IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

‘Amity Island’ marks 30 years of ‘Jaws’

Shark movie was really shot on Martha’s Vineyard
/ Source: The Associated Press

Cue the ominous bass line and close the beaches.

This weekend, some 30 years after “Jaws” premiered on the big screen, hundreds of movie buffs have flocked to Martha’s Vineyard off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts to celebrate the great white shark that terrified millions of moviegoers.

This island’s JawsFest ’05 also brought back some of the cast and crew, including screenwriter Carl Gottlieb and Peter Benchley, who wrote the novel that inspired Steven Spielberg’s enduring classic.

And, of course, the weekend wouldn’t be complete without an appearance from the real star.

The festival’s organizers hired a special-effects artist to build a replica of “Bruce,” the mechanical shark from the movie. Mounted on a truck, it was expected to pop up all over the island — which was disguised as Amity Island in the film.

The fanfare seemed to surprise some of the movie’s creators, who mingled with fans on the streets of Edgartown.

“It’s a bizarre experience to have it even remembered 30 years later,” said Benchley, whose novel was a best seller before he helped Spielberg adapt it for the screen. “When I wrote this book, I didn’t think it could possibly succeed.”

“Jaws,” which premiered June 22, 1975, is widely hailed as the movie that launched the era of the Hollywood blockbuster. It was the first film to earn $100 million at the box office. (A 30th anniversary DVD of the film due out June 14 includes never-before-seen footage shot on the Vineyard.)

“I can’t believe how many people remember this movie,” said Mary Spence, who works at the Edgartown bank immortalized on film as Amity National Bank.

“Jaws” padded the bank accounts of many islanders and gave others much more than 15 minutes of fame.

‘It pays to die’Jeffrey Voorhees was 12 and living in Edgartown when he was cast as Alex Kintner, the boy who paid dearly for swimming out into the ocean. For getting devoured, he earns up to $1,000 a year in royalties and still gets fan letters and autograph requests.

“It pays to die,” said Voorhees, who still lives on the island.

To this day, fans still recognize Susan Backlinie as Chrissie, who becomes the first victim in the film’s opening sequence.

“I had no idea it was going to be this huge. I had no idea that 30 years later I would be standing here,” said Backlinie, who now lives in California — on a boat.

One fan called out to Backlinie with a greeting she hears all the time. “You made me scared to go into the water for years,” the woman said.

Not all the island’s inhabitants were thrilled when Spielberg and company showed up in 1974, renting 50 hotel rooms for five months, closing streets and snarling traffic. The grueling shoot prompted crew members to refer to the production as “Flaws.”

“There were a lot of people who didn’t want us there,” said Gottlieb, who also played a newspaper publisher in the movie. “They didn’t want to see a big, sloppy film crew tying up traffic.”

But the island has come to embrace its role in “Jaws.” The local Chamber of Commerce sponsored the festival, and shopkeepers hung Amity signs and slashed prices to 1975 levels.

A little luck may have had a hand in Martha’s Vineyard becoming Amity.

Production designer Joe Alves was supposed to travel to nearby Nantucket to scout locations for the shoot, but foul weather forced him to postpone the trip. He went to Martha’s Vineyard instead and instantly fell in love with the architecture, landscape and shallow waters, which could accommodate Bruce.

“It was just ideal,” he said.

Spielberg and the movie’s best-known stars, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, were absent from Jawsfest ’05. (Robert Shaw, who played Quint, died in 1978.) But the director recorded a greeting to be played before Friday night’s screening of the movie.

“I think it’s amazing, the shelf life it has had,” Spielberg said, according to a transcript. “And that’s only because fans like yourself have kept this film alive.”