie for authorities to use as a template.
17. The dog you see in the movie has a very famous owner
- Credit: Steven Spielberg
Remember the Brody family’s cute little dog? You can clearly see a sweet cocker spaniel sat on the sofa when Ellen asks Martin if he wants to get drunk with her and fool around. It turns out this little pooch has a very famous owner: none other than Steven Spielberg himself! In reality, the dog was named Elmer and Spielberg has featured him in lots of different films. As well as an appearance in Jaws, Elmer has also starred in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1941 and The Sugarland Express.
Thankfully Spielberg didn’t cast Elmer in the role of Pippet, the black Labrador who mysteriously ‘disappears’ near the Amity Island shoreline – that would have been a distressing scene for the director to shoot!
16. Two members of the Jaws cast once had a very bizarre reunion
Remember the grieving mother Mrs Kintner in Jaws? She was played by a complete acting novice named Lee Fierro. The first-time actress put in a memorable performance as Alex’s mother – the poor kid who gets eaten by a shark when he’s swimming with his paddle board. Many, many years after Jaws was released in 1975, Fierro walked into a seafood restaurant at Martha’s Vineyard. She soon noticed an item on the menu called the ‘Alex Kintner Sandwich’.
Fierro commented to the restaurant staff that she had actually played Alex’s mother in the blockbuster, and upon hearing the news, the restaurant owner ran out of his kitchen to meet her. So who was the owner? It was none other than Jeffrey Voorhees, the actor who played her son Alex! The pair hadn’t seen each other since filming their Jaws scenes together years earlier.
15. Spielberg laughed out loud the first time he heard John Williams’ theme tune for Jaws
- Credit: Stu Rosner
The theme tune from Jaws is one of the most recognisable film scores in history. And of course it was veteran composer John Williams who came up with the idea. However, while it seems like an iconic two-note masterpiece nowadays, when Steven Spielberg first heard the track he laughed out loud! The director then reportedly said “That’s funny, John, really; but what did you really have in mind for the theme?”
Despite finding it hilarious at first, the director admitted that Williams’ composition was key to Jaws’ success. Spielberg said that the movie would only have been half as successful, while Williams has said that the distinctive score helped to jump-start his career. Funnily enough, Williams was responsible for conducting the orchestra during the 1976 Academy Awards. This meant that when he won the Oscar for Best Score, he had to run up to the podium to accept his prize and then quickly leave the stage to continue conducting the orchestra!
14. The entire film was nearly destroyed in a boat accident
The infamous ‘Orca’ actually sunk during filming one day. When they were trying to make it look as though the Orca was being tossed about by a 25-foot shark, the boat was ‘gunned’ from side to side at full speed, causing the actors on board to fall over. However, disaster struck the fifth time they rocked the boat. All of that gunning broke a hole open in the Orca’s hull, causing the boat to fill with water and begin sinking. Spielberg quickly began screaming over the bullhorn for the safety boats to come and rescue the actors.
Sound engineer John R. Carter was already up to his knees in water and reportedly shouted “F*** the actors, save the sound department!” He was right to be concerned. During the accident, the film camera was entirely submerged, meaning that the film had been washed in sea water. Spielberg and the crew assumed it was completely ruined. However, the availability of saline developing solution meant that the film could be flown to a New York film lab and technicians didn’t lose a single shot.
13. Roy Scheider had to put up with being slapped over seventeen times
Roy Scheider didn’t just have to contend with a sinking boat during filming. He also got slapped in the face over seventeen times! Remember the infamous scene in which Mrs Kintner goes up to the police chief and smacks him? Actress Lee Fierro was only an amateur who had been drafted in to play the role, and unfortunately for Scheider she didn’t know how to do fake slaps.
This meant that every single one of the slaps that were filmed actually hit Scheider full in the face. That’s got to hurt, especially because she has to convey the pain of a grieving mother with each slap. Scheider has since said those takes were some of the “most painful” of his entire career! We’re really not surprised. Fierro also revealed afterwards that in one of the takes, Scheider’s glasses accidentally fell off.
12. Hooper only survived in the film because of an encounter with a real-life shark
Hooper is a fan favourite and at the end of the film, we see him paddling back to shore with Brody. However, did you know that he was originally supposed to die in the movie? Dreyfuss’ character was only saved by some real-life underwater footage which featured an actual great white attacking a cage. At one point we see Hooper descending into the cage to try and inject the shark with strychnine. This was supposed to be game over for the character.
