Growing up in Brooklyn in the ‘70’s, we thought of the ocean as a welcomed summer friend, soothing us from the unbearable heat. It was a haven and a safe, warm place on most days. That changed in a heartbeat.
Then the JAWS phenomenon caused everyone to take a second look at the water and consider all the possibilities that lurked beneath.
I saw the movie Jaws for the first time just before we left L.A on the first weekend it came out in late June of 1975. I stayed over my friend Ricky’s house and his Mom woke us early to drive downtown for an early showing.
There were dozens of people all walking to the theater as we parked. We seemed to have timed it perfectly. We got on line with about thirty people in front of us and within minutes, there were hundreds of people behind us with the line eventually doubling around the block as they ushered us in. People were so excited and you could feel it in the air.
Then the lights dimmed and the theater went dead quiet and my mind was blown.
Wow. That movie changed everything. This killer was random, passionless and brutal. Due to some technical difficulties that forced the director, the shark stays mostly hidden for the first half of the film. The absence made the tension ratchet up so high. The movie is carried by that suspense with great dialogue and memorable characters.
Steven Spielberg’s enduring classic continues to delight and terrify audiences more than four decades later. The monster swam into the theaters and into the psyche of nearly every person who has since swam in the ocean.
I’ve now seen that movie more than 100 times and I can recite the dialogue from nearly every scene. And there are plenty of other fishermen that quote the movie on nearly every trip. You know at least one.
“No one is willing to make an estimate on how much Jaws will eventually gross. Universal, however, is continuing to pour money into promotion, having licensed the merchandising of nine Jaws items at theaters playing the film. Wall plaques, posters, post cards, beach towels, shirts, plastic tumblers and even shark’s tooth necklaces are now available.
MCA Records is currently distributing the Jaws soundtrack album and it looks as though the film’s editor, Verna Fields, may have understated the case when she said “Jaws will be an enormously successful film.” — John Charnay and Doug Mirell, originally published on June 26, 1975. 1975: How “Massive” Promotion Built ‘Jaws’ Into a Summer Blockbuster
I still remember the first time I stepped back into the ocean with the humbling knowledge that I shared it with things much bigger. If something like that could be in the water, where did the possibilities end? I began to understand the infinity of the ocean.
This blew my mind. It was hard to digest that these waters were so close to me. I began to study the maps and read books about the area.
Jaws author, Peter Benchley’s father’s original suggestion for the tile was “What’s That Noshin’ on My Leg?” The book was a fascinating as the film (including some sexy bits that weren’t in he movie). Later, in his non-fiction book Shark Trouble, Benchley later lamented the many sharks killed since Jaws entered the public consciousness. Every weekend warrior wanted a chance to tame one of the great beasts of the deep.
They say that the Stephen Spielberg masterpiece plays somewhere in the world at least once each day of the year. I imagine it causes at least one child to turn to the sea with fascination each time, or it scares them away forever.
The interest in shark’s sparked by the Jaws phenomenon led to a boom in shark fishing. Local species were so over-fished that many are now under restrictions.
The book and the movie fueled my imagination. I became fascinated with the endless possibilities of the ocean. So much beauty, so much brutality, it was a world within our own, yet wholly separate. It did not look like anything like that could live in the gray ocean around New York City.
When we moved back from L.A., we lived in a house one block from gritty Penny Beach on Staten Island’s North Shore. The rocky, gravelly beach had great views of the sparkling lights of Manhattan. On the other side, Brooklyn was on the receiving end of a glittering string of pearls known as the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.
My brother Kevin and I would sneak beneath the Coast Guard pier in Rosebank at low tide. We would catch small spearing on tiny hooks in the shallows. When we caught a few of them we would shimmy out on the lower part of the structure. We put the baitfish on the hook and watch the Jaws-like feeding frenzy.
Snapper bluefish, only 6-7 inches long, would swarm the bait like small sharks and tear at the bait. Their razor sharp teeth, even at that size, put more than a few scars on my fingers down through the years. We’d catch a couple dozen and my mom would fry them up for us.
Access to the water, two blocks from our house, was so much fun. A few fluke and flounder were also caught. We fished that beach all summer. I haven’t stopped yet.
Jaws inspired my love and respect of the ocean. And every time I am near the ocean, I keep an eye peeled on every horizon for that dorsal fin of infinite possibility.
To learn more about sharks, check out these links-
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