In the summer of 1975, Jaws scared beachgoers away from the water and into the safety of dark movie theaters, culminating in the first Hollywood blockbuster. Much of the history surrounding the making of Jaws has become the stuff of legend, from feuding actors to problems with the mechanical sharks. We took a deep dive and fished up these 10 crazy facts about the making of a cinematic classic that make crusty old fisherman Quint look sane. Dip your toes in…if you dare.
1. The shark was named “Bruce” after Spielberg’s lawyer.
Bruce Ramer was (and still is) a prominent entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, so when the crew was building the three large mechanical sharks for the film, they jokingly nicknamed them after Spielberg’s attorney. “The Bruces” proved problematic throughout the shoot, and according to screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, were more often referred to by the crew as “that sonofabitchin’ bastard rig,” “the great white turd,” and other names too NSFW to print. Pixar paid homage to Spielberg’s “Bruce” in 2003’s Finding Nemo, giving one of their own shark characters the same lawyerly moniker.
2. The Orca sank for real and nearly ruined an entire day’s footage.
The entire ocean portion of the Jaws shoot was plagued with technical difficulties, but no one expected the Orca to actually begin sinking with Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss onboard. Due to a malfunction, the boat started leaking, causing Spielberg to send another boat in a mad dash to retrieve the actors and crew from the sinking ship. One camera was submerged, but technicians were able to salvage the film inside, saving Spielberg from having to add yet another day to his already backlogged (and waterlogged) shooting schedule.
3. Richard Dreyfuss and Elizabeth Taylor shared the same stuntman.
When shark experts Ron and Valerie Taylor were shooting underwater footage of Great White sharks off the coast of Australia for the film, they were unable to find any close enough in size to the one described in the script, let alone one that would dwarf Richard Dreyfuss. Spielberg’s solution was to hire 4’11” stuntman Carl Rizzo to serve as Dreyfuss’ onscreen double to make the real sharks appear larger in scale. Unfortunately, Rizzo mostly only had experience riding horses (he doubled for child actors like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet) so he was terrified throughout the entire underwater shoot and refused to go back into the cage to film the climactic scene where the shark attacks the cage.
4. Robert Shaw ducked the IRS during the shoot.
Shaw drank quite a bit on set and was often a volatile presence, but he also frequently worried about his taxes. The native Brit was reportedly being pursued by both the IRS and British taxmen, causing the actor to flee the country on weekends for Canada to avoid facing a tax liability for spending too many hours on U.S. soil. In fact, Shaw had to forgo his salary on the film in order to make amends with the IRS for his charges of tax evasion. Sadly, it would seem both that Bruce the shark and loan sharks bested Shaw.
5. One of the scariest scenes was shot in a swimming pool.
There’s no question one of the biggest scares in Jaws comes courtesy of fisherman Ben Gardner’s head popping through an underwater hole in his chewed up boat. More surprising than Ben’s severed head is that the scene was reshot in editor Verna Fields’ swimming pool in Van Nuys, California, six months after principal photography wrapped in New England. Unhappy with the original version, Spielberg borrowed the props and some film equipment from the Universal backlot and set everything up in Fields’ pool, adding milk to the water to give it the same murky look as the water in Martha’s Vineyard. The scene was seamlessly cut back into the film and has been making audiences jump ever since.
6. The actor who played the Mayor of Amity got skunked.
Sharks weren’t the only predators terrorizing the cast. Murray Hamilton, who played greedy Amity Mayor Larry Vaughn, was out having dinner and drinks with castmate Jeffrey Kramer (who played police officer Lenny Hendricks) and went to pet what he thought was a cat on his walk back to his hotel. Having had quite a few cocktails, Hamilton was pretty buzzed and didn’t notice it was actually a skunk he was attempting to pet, which sprayed him all over. Kramer had to help Hamilton bathe in tomato juice to get rid of the stench.
7. Roy Scheider started a food fight during a cast and crew dinner.
Tensions were constantly running high during the lengthy, challenging shoot, so it’s no surprise everyone was looking for ways to blow off some steam. One night while the entire crew was having a catered buffet dinner at the Kelly House on Martha’s Vineyard, Roy Scheider flung a fistful of mashed potatoes and gravy into Spielberg’s face. Richard Dreyfuss, seizing his opportunity, hurled his plate of dessert at Scheider, and soon the entire crew (including the hired help serving the food) joined in the brouhaha. When the food fight ended, Dreyfuss, Scheider, and Spielberg all jumped in the swimming pool to clean up. Did that mashed potato fight perhaps inspire Dreyfuss’ Devils Tower sculpture in Spielberg’s next film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind?
8. George Lucas got stuck inside the mechanical shark’s mouth.
Perhaps as a sign of things to come, Spielberg had trouble with the mechanical sharks before shooting even began. When George Lucas came to visit friends Spielberg and uncredited screenwriter John Milius in the special effects shop, he stuck his head inside Bruce’s mouth. Spielberg and Milius decided to play a prank on Lucas and closed Bruce’s jaws on him, but the controls jammed, leaving Lucas stuck inside. Bruce’s jaws had to be pried open in order to rescue the future Star Wars director from a most embarrassing predicament.
9. Richard Dreyfuss hurled Robert Shaw’s drink into the ocean.
Robert Shaw, who played crusty shark hunter Quint, was famously drunk throughout the making of Jaws. His drunken behavior caused him to butt heads with Richard Dreyfuss, so much so that when Shaw announced to the cast and crew that he wished he could stop drinking, Dreyfuss grabbed Shaw’s glass of booze and tossed it into the sea. When it came time to film Quint’s famous monologue about the sinking of the Indianapolis, Shaw was wasted and Spielberg deemed the footage unusable. Shaw was so remorseful that he begged Spielberg for another try. He came back the next day sober, and nailed the intense monologue in one take.
10. Spielberg slept with a stalk of celery under his pillow throughout the shoot.
Despite making a name for himself with gritty TV work like the killer trucker flick Duel, the then 27-year-old Steven Spielberg was coming off of the Goldie Hawn box office flop The Sugarland Express when Jaws went into production. A perfectionist by nature, the young filmmaker was under mounting pressure from the studio, producers, and the film’s accountants to deliver even in the midst of mechanical problems, inclement weather, and temperamental actors. Spielberg had several mental breakdowns and spent many sleepless nights in his cabin amid growing fears he was going to be taken off the film. To combat his anxiety and insomnia, he had a pillow sent from his home in California and slept with a stalk of celery underneath, because the smell soothed his nerves. Maybe if Quint had celery in his pocket he wouldn’t have ended up in a shark’s belly.