However, when Ron and Valerie Taylor (who were filming in Australia with an actual great white) shot the underwater scenes, the shark became tangled in some rope and got so agitated that it smashed the cage to bits. Spielberg liked the footage so much that he decided to change the plot so that audiences saw Hooper dramatically escape the cage’s destruction. Phew! Instead it’s only poor old Quint (Robert Shaw) who gets munched on by the shark.
11. Susan Backlinie had a difficult time during filming
Susan Backlinie played Chrissie Watkins in Jaws. Watkins was the attractive young beachgoer who goes skinny dipping at the start of the film and gets pulled underwater to her death. Anyone who has seen those few minutes of footage will know just how convincing Backlinie’s performance was as a woman who knows she’s about to die. In order to get the right ‘tugging’ motion, the effects team attached two three hundred pound weights to her waist. These weights were then pulled right and left by two different groups on the shore.
The whole sequence took three days to film, and people have since said that the genuine look of pain on Backlinie’s face was due to the heavy weights digging into her ribs constantly. Not only that, but the stuntwoman and former actress had to undergo an ordeal to create the sound of a drowning woman during post-production. Backlinie had to sit with her head upturned, in front of a microphone, while water was poured from above and down into her throat. Yikes!
10. Robert Shaw had to flee the country once his scenes were completed
Robert Shaw was at the centre of plenty of controversies during his time filming Jaws. As filming went on, Shaw got in trouble with the IRS and ended up having to flee the country each time his scenes were completed for that particular shooting schedule. The actor was being investigated for tax evasion due to the fact that he had been working in the US, Canada and Ireland.
During the investigation he was only allowed to spend a certain amount of time in America, otherwise he would face a tax liability. In order to get around the problem, the actor kept flying off to Canada on his days off. Because of all his tax problems with the IRS, Shaw didn’t actually make a single dime from his iconic appearance in Jaws. Despite the success of the movie, the actor had to give all of his salary to the IRS to avoid jail time.
9. One particularly gruesome scene was deleted from the movie
Jaws is full of more than a few scary shark attack scenes, but most of them are full of suspense and aren’t actually that graphic. However, Spielberg did shoot a now-deleted scene which he decided not to include because he felt that it was too gruesome and might endanger the PG rating. The scene in question features Brody’s son swimming in the ‘shallow area’ – he is frozen in terror as the shark approaches him, but just at the last minute a man pushes him out of the way and takes the brunt of the creature instead.
Spielberg included a single shot of the man’s upper torso being dragged along by the shark before it disappears under the waves. The scene was left out after Spielberg decided it was too bloody. You can see the sequence in full on the Making of Jaws documentary, just in case you’re interested. But unfortunately it doesn’t feature in any deleted scenes on the Jaws DVD versions for some reason.
8. Richard Dreyfuss really didn’t enjoy being bullied by Shaw on set
Dreyfuss didn’t have many complaints about his time on the set of Jaws. Despite having to put up with giant mechanical sharks and sinking boats, the actor really enjoyed his time working on the movie. However, Dreyfuss once confessed that the one thing he couldn’t stand while filming on location was the bullying he received from Robert Shaw. Apparently, while Shaw was very nice to him in private, the alcoholic actor seemed to enjoy berating Dreyfuss (who was a young and relatively inexperienced actor) in front of the other cast and crew members.
Once Shaw told Dreyfuss that he would only make a success of acting “if there’s room for another Jewish character man like Paul Muni.” He also claimed that Dreyfuss was a coward, which nearly caused a full-blown fight on the set of Jaws. After teasing Dreyfuss about being a coward, Shaw dared him to climb to the top of the Orca’s mast (which measured 75 feet) and jump off into the ocean. Shaw offered to pay him over $1,000. Eventually Spielberg had to intervene and told Dreyfuss: “I don’t care how much money he offers you, you’re not jumping off the mast, not in my movie.”
7. Spielberg has admitted that many of the production problems were down to his inexperience
Spielberg really made a name for himself with Jaws. But the now-veteran director has admitted that the experience was a real learning curve for him and he has attributed many of the production’s issues to his own perfectionism and inexperience. This became particularly apparent with Spielberg’s insistence on shooting at sea with an actual life-sized shark. The director later stated that he should have stuck to an underwater tank or lake instead.
