‘JAWS‘ the movie was a phenomenon 40 years ago.
It started right in the beginning of the summer, in June, 1975.
Steven Spielberg never expected the movie to become as big a hit as it did, but right from that first week, it was wildly popular. It played in theaters all over the U.S. for months! It was all over the news almost daily during that summer, and suddenly every shark sighting became newsworthy.
The movie was based on the best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, and was rated PG, This was in an era when theaters actually enforced the ratings guide. If you could not prove you were over the age of 13, and showed up without a parent or person who could prove they were at least 18 – you were not let into the theater.
I was 13 and I wanted to see the movie – badly. My Mom wouldn’t allow it. The same was true of a few other kids who also wanted to see it.
We would not be deterred. My best friend at the time, Joe Danaher, was the youngest of 8 children in a traditional (at least in them days) large Irish-Catholic family. All of his brothers and sisters were over 18. We hatched a plan.
First we got Joe to recruit a couple of his siblings to drive a bunch of us kids to the theater to see the movie. His brother Gerald and sister Pam wanted to see the movie anyway and agreed to take us.
Now to account for all of us kids being out late on a summer night, we had to ask our parents’ permission to camp out in the Danaher’s backyard.
Since everyone knew and liked the Danaher family, and it was right in the neighborhood, parents let us do the “camp out”. We had to make it look good because the Danaher back yard was easy to look into – and they also lived right next door to me!
There were six of us kids, and we set about borrowing a 10-person camping tent, from one of Joe’s older brother’s. We struggled with that monstrosity of canvas, screen and aluminum poles for good piece of time. We managed to finally get it set up, but it was sketchy and we didn’t dare touch it or go into it.
We were going to catch the late showing, so we made it look good. We went swimming in the Danaher pool. We knew our parents would be thinking, “Those kids are having a good time. They’ll sleep well tonight,” and “Thank goodness they’re at the Danaher’s…instead of here!”
We even toasted marshmallows over a fire pit. When it was late enough, we made it look like we were going to turn in – just in case any of our parents were watching.
We cut through some bushes in the back of the yard and met Pam and Gerald a block away as we had arranged. We split up into two cars and went to the once magnificent Bayshore Theater (now long gone).
Since it had only been out in theaters for 5 days when we went, the line outside was long. Even for a 10 PM showing, the line stretched down the block and we were at the end of that line. I didn’t think we’d get in.
As we finally made our way to the ticket booth, I could hear the movie beginning. I was in a panic. They were almost out of seats. The 8 of us got the last seats. The problem was they were all in the very first row (note the white backed seats in the picture above), which the usher called “Chicken Row” as he guided us to our seats with a flashlight. Yes, they actually did do that at one time.
Excited, we took our seats mere feet from the giant screen and craned our heads back to take it all in. The screen was so close it encompassed the entire field of our view. The stereo sound was crisp and loud.
In the first scene where young Chrissie went skinny dipping, and that now famous deep bass theme music began to play, I was already tense. When she was attacked, I was horrified by the sounds that came out of her as she was dragged through the water. She screamed begging God to save her, and then was yanked beneath the waves for the final time. That scene haunted me. Still does…
As the movie unfolded, and we met Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), then Oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and the very salty Captain Quint (Robert Shaw), to say was I hooked and drawn in was an understatement. I was there baby!
I know every scene of that movie by heart, but there’s one scene I always associate with shock and pain. It’s the scene where the crew of the Orca was trying to find the giant shark, but wasn’t having any luck. They were adrift, bored and whiling away the time.
Brody was tasked with chumming the water with chopped up mackerel to see if they could attract the shark. Brody was tired of flinging the stinking, bloody concoction and wanted to drive the boat. He shouted up to Hooper, “…Why don’t you come down here and chum some of this shit!” At that moment the huge shark made his first appearance, popping his head out of the water.
Startled, Brody shot to his feet, cigarette dangling in his slack jaw. Never taking his eye off the spot where the shark had appeared, he backed slowly into the cabin where Quint was, and Brody said his famous (ad-libbed) line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
The first time I saw that scene I couldn’t appreciate it as much. When the shark popped out of the water, the theater audience released a collective scream, including my friend Colleen.
She was so frightened; she swung her arms out wide, smacking Joe in the face to her right and hitting me in the throat with her left. All at once I was sputtering for breath and at the same time realizing why the usher called this “Chicken Row.”
I recovered quickly and absolutely loved the rest of the movie.
Over the last 40 years, I must have seen that movie at least 100 times – and I still love it. It reminds me of the Summer of ’75’ – hot summer nights looking up at the stars, good music, fun with my friends, and a deep fondness for my childhood.
Those were damn good times…