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20 Things You Didn't Know About 'Jaws'

We'll need a bigger boat to hold all the amazing trivia about the original summer movie blockbuster

spinner image Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw in a scene from the film Jaws
AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo

What got you? The terrifying poster? That two-note theme music? The shot of that poor girl's legs from the shark's point of view? All of the above?

Forty-five years ago this weekend, Jaws — the world's first summer blockbuster — hit America's movie screens and quickly became the highest grossing film of all time (for a while). Who doesn't think, when scanning the ocean before a dip, that unforgettable line: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water ..."

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But did you know that that famous tagline — one of the most famous, in fact, in film — is actually not from the first film, but the sequel (Jaws 2) that came out three years later? Read on for 20 more fantastic trivia tidbits from one of America's most unforgettable films.

1. Jaws wasn't even supposed to come out in the summer

spinner image The movie poster for the 1975 film Jaws
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images

It's hard to separate Steven Spielberg's brilliant adaptation of Peter Benchley's novel without thinking of it as a summer movie. While the film hit theaters on June 20, 1975, starring Roy Scheider as police chief Martin Brody, Robert Shaw as shark fisherman Quint, and Richard Dreyfuss as oceanographer Matt Hooper, it was originally planned for a Christmas 1974 release. Lengthy shooting delays (you try getting mechanical sharks to work and the weather to cooperate at the same time) made that goal impossible.

2. Martha's Vineyard played the role of Amity Island ... because of a storm

Most fans know that the famed New England island, with its deep offshore waters and sandy beaches, was the real-life version of novelist Peter Benchley's fictional Amity Island from the book. What they might not know is that the location scout planned to check out nearby Nantucket Island instead, but stormy weather forced his ferry to Martha's Vineyard, where he discovered the many natural features that lured the production there.

3. The iconic poster wasn't created for the film

The image of a girl swimming naively across the top of the water while a massive great white surges toward her from below was actually purloined from an illustration by artist Roger Kastel for the novel's paperback edition. (Kastel based the big fish on a great white diorama at the American Museum of Natural History, and the swimmer was modeled after a woman whom Kastel had sketched for an ad in Good Housekeeping. The story goes that he asked her to perch on a stool and pretend to swim to get the pose just right.)

4. The slate had teeth

The slate — also known as “sticks,” “clapperboard” or “clapboard” — is the well-known tablet with a hinged top that gets clapped down to mark the beginning of a film scene (markings on the tablet help editors synch the film and sound). For Jaws, though, the normally flat edges were replaced with a sharp set of teeth — uppers and lowers.

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5. The shark is surprisingly camera shy

spinner image A behind the scenes look at Jaws
Courtesy Everett Collection

The story's nemesis — a great white shark that attacks and terrorizes the fictional community of Amity Island — doesn't appear on screen until one hour and 21 minutes into the two-hour movie.

6. The shark was named Bruce

Most Jaws aficionados might already know that the three different versions of the 1.2-ton, mechanically powered predator created for the film (this was long before computer-generated imagery, or CGI, remember) were all nicknamed “Bruce” by Spielberg after his lawyer, Bruce Ramer. But how many fans know that the other thing the crew was known to call the faux Carcharodon carcharias (and the huge and breakdown-prone rig that made it work) was “that sonofabitchin’ bastard rig,” according to Carl Gottleib, 82, who wrote the final version of the screenplay during filming, played a small role in the movie, and wrote The Jaws Log, which director Rod Lurie calls “easily the greatest ‘making-of’ book ever written."

7. George Lucas got his head stuck in Bruce's mouth

Before filming began on Martha's Vineyard, Spielberg invited industry friends (including Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and screenwriter John Milius) to check out the mechanical shark in development. When Lucas playfully stuck his head in the shark's mouth, Milius and Spielberg grabbed the controls and clamped the jaw shut. And it stuck, trapping the rising-star director. After prying Lucas loose, the guys snuck out of the workshop, afraid they'd broken the contraption.

8. A real shark shown in the movie, caught and hung up on the dock, came all the way from Florida

spinner image Actor Robert Shaw in front of a chalkboard showing a drawing of a shark eating a person
Courtesy Everett Collection

Needing a big shark that the townspeople could believe might have been the perp behind the early attacks in the film, the crew was under pressure to catch one off the location shoot on Martha's Vineyard. But nothing turned up that was big enough. Turns out the closest area where sharks big enough to pass might be catchable was all the way down in Florida. The production sent two fellows down to arrange things with local fishermen, and lo and behold, they landed a big shark. Trouble was, now they had to get it back to New England before its flesh began rotting. Packaged up in its own crate with as much ice as possible, the fish flew on a private jet and was hauled out to the location and hung up for the scene. But shooting takes time, and the poor carcass was getting fouler and fouler as the days piled up. Watch the faces of some of the actors doing scenes right next to it for a clue to how much the whole business stunk.