Spielberg once said: “I could have shot the movie in the tank or even in a protected lake somewhere, but it would not have looked the same… I was naive about the ocean, basically. I was pretty naive about mother nature and the hubris of a filmmaker who thinks he can conquer the elements was foolhardy, but I was too young to know I was being foolhardy when I demanded that we shoot the film in the Atlantic Ocean and not in a North Hollywood tank.” He still did pretty well considering he was basically a novice when the movie was released!
6. Spielberg fled the set of his own movie
- Credit: Universal
It wasn’t just Robert Shaw who had to flee the set of Jaws. Spielberg decided to sneak out and leave secretly while the final scene was being shot – because he wanted to escape the wrath of his crew members! A number of problems had plagued production – a schedule which stretched from 52 to 155 days, Universal’s ridiculous deadlines and an unfinished script (not to mention a belligerent Robert Shaw). On the last day of shooting, Spielberg overheard rumours that his crew was planning on dunking him under water as revenge for the chaos of production.
Instead the director snook off on a plane to Boston while the final shot of the shark exploding was being filmed. He never got to see the epic explosion in action because he was so paranoid about the rumoured dunking. Dreyfuss was on the same flight and asked Spielberg how the final scene had gone down – Spielberg replied “They’re shooting it now” and Dreyfuss started laughing hysterically.
5. The climactic blowing up of the shark required an explosives expert to come in
The shark blowing up is the climactic end of the movie. And in order to get it exactly right, the filmmakers needed to hire an explosives expert with a blasting permit. Richard S. Edwards was drafted in – he had a history of working with the US Navy on explosives and agreed to place the dynamite for the final shot. It was no easy thing for Edwards to place the explosives into the shark though.
He couldn’t get past the teeth of the shark mock-up and had to try and crawl past them into the back of the device. Edwards hurt himself on sharp fiberglass and had to wrap his knees with towels and wear heavy gloves to get far enough into the prop. He carried the dynamite in his mouth then placed it carefully in the head of the shark.
4. Hooper was supposed to have an affair with Brody’s wife
Brody and his wife have an electric chemistry in the film. Which makes it even weirder to think about the fact that originally, Ellen was supposed to have a steamy affair with none other than Matt Hooper! In Peter Benchley’s original novel, the action surrounding the shark is accompanied by an illicit affair between Ellen and Matt.
Of course, in the movie this entire aspect of the original story is completely removed from the film, and for good reason. The affair was only included by Benchley to ‘sex up’ the plot of his novel. The filmmakers agreed that it was completely irrelevant. Instead they kept the focus on an interesting dynamic between Brody and his wife Ellen. The pair were clearly in love in the film and Ellen acted as a shoulder to lean on for the stressed-out police chief who really didn’t like water.
3. The USS Indianapolis massacre actually occurred in real life
Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech was actually based on a real historical event. In Jaws, it almost sounds too terrifying to be real, but Quint’s speech is a fictionalised account of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during World War II. The ship sunk off the coast of the Philippines by two Japanese torpedoes, and of the 1,196 crew members onboard, only 316 survived.
300 died during the sinking, while 579 men died from heat exposure, dehydration, drinking salt water and… shark attacks. Many of the survivors recalled seeing sharks circling and dragging off bodies into the deep.
2. There’s a sneaky reference to James Bond hidden in the film
- Credit: Lucasfilm
Spielberg made no secret of the fact that he always wanted to direct a 007 movie. And the young filmmaker decided to include a James Bond easter egg to pay tribute to the famous franchise. When the car’s driver plate is pulled up from the wreckage, it reads 007 981. Which of course is a nice cheeky nod to the British espionage franchise featuring Bond… James Bond. Most fans might have thought this was just an innocent coincidence, but apparently it was included for a good reason.
We wonder how the likes of Roger Moore would have faced off against the great white? Spielberg still hasn’t directed a Bond film and has actually been rejected twice! We can’t believe this… are the guys in charge of the Bond franchise completely mad? We’d love to see what a Spielberg Bond film would look like.
1. Spielberg learned that you can only have one major ‘scare’ during a movie
Thanks to Ben Gardner’s severed head, Spielberg learned that films can only have one big ‘scare moment’. The scene where Hooper is shocked by Gardner’s head rolling into view was not in the original script. Spielberg admitted that he ‘got greedy’ after seeing the preview audience’s horrified reaction to the moment when the shark jumps out from behind Brody’s head.
Spielberg then went back and put the shot with Gardner’s head in before the shark appears. The preview audiences reacted in horror but the director noted that the shark’s appearance then only received half the reaction it used to. Spielberg realised that the audience will always be on guard for the rest of the film after a major shock moment.