Thoughts during the anniversary of ‘Jaws’

By Frank Cotolo

It is about 35 years since the movie Jaws hit the silver screen and you have to wonder how great a CGI shark would look in a 2010 remake. Because today that rubber monster that ate Robert Shaw in the original is a laugh. That is now one of the funniest scenes ever to be shot.

When the movie was being made Robert Shaw had some issues with the script. He told me at a lunch during pre-production that he thought the shark should be a lot bigger than the story proposed it to be. I told him he should forget about that and dye his hair the color it was in “From Russia With Love.”

But Robert was so serious he called Peter Benchley, the author of the novel that inspired the movie, and asked him to dinner at a swank Beverly Hills restaurant. I asked if I could come along and document the meeting. Robert said I could but only if I washed his three cars that afternoon and then waxed them so that anyone could see their reflection in the hoods. I agreed.

The night of the dinner I decided to sit between the two so I could stop a fight if one developed. Robert Shaw had a mighty temper, much like Nick Nolte’s in his early days, and from what I knew about Peter, one wallop from Robert’s fist could pop Peter’s eyes right out of their sockets.

Peter was polite when he arrived. He wasn’t nearly as funny as his dad, Robert, who was one of my comedy heroes. Apparently humor was not in the DNA because Peter was dull and dry. After an aperitif, Robert began to talk about the script for the movie.

Peter said, “Carl Gottlieb wrote the script with me.”

“Whatever,” said Robert. “I want a moment in the movie where I do a monologue.”

“Maybe you should ask Carl,” said Peter.

“No. You wrote the book. You should be the guy to write my monologue,” Robert said, moving the salt shaker to the other side of the pepper shaker.

“I liked you in that James Bond movie,” said Peter. “Did you ever think of keeping your hair that color?”

I agreed.

Robert said, “Look, I think this character of mine should have a history of violence in the water, some part of his life should be mixed with blood and ships, you know?”

Peter said, “What was Sean Connery like in those days?”

Robert said, “I am talking about this movie, not that movie and not Connery, who by the way, wore a toupee as Bond.”

“You’re kidding?” said Peter with a gasp.

“It’s true,” I said without a gasp.

“So I have an idea and I want you to approve it, go to Spielberg and tell him my monologue is in the movie,” said Robert, pricking the tabletop with his fork.

“I can do that,” Peter said, “but what about Carl?”

“Forget about Carl,” said Robert.

“Twenty-five years ago,” Peter said, “no one knew anything about white sharks.”

We all laughed.

Robert, of course, wound up writing his monologue and it is in the movie. It’s the part where his character talks about all the sailors being eaten by sharks as they swam for their lives after being tossed from their battleship.

When Peter heard Robert rehearse the monologue he was impressed. He said, “Twenty-five years ago no one knew anything about white sharks.”


Frank Cotolo’s latest book, Molotov Memoirs, is available at Blurb

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