9. Robert Shaw was shot at when he got to Martha's Vineyard

The marvelous playwright/actor had just arrived with his wife, Mary Ure, and their elegant manservant, Eric Harrison, to Martha's Vineyard to begin filming. Imagine their shock late that first night when a local eccentric fired a few rifle bullets through the front door of the rental house, which penetrated walls and even chipped tiles in a downstairs bath. The bullets weren't meant for the star, however — the local thought the place was empty. And all credit to Harrison, who was the first out the door in robe and slippers, examined the fresh bullet holes in the door, proclaiming, “I believe they're shooting, sir.” The rifleman was later fined and released.

10. Peter Benchley scored a cameo in the film

Having worked as a reporter for the Washington Post before writing the novel that would become a massive best seller the very summer Spielberg was filming the movie version, Benchley brought work history to his cameo as a TV reporter in the film's pivotal 4th of July Weekend beach panic scene.

11. Benchley bonded with Spielberg and company over booze and cards

spinner image Director Steven Spielberg on the set of Jaws
Director Steven Spielberg on the set of "Jaws."
Universal/Getty Images

While the author and the budding auteur had a little static at first over some comments Spielberg had made about Benchley's original screenplay for the film, the two quickly made up once they met and enjoyed cocktails and rounds of poker at the beach house the director was renting during the project.

12. Steven Spielberg “appears” two times in his own movie

No Alfred Hitchcock, who famously appears in “there he is!” cameos in his own films, the young director shows up in Jaws in two arcane — and only audible — places. One: His voice crackles over the radio of Quint's boat, the Orca, as the Amity Island dispatcher that patches Brody through to his wife when the chief is out with Quint and Hooper. Two: For a scene including a local band marching through town on the 4th of July, famed composer John Williams was afraid to ask his professional orchestra to sound ... well, amateur. But Spielberg had already professed his love of playing clarinet in his high school band to Williams, and that was just the amateur touch the soundtrack needed. Spielberg picked up the clarinet again, played a Sousa march with Williams's orchestra, and several perfectly flawed bars made it into the final cut.

13. Steven Spielberg's dogs appear in his movie

Police chief Brody's dogs are played by the director's cocker spaniels, Elmer and Zalman.

14. A lot went into making that first shark attack terrifying

Who can forget the shark's first victim, the poor girl who gets dragged back and forth in the water? To get that violent action to look real, Spielberg rigged underwater cables to literally drag actor Susan Backlinie turbulently through the water. (Further, the actor wasn't warned when the jerking would begin, so her onscreen surprise is genuine.) To get the sound of her drowning to add to the audio postproduction, Backlinie was placed in front of a microphone with her head turned up to the ceiling and water was poured down her throat from above.

15. The “real” Quint ends up owning the movie's biggest scare

A Martha's Vineyard local named Craig Kingsbury — a true salt — was the inspiration for much of Robert Shaw's style as Quint (including his improvised ramblings). Not only did Kingsbury end up with a small role as another local fisherman in the film (named Ben Gardner), but his disembodied head pops out of a sunken porthole in what's largely considered the movie's biggest scare.

16. That scary moment was filmed in a swimming pool in the editor's backyard

Looking for the ultimate scare, Spielberg had already done extra filming of the discovery of the head by Richard Dreyfuss's character in a special tank back on the mainland after location filming wrapped. But he wasn't happy with it, so his legendary editor Verna Fields offered up her backyard swimming pool as a place to reshoot the scene (they poured a gallon of milk from Verna's refrigerator into the pool water to make it look more like the real ocean). If you've seen the movie, you know this take was one for the record books (and for the record books, that's a latex recreation of Kingsbury's head).

17. The location crew formed its own Jaws softball team

As an antidote to the rigors of location work, the crew formed a softball team and on Sundays took on locals.

18. Post-Jaws hysteria wasn't a publicity stunt

We were afraid to go back in the water, and sometimes things got out of hand. One Southern California beach had to be cleared by lifeguards because of a shark-sighting panic. Turns out it was dolphins. On a more serious note, the idea of a vengeful rogue shark (a fictional creation) spurred a national fervor of fear, a drop in beach tourism, and a rise in shark killings. It has taken decades of science and activism to help post-Jaws generations understand and respect the role sharks play in the oceans and the ecosystem overall.

19. Spielberg had nightmares later, too

While a generation of beachgoers emerged from the blockbuster film forever creeped out about swimming in ocean deeps, the director himself had nightmares for months after shooting wrapped. His dreams, though, weren't of shark attacks, but of still being in charge of the shoot. He'd awaken thinking he was still on Martha's Vineyard, riddled with anxiety and panic.

20. No one wrote the movie's most famous line

"You're gonna need a bigger boat,” uttered unforgettably by Roy Scheider, was improvised by the actor on the day of shooting.

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