Updated June 19, 2000 12:00 PM


Even boy geniuses have worries: At 27, Steven Spielberg faced rumors that he would be fired from his second movie. “Steven would get so depressed sometimes because the [mechanical] shark wouldn’t work,” says producer David Brown. “Of course, in the end that worked to our advantage. We couldn’t use the shark, so we had to rely on people’s imaginations. That delivered what I think is one of the best openings ever in a movie. The thought of the shark, along with John Williams’s perfect score, created more terror in the imagination than the appearance of the shark would.” “Believe me,” adds producer Richard Zanuck, “the shark worked very, very occasionally.” The mechanical monster (nicknamed Bruce by Spielberg) didn’t work much during the finale either: thus all the hair-raising shots of the barrels (which were supposedly attached to the submerged shark by harpoons) racing along the surface. By the end of the shoot on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., says Brown, “Steven said he felt like a character from Papillon. He wanted to dive off the island when it was finished. I heard that when it was over, he hired a speedboat to get him off of there.”


As the elder son of Police Chief Brody, who watches in shock as a shark munches another swimmer, 11-year-old Chris Rebello was only half acting: “The other half was just that the water was so cold,” he says. “I was miserable.” Now a 37-year-old landscaper, husband to Lynn, 36, and dad of three, Rebello still lives on Martha’s Vineyard, but he might not have gotten the part if his brother had been around: Both Todd, who was two years older, and Chris had been encouraged to audition by their mother, but Todd had to go on a school field trip. So, “the first check I got, I bought both of us new bikes,” Chris says. “That made the peace.”


The sea has been so good to Roy Scheider that he lives on it. “Look at these vistas,” says the trim 67-year-old with a nod to the ocean view in front of his five-bedroom cedar-shingled house in Sagaponack, N.Y. “And,” he adds, “I don’t have any problems with sharks.”

He does, however, have to deal with schools of fans who like to shout, “You’re going to need a bigger boat,” after the quip Scheider improvised—which became the most famous line in the movie. Scheider, who stays fit by running two miles a day (“rain or shine, snow, anything”), doesn’t mind the Jaws fixation, despite his subsequent work in films like 1976’s Marathon Man and 1979’s All That Jazz. “He always signs autographs,” says his second wife, documentary filmmaker Brenda, 51, the mother of his son Christian, 10, and daughter Molly, 5. (Scheider’s daughter Maximillia, by his first wife, Cynthia, 61, is a 36-year-old homemaker.) The movie’s secret lure? Says Scheider, who will next film the miniseries Diamond Hunters: “What no one anticipated was the universal fear of water.” Christian nods solemnly, chiming in, “I knew [the movie] was totally fake. You know, you’re, like, 55,65 percent more likely to be hit by lightning than eaten by a shark.”


The author of 1974’s 20-million-copy bestseller that inspired the film, Peter Benchley has twice had close scrapes with sharks (scaring away one with a broom handle), but he has no hard feelings. “What I now know, which wasn’t known when I wrote Jaws, is that there is no such thing as a shark which develops a taste for human flesh,” Benchley, 60, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph in April. The grandson of humorist Robert and son of novelist Nathaniel, Benchley told People in 1975 that Jaws gave him “the freedom to work for myself.” He went on to write nine other novels (most of them to do with marine menaces). Today he works on conservationist TV specials to save sharks. “No one appreciates how vulnerable they are to destruction,” he told the Telegraph. “They get caught in nets the size of 10 747s laid wing to wing.” Yet even he admitted to the paper, “It’s hard to rally people behind sharks.”


Jaws was a horror story not merely to watch, but to film. The Martha’s Vineyard shoot scheduled for May and June stretched into October as the movie went $3.5 million over budget. “I think there were trees that we planted at the start of the shoot that were full grown by the time we left,” says Richard Dreyfuss, now 52 and the father of three. (Last year he married second wife Janelle.) For one scene on the beach, hundreds of extras had to be called and sent away repeatedly—on rotary phones—when the weather didn’t cooperate. “The casting people,” he says, “had two phones in a hotel and had to call something like 500 people to shoot the scene. In the end, they only got about 150. And, of course, the tide went out, so a scene that was supposed to be happening in six feet of water had to be shot now in only a foot and a half of water. So Steven [Spielberg] asked everyone to get down on their knees.”

Dreyfuss, who was only 26 but had already been featured in the 1973 smash American Graffiti when he played the nerdy ichthyologist Dr. Matt Hooper in Jaws, was ordered not to read the book version, in which his character is a lady-killer, beforehand. “I take directions so well that I still haven’t read it,” he says now. But in the script, the character “just coincidentally was exactly like me,” he says. Retching during the shark autopsy? All Dreyfuss: “That’s how you feel if you’re looking at the remnants of a dead body.” On the set, Dreyfuss learned about the competitiveness of actors from Robert Shaw (“If you said you could hit a golf ball 100 yards, he’d hit one 110 yards”), while Roy Scheider showed him how to relax (“He kept insisting that he didn’t want to lose his tan”). The last time Dreyfuss saw the film was on its 20th anniversary on Martha’s Vineyard in 1995: “The entire audience seemed to be kids who weren’t born when the movie was released. They went crazy.” Dreyfuss, whose next film, The Crew, is due in August (he’s also the voice of Honda commercials), never would have believed it during that awful shoot. “I didn’t understand filmmaking at the time. I thought the film was stupid and idiotic. And that it would never see the light of day.”


When production designer Joe Alves devised the mechanical sharks at the center of Jaws, he hoped they would at least be seaworthy. They weren’t. “The salt water would eat away at the electronics,” says Alves, 64, who still practices his craft. The sharks worked so badly that later all but a single shark head (kept by Steven Spielberg) were tossed. “They just sat there,” says Alves, “and rotted.”


Despite his unforgettable turn as the crusty shark-hunter Quint, Robert Shaw, who died in 1978 of a heart attack at age 51, “didn’t like being an actor,” says producer Richard Zanuck. “He told me, It’s for sissies.’ ” Hired after his huge success in The Sting, Shaw was also one of the few on the set who thought the picture would work: Producer David Brown recalls him saying, “I think this is going to be bigger than the bloody Sting.”


For the record, it’s an E followed by an F, played by six cello and three basses: da-dum. “I was looking for something that would describe the shark to the listener in an unconscious way,” says Williams, 68, who has picked up five Oscars, including one for the score that included that terrifying two-note sequence in Jaws. “The music would have to be very, very primal, unstoppable.” Adds Roy Scheider: “That score has become as popular as the national anthem.”


As Police Chief Brody’s wife, Ellen, Lorraine Gary Sheinberg didn’t get close to any sharks. Maybe that’s why she likes them so much. “I can’t resist swimming with sharks,” says Sheinberg, 63, who for 43 years has been married to Sidney Sheinberg, the ex-chief of what is now Universal Studios. “There’s one place in Bora Bora where they’re right outside the hotel in a reef area. You take a little boat there and jump in.” The biggest peril she faced on the Jaws set, which she says was “like being in summer camp”? “Blueberry pancakes. I kept eating more and more and getting bigger and bigger.” Sheinberg, who now makes feminist films (her two sons, Jon, 42, and William, 39, work with their dad at the production company the Bubble Factory), went on to Jaws 2 and Jaws the Revenge, in which she got to save the day. “I impaled the shark with a little boat,” she recalls. “It was hilarious.”


“More than the shark, he was the villain of the movie,” recalls producer David Brown of Hamilton, the character actor who played a town mayor eager to cover up the shark attacks for the sake of tourism in Jaws and Jaws 2, reprising the surly side he showed as The Graduate’s Mr. Robinson in 1967. That’s acting: In reality, Hamilton, who died of cancer in 1986 at age 63, was so devoted to his wife, Terri, who was ill during the shooting of Jaws 2, that he told Brown, “I know this is going to end my career, but I have to go back to New York. I want to stay, but my wife means everything to me.” Brown offered Hamilton the chance to shoot all of his scenes immediately, “and he was done. He went back to New York to be with his wife.”


Why chew the scenery? These immortal morsels gave all they had to their roles

Lee Fierro

Lee Fierro was at a Martha’s Vineyard eatery in 1999, when she saw they had an Alex Kintner sandwich: “The name of my son from Jaws!” she said. That son, Jeff Voorhees, overheard: He manages the restaurant, and the two hadn’t seen each other since Fierro, 71, played his mom, who slaps Roy Scheider in rage. “Once, I knocked his glasses off by mistake,” she says. “I came out of character and said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’ ”

Jeff Voorhees

“I got paid $140 a day” says Jeff Voorhees, 37, a Vineyard native who played a doomed kid after answering a newspaper ad for extras. “Big money for a kid.” Now he has made tens of thousands in residuals off his only acting role—not that he didn’t try to get in Jaws 2: “The [film-makers] said if anyone sees me, they’ll just be going on about how I came back from the dead.”

Susan Backlinie

Crew members who worked on boats with Susan Backlinie in the ’80s used to show divers an educational film: a clip of her undressing, going for a late-night swim and becoming a human crouton for a great white in Jaws. “We did have a sense of humor,” says Backlinie, 52, now a computer accounting student in Ventura, Calif. The former stuntwoman, who specialized in swimming work, quit in 1981 because of injuries. Now, she says, