Released in the summer of 1975, the classic thriller Jaws captured the public’s attention like no movie before it and instilled in them a fear of the open water. The tale of a enormous great white shark that terrorizes the population of a seaside resort town, prompting the local police chief to join forces with a marine researcher and shark hunter to track and kill it was Hollywood’s original summer blockbuster hit. Taking an enormous bite out of the box-office, it smashed all previous records and made a household name of the film’s director, a then unknown 27-year-old named Steven Spielberg. But before it became a watershed movie Jaws started life as a bestselling novel by author Peter Benchley. A former speechwriter for President Lyndon B Johnson, Benchley was also a journalist for the Washington Post and an editor for Newsweek Magazine. Fascinated with sharks since an early age, he was inspired to write Jaws after reading a 1964 news piece about a fisherman who had caught a 4,550-pound great white off Long Island. Several years later Benchley would propose a shark-themed story to Doubleday publishers and Jaws would be released in February of 1974. Reviews for the book were enthusiastic and it soon shot to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list. Ironically, the novel’s iconic title – of which Benchley admitted he had spent months trying to think up - was not decided on until just 20 minutes before the book went into production..
1975 Jaws Movie Poster
Upon reading Benchley’s novel, producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown of Universal Pictures immediately determined the story was something they wanted to make into a film. Buying the rights to the novel, the pair initially signed another director to the project before settling on a young Steven Spielberg - who had just completed directing his first theatrical film for them called The Sugarland Express. Spielberg decided to streamline the story, removing some of the book’s subplots and Benchley was given the opportunity to write the initial drafts of the film’s screenplay - revised by Carl Gottlieb and playwright Howard Sackler. Casting-wise, Roy Scheider was chosen as Amity Island police chief Martin Brody, Robert Shaw as gruff shark hunter Quint and Richard Dreyfuss as marine biologist Matt Hooper. Supporting roles went to Lorraine Gary as Brody’s wife, Ellen and Murray Hamilton as Amity’s unscrupulous mayor, Larry Vaughn with Benchley and Gottlieb cast in smaller roles as a TV reporter and newspaper editor.
U.S. Promotional Plastic Cup 1975
Filming began in May 1974 on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts with additional underwater photography of real sharks shot in waters off Australia by noted shark experts Ron and Valerie Taylor. With a planned shooting schedule of 55 days, Jaws went notoriously over schedule and over budget due to constant problems ranging from the difficulty of setting up shots while on water, to sea sickness experienced by the cast and crew to the constant (and well-publicized) malfunctioning of the film’s monstrous fish – three full-sized mechanical sharks all affectionately nicknamed “Bruce.” In the end, Jaws took 159 days to film and its budget ballooned from $4 million to $9 million.
Jaws Original Soundtrack Album, MCA Records, 1975
While Spielberg was initially afraid he would never work again in his field his fears were put to rest when the film was released on June 20, 1975 to overwhelmingly favorable reviews and long lines at cinemas. So confident was Universal in the quality and earning potential of Spielberg’s flick that the company promoted it with a huge marketing campaign and released it nationwide on several hundred screens at once – something unheard of at a time when films would normally open in just a modest number of theatres and prints would move around the country. The first film ever to reach the $100 million mark Jaws was the number one box office champ of all time until the release of Star Wars in 1977. To date, the film has earned an estimated $470 million and Spielberg would of course go onto make several of the highest grossing movies ever including E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park.
Jaws 1975 Paperback Novels UK Edition (Pan Books)
But what is nearly as remarkable as the film and its creation is the sheer quantity of merchandise (both licensed and otherwise) spawned from it. Leaving an indelible imprint (or tooth mark) on ’70s popular culture, Jaws created an insatiable need for anything shark-related and it wasn’t long before fans were treated to a cornucopia
of Jaws products. During the height of Jaws fever hundreds of different items would be produced - everything ranging from T-shirts to beach towels to plastic drinking cups to shark-shaped pendants to inflatable pool toys.
Unsurprisingly, the earliest Jaws collectible is Peter Benchley’s novel itself. The original 1974 hardcover edition by Doubleday sports dust jacket artwork that is quite different than later printings. Set against a jet-black background the illustration features a shark and female swimmer but the image takes on an eerie and supernatural feel because of the almost other-worldly appearance of the shark coupled with the dark stillness of the water. The rarest and most desirable edition for Jaws fanatics, mint condition copies can be found with price tags of $200 or more.
Jaws 1975 Paperback Novels US Edition (Bantam Books)
Of course, a more reasonably priced alternative is the mass-market paperback edition subsequently printed by Bantam Books. Published to coincide with the release of the film, it featured cover art of the now iconic image of an monstrously oversized shark, mouth open and teeth visible - rising from the ocean depths to menace an isolated, unsuspecting female swimmer above. Originally commissioned for use on just this book, the illustration (designed by prolific artist Roger Kastel) was so effective that is was immediately adopted by Universal for use on the film’s movie poster and advertising
material and went on to be used on practically anything associatedwith the movie. Easily found today in used bookstores and on eBay, decent condition copies of the paperback can be snatched up for under $10.
Jaws Hobby Kit, Addar, 1975
Other books quickly made their way to store shelves upon release of the film. These included two well regarded “making of” journals entitled The Jaws Log and On Location on Martha’s Vineyard: The Making of the Movie Jaws. The Jaws Log, published by Dell Publishing in 1975 was Carl Gottlieb’s account of the making
of the film, filled with numerous anecdotes and rare photos. Highly revered by fans, the book (which was republished as a 30th Anniversary Edition in 2005) is still thought of to this day as one of the best behind-the-scenes accounts of a film production. Equally entertaining and well-written was The Making of the Movie Jaws, published by Ballantine Books in 1975. In it, author Edith Blake’s frank reportage on all aspects of the troubled film shoot at Martha’s Vineyard makes it an interesting read.
Jaws Lunch Box
Movie posters and press material have always been popular collectors’ items and that has never been more so than in the case of Jaws. Featuring the fantastic aforementioned artwork of Roger Kastel, publicity material for the film continues to consistently bring in high dollar values. Original theatrical posters and lobby card sets used to advertise the film in cinemas can easily command several hundred dollars. Pressbooks (which contained photos, cast and crew bios and production info to publicize in newspapers and magazines) are on the other hand, much more reasonably priced and can be found for as little as $20.
One of the most instantly recognizable elements from Jaws was its soundtrack which was made available from MCA Records on LP, 8-track tape and cassette in 1975. Composed by the prolific John Williams (who created the music for other memorable films like Star Wars and Superman), it showcases the film’s main theme: a brilliantly simple piece of music consisting of two alternating notes. Vital in giving the film a heightened sense of suspense and impending danger, the impact of Williams’ music in the movie is equal to that of Bernard Herrmann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho. Found in used record stores and online on eBay, copies can be usually bought for around $10 or so.
The Game of Jaws, Ideal Toy Corp., 1975
When it came to the merchandising of Jaws, many of the most fondly remembered items were the toys produced.
One of the most popular of these was The Game of JAWS, released by Ideal Toy Corporation in 1975. With it, players were given a hook in which to remove various items (including a skull, gun, camera, walkie-talkie, tire and lantern) from the shark’s gaping mouth – before it snapped shut. Featuring a fantastically designed box with a slightly modified movie poster image (the female swimmer was removed) it issued a warning to players: “It’s you against the great white shark … One wrong move … and the JAWS go snap!” Popular for years, it was re-released by Just Toys in 1989.
Model kits have always been a big draw for kids and Jaws was well represented on that front with two great plastic hobby kits from 1975 from Addar Products Corporation. The first was a “Super Scenes” offering that consisted of a miniature diorama of Hooper warding off the shark from within his shark cage that could be assembled, painted and then placed inside a clear plastic bottle (with cork!) to be displayed. Relatively easy to find on sites like eBay, it can go for between $30 and $50 in un-built condition.
Jaws 3-D Trading Cards, Topps, 1983
The second and much rarer kit is a diorama recreating the finale of the film when Brody attempts to shoot the attacking shark from the mast of the sinking Orca. Very difficult to find, it can command $200 or more when found in mint and unassembled shape.
Other memorable vintage Jaws collectibles to be released included a 500-piece Movie Poster Puzzle made by Milton Bradley and a Halloween costume (with plastic shark mask) manufactured by Collegeville. Though not “official movie merchandise”, a number of magazines adorned their covers with a visage of the marauding monster including Time, People, Rolling Stone and American Cinematographer and the movie was even parodied in Cracked, Mad Magazine and musically, in a hit record single called “Mr. Jaws” performed by Dickie Goodman.
1981 Topps Giant Movie Pin Up Posters
The success of Jaws invariably led to three sequels – all of declining artistic quality as well as reduced box office returns. Steven Spielberg was unavailable to work on the first sequel, and so Jaws 2 was helmed by director Jeannot Szwarc with cast members Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary and Murray Hamilton returning to reprise their roles from the first film. Released in June of 1978 to mixed critical reviews Jaws 2 was box-office gold however and was responsible for a boat-full of new merchandise, including a movie program sold at theatres, trading cards produced by Topps, a Marvel Comics comic book adaptation, a soundtrack LP from MCA Records, the Jaws 2 Log written by Ray Loynd and a Bantam paperback tie-in novel by Hank Searls - which was actually based on an earlier version of the film’s screenplay and differed somewhat from the finished movie.
The series’ third film, Jaws 3-D was directed by Jaws’ production designer Joe Alves and saw release in 1983 during that year’s mini “3-D comeback” that saw releases of such flicks as Friday the 13th Part 3 and Amityville 3-D. Starring future star Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr., Jaws 3-D received generally unfavorable reviews but it was a decent moneymaker and led to such merchandise as a soundtrack album and trading cards from Topps that featured movie photos on one side and line illustrations on the other to be used with mini anaglyph process 3-D viewers enclosed with the cards. Additionally, a nicely designed pair of red and blue lens 3-D glasses (given out at theatres to view the film) remains one of the best collectibles from the movie.
Jaws Movie Amity Police Shoulder Patch
Four year later, Jaws: The Revenge - the fourth and final film in the series was released. Starring Lorraine Gary again in the role of Ellen Brody, the 1987 film also featured Michael Caine and Mario Van Peebles and was directed by Joseph Sargent. Poorly executed, the film was battered by critics and generated dismal box office returns. Relatively little was made available in terms of merchandise but these items included a puzzle of the movie poster artwork, a T-shirt and child-sized backpack (manufactured
Jaws: The Revenge 1987 Theatrical One-Sheet Poster
as a cross-promotion with Shasta Cola in the U.S.) and yet another tie-in novel written by Hank Searls, this time released through Berkley Books.
Fascinatingly enough, merchandise based on Jaws and its ferocious fish still continues to be produced after all these years and today’s items are of generally higher quality than those of the past - as evidenced by such fantastically detailed items as a stunningly produced diorama of a sinking Orca complete with Quint as shark dinner as well as a beautifully rendered 3-D sculpture of the film’s iconic theatrical poster – both released by McFarlane Toys. Other more recent items include a battery-operated “singing and dancing” shark from Gemmy and a miniature shark and Amity police boat set from Matchbox. Lastly, there are the numerous VHS, Laserdisc and DVD releases of the films themselves over the years – some containing extras like in-depth documentaries and full-color photo booklets that are of interest to collectors. Thirty-five years after Jaws was first unleashed upon unsuspecting moviegoers, the film’s power to thrill, chill and excite audiences has yet to diminish. And for many, these toothy collectibles still have an ability to take us back in time to those lazy, hazy summer days when we were more than a little bit afraid to go into the water.
Jaws 2 1978 Theatrical One-Sheet Poster.
James Burrell is a Toronto-based writer whose work appears in several Canadian publications including the award-winning Rue Morgue. He is also an avid collector who has been acquiring vintage monster toys and movie collectibles for more than twenty-five years.