When we saw ‘Jaws’

As recounted in Sunday’s column, I saw the movie in its initial release in the summer of 1975 in my native Illinois. “Jaws,” considered the first summer blockbuster, seemed to be everywhere, with direct and indirect tie-ins, spoofs, parodies, features about sharks, etc.

I bought the “Mr. Jaws” comedy 45 by Dickie Goodman. I checked out the “Jaws” soundtrack from the library. I also bought an iron-on transfer with a shark rising from the water, which was put on a sweatshirt that I wore proudly until the image faded away in the wash. Ah, childhood.

Did you see the movie back then? If you were a child, was it as popular on your playground as it was on mine? What do you remember about “Jaws”-mania, especially if you were in Southern California, i.e., close to real beaches?

And if you’re interested in the book cited in Sunday’s column, Patrick Jankiewicz’ “Just When You Thought It Was Safe: A Jaws Companion,” you can order a copy from Amazon here.

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  • Lyn Williams

    Hi David–

    Yes, I remember the hoopla regarding Jaws. Two of my neighborhood buddies and I went to go see it in one of the few theaters we had in town. The theater was so packed, the only seats left were in the front row.

    So, you can imagine these three pre-teen kids with their heads thrown back trying to hunker down to watch what they thought was just a movie about a “big fish.”

    The screaming in the movie theater was generously loud, and after the movie we were all scared stiff.

    But, we went to the beach the next day, and I didn’t let the idea of a man-eating predator keep me away from frolicking in the water. Course as a kid it’s easy to bounce back from terror, especially if it is on the big screen.

    Hope all is well with you.
    Lyn Williams

    [All is indeed well with me. Thanks for sharing your “Jaws” memory, Lyn. — DA]

  • My dad, a family friend, and myself went to see it at the Wescove in West Covina. The line wrapped around the parking lot and we had to wait four hours for the show. Scared the daylights out of me. Showed it to my son on the 25th anniversary…didn’t hold up. Seems very corny today.

  • My parents going to see JAWS when I was too young to see it is one of the earliest memories I have. Wasn’t till 1979 that I was able to see it for myself, at a drive-in with BUCK ROGERS. It hasn’t left my consciousness since. I’m thankful for the psychologically healthy terror it has engendered in me in the years since. Spielberg will never make a better movie!

  • I read the book when it came out when I was in the Army. We had one copy, and it made the rounds quickly during a 6-week, monsoon-season deployment on the DMZ. I couldn’t wait to see the movie, and when I returned to the States, I made a beeline for the nearest theatre.

    I don’t mind telling you that even though I was a US Army paratrooper, I screamed like a little girl when the shark first showed itself (prompting Scheider’s comment about needing a bigger boat). I thought it was one of the best movies I’d ever seen. I thought the sequel was pretty good, too. The last two Jaws movies were, as you say, stinkers.

    I researched the topic a bit back in those days. Many folks said a 25-foot great white was unrealistic, but I learned that during World War II a 33-ft great white had been taken near Hawaii, and a 39-footer had been taken near Australia.

    Your article was great; thanks for writing about this classic movie.

    [You’re welcome, Joe. — DA]

  • Al Messina

    My girlfriend & I had just graduated from high school and we wanted to be first in line. We went to the WesCov theatre and when we got there the line was wrapped around the building and we had to wait 2 hours for the 8pm showing. We got great seats right in the middle of the theatre and found our friend Jim had “illegally” stayed over from the last show.

    Once the movie started he then proceeded to watch our reaction at all of the critical scary parts of the movie. It still scared us & I screamed like a girl. Even on opening day we managed to sit next to someone who had aready seen it!

    [And how many people can say that? Thanks, Al. — DA]

  • Alonzo Q.

    After reading your column this morning I flashed back to that Summer in 1975.

    I was 10 years old and my mom dropped me off at the recently opened Megaplex, the Puente Hills AMC 6. I watched the movie by myself, and I’m sure if my mom knew how scared I would be after watching it she wouldn’t have let me go. I remember taking the bus home from the theater and I was actually scared of getting off of the bus. I was sure that a shark was going to come out of nowhere and eat me. It took me a long time to go in the water at the beach, or even a pool.

    I can’t believe it’s been 35 years since Jaws came out. Thanks for taking me back to a very good time in my life.

    [“Land shark!” Thanks for the cute story. — DA]

  • Bob Terry

    So here is my very true story re: Jaws. It was a couple weeks after it came out, me and my new bride were living in an apt. in N. Pomona and the only screening we could find not sold out was at the aforementioned West Covina theatre. And yes, we got “stuck” in the front row, watched the movie and went home. But wait, the next day we went water skiing at Silverwood Lake with the inlaws and my wife would not even put one foot in the water…she never skiied and stayed on the boat all day!

    [Gotta watch out for those lake-dwelling sharks. — DA]

  • Theresa

    My mom took my sister and I to see Jaws that summer — I was 12. As the suspense built toward that first actual sighting, my mom was holding my hand near her face. When the shark jumped out of the water mom was so startled she BIT ME! I screamed, mom screamed, the theater screamed — I’m not sure I saw much of the rest of the movie!

    [Ha ha! — DA]

  • shirley wofford

    I was a full-fledged adult when the movie came out. What I think about, looking back, is how we were unaware, then, that we were watching a new, young actor who would later become renowned — an Oscar winner — Richard Dreyfuss.

    In a scene on the deck of the boat, the three actors — the boat skipper, whose name escapes me at the moment, Roy Scheider, and Dreyfuss were conversing. I do not remember the words in their conversation, but they must have been talking about how they were going to get that shark. Dreyfuss had been drinking from a styrofoam cup, when all of a sudden, he held out the empty cup and crushed it with his bare hands. Somebody, look back on that — it was funny.

    [I just watched the movie again on Friday. Robert Shaw (the macho skipper), who had been riding Dreyfuss about being a wimpy college boy, had just crushed a beer can in his fist. Dreyfuss responded by crushing his styrofoam cup! — DA]

  • Nancy DeWitt

    You asked if we remember “Jaws” the movie? My husband was an LA City Lifeguard at the time the movie came out and I loved the stories he would tell about all the panic caused when a dolphin would decide to joing the swimmers or surfers. Of course they would scream and scramble out of the water but the part I loved the most was those big brave lifeguards were just as scared and didn’t want to go in the water either.

  • shirley wofford

    Thank you, David, for enlightening me on what precipitated that humorous scene. It’s really thought-provoking now, to look back on where the other two actors went, career-wise, after “JAWS.” And, the kid, not even handsome, who crushed the styrofoam cup, became a celebrated actor.

  • J

    Back in the day when the Grove Theatre showed first-run movies, I met a classmate there on a Tuesday night. Tuesdays were 50-cent nights. I remember getting there and being shocked that there was such a long line. I must have been ten years old so my older sister came along for the fun and supervision. It was my first scary movie. What a great memory. Thanks, David.

  • My grandmother had a house on Cape Cod (Falmouth, MA) where we would spend a few coveted weeks in the summer. I remember being in the backseat, must’ve been the summer of 1974, and we were driving somewhere. It was really hot and traffic was all backed up. My dad was all aggravated and leaned out the window to ask the traffic cop what was going on and when he ducked back into the car (still aggravated) he said something like “Everything’s blocked off because of that movie they’re filming, Jaws” and I was like “what’s Jaws?” and he said it was about a giant shark that eats people or something.

    First of all, imagine a world where the word Jaws didn’t immediately conjure sounds, images and feelings. Now imagine how wide-eyed and baffled a 5yr old would be at that description. At that point, SHARKS weren’t even a known quantity– no Discovery Channel, no reason to know the myths and realities of the sea… images of teeth, jaws, sea monsters were all very dark and enigmatic.

    My mind turned those ideas over and over for an entire year, during school recess, stories and bits of info feeding on each other blooming into horrifying, towering and mysterious conjectures. Tales of a MECHANICAL shark were added to the mix and rumors of the robot leviathan coming loose from its handlers and menacing beachgoers. It was all simply TOO MUCH. And the movie hadn’t even been seen yet.

    Needless to say, the next summer was all out pandemonium on Cape Cod. Jaws-mania like you can only read about. And being a whopping 6 years old I was unable to go see the movie that was rated PG with “some scenes may be too intense for younger viewers.” That year of breathless anticipation culminated in indescribable frustration.

    I remember being woken up one night by my uncle and cousin (who was 12 or 13) who had come back from an evening screening with a T-shirt for me. It was a gaudy bootleg T and I was thrilled to have it. They were both breathless and in a sweat over how awesome and bloody and scary the movie was. They assured me that there was NO way I could handle it and I believed them, but my disappointment was of course still there. I had my T-shirt as consolation and I still have it.

    Don’t worry… I finally did see it when I was 10 (1979 re-release) and was suitably blown away. I still remember the cold sweat that lasted from the amazing Alex Kintner “can’t tell what I’m seeing, but there is an EXPLOSION of dark forms and blood and once it’s over I’m not sure what happened but he’s gone and his raft is mangled” (which is still one of the most effectively-staged sequences I’ve ever seen on film) to Ben Gardner’s peekaboo to Quint getting ground to bits of clothing and flesh in the mouth of the beast. AWESOME. Never stopped thinking about it.

    Did a shoebox diorama for some 5th or 6th grade project of the shark eating Quint on the stern of the Orca with plenty of red magic marker and cottony clouds in a construction paper blue sky. Ended up in a meeting with the Principal and my parents (who fortunately brushed it off and declined a psychiatric evaluation).

    As a film-maker, I created a character who is a direct homage to Quint and had the unique pleasure of re-constructing the interior of his shark shack with about twice as many shark jaws as were visible in the original. (The film is DIE YOU ZOMBIE BASTARDS! and the scene appears near the end.)

    As a college professor, I have integrated the lessons of Jaws into countless courses and in some have even dissected the film, examining the use of color, sound, editing and maybe most importantly the lesson of RESOURCEFULNESS. The metaphor is that sometimes… the shark just doesn’t work. That can spell defeat, OR you can figure out how to make things work without the shark. In the case of Jaws, the film was better because of it. We can only hope that we have the resourcefulness to turn disaster into success when we need to.

    So, yeah, Jaws had a huge impact.

  • Jerrie Foss

    Oh how I remember “Jaws.” I was 9 years old and it was the first non-G-rated movie I ever saw. I loved every minute of it!

    I grew up in Covina and my mom, my sister and my sister’s friend had taken a road trip to San Jose to visit our former neighbors and that was one of the things we did on our visit. (The day before, the grown-ups had gone to see “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.)

    Seeing “Jaws” never did make me afraid of sharks and we spent plenty of time in the water at the beach since my mom’s sister has lived in Manhattan Beach for as long as I can remember.

  • Bob House

    Ever since seeing Jaws, I’ve been able to give people at the beach this life-saving advice: If you hear cellos, get out of the water immediately.

  • Roy Ontiveros

    OK, it was maybe 1980 when Raging Waters opened the wave pool. It was nighttime in the heat of the summer. Sandy and I are floating around in innertubes enjoying the cool water and summer evening when the movie on the bigger than life outdoor screen begins.

    Da-dum, da-dum

    Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum

    Well, you know. It was scary. Hey, I’m a grownup man, it’s only a movie, we are at Raging Waters. IT WAS SCARY.

    Our picture showed up in Time magazine. That was fun.

  • Gene Harvey

    Well, David, I just gotta comment on “Jaws”….I’ve enjoyed all these comments that came before mine. Most are memories (like yours) of the childhood experience or as teenagers, but I have another viewpoint.

    I was one of those theatre owner-operators viewing the phenomenon from the side of ticket selling and handling the long lines instead of ticket buying and standing in long lines. I was operating the Grove Theatre in Upland (the venue mentioned by “J”).

    Several weeks before the release, I had attended a meeting of theatre owners, independents like myself as well as large-circuit executives, in which we were addressed by some up-and-coming directors and shown portions of their films. One young guy, Steven Spielberg, humbly asked that we support his movie and he hoped it would do well. We assured him that it looked like it would do “pretty well.”

    Pretty well indeed! No one was prepared for such a huge hit! Even in lil’ ole’ Upland I had employees working overtime, and was hiring anyone and everyone who could hold a flashlight. We had lower prices than most theatres and people started lining up starting in the morning hours every day of the week.

    As a young entrepreneur, I was looking for every angle to make it even more fun and exciting; and so, as corny as it now sounds, I put a sign on our big Hawaiian Punch bubbler dispenser that said “JAW’S JUICE.” All the kids wanted “Jaw’s Juice” instead of Coke. Such fun memories.

    I can’t believe it was 35 years ago!

    (As an aside, there was, at that meeting, another young guy named George who told us about a movie he had begun work on that was about “space and stuff.” He was planning to call it “Star Wars.”)

    [Whatever became of that one? Thanks, Gene. Let’s all raise a toast to you with a glass of Jaws Juice! — DA]

  • I saw it when I was young while living in Redondo Beach of all places. I refused to go near the water…we even had Seaside Lagoon and I didn’t want to get into that!!

  • Ro Woodruff

    1975: the Summer of Jaws

    In the summer of 1975, my best friend Tami and I were 16. We lived on the Westside and we went to the beach every day. This was in Santa Monica, and the pier was not the tourist mecca that it is now. There was just a funky arcade and a few humble food stands. We knew all the cool people who worked there and used to hang out with them after a day of swimming.

    Yes, swimming! (Just like Chrissy Watkins.) Of course we had seen Jaws. In fact, we saw it every week — it was showing at a small theatre down the street and that was our ritual every Friday night for about a month. We could quote Robert Shaw’s “Indianapolis” speech from memory. We sang “Show me the way to go home.” Our favorite line wasn’t the “bigger boat” statement, it was Richard Dreyfuss’ protest to Shaw: “I will not take this abuse much longer” (uttered in a WC Fields accent).

    Seeing Jaws did not keep us out of the ocean. (It would take years of accumulated pollution and a middle-aged spread to do that.) But I was worried about sharks long before the movie came out. Somehow, seeing my fears so graphically realized up on the screen was completely liberating. Tami and I tempted fate every day, swimming out as far as we could while gleefully chanting, “Duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-da-da-da!” After all, there was no real danger — the shark blew up at the end of the movie, right? We didn’t yet know about sequels.

    Ro Woodruff

    P.S. I love your column! Especially your take on city council meetings. It must be torturous to sit there and actually have to pay attention, but you are doing a great public service. Thank you!

    [Aw, you’re welcome, Ro. And thanks for the great comments about “Jaws.” — DA]

  • Jerry

    Way back when Jaws first came out I was reading the book. A buddy and I decided to go away for the weekend. At that time I was living in San Francisco.

    Well, we ended up in a hotel in the Big Sur area. We packed a lunch and headed down to the beach which was quite a walk. So after lugging all this stuff, including the cold beer, down the hill and onto the sand we settled in.

    My friend wandered off and I picked up Jaws. Barely into it when someone on the beach yells “Shark”! Of course as he is yelling shark, in the book Jaws is attacking yet another victim.

    I run down ot the water and, from what I can tell, there are fins skimming the water. I about had a coronary. I was in no danger but there were people in the water.

    I am yelling, “Get out! Get out!” This guy swims out and says, “You should swim out there.” Of course I think he is nuts. Then he says, “This is a mother whale and a her new calf out there playing around.”

    Boy did I feel dumb.

    Well, that’s my personal, true Jaws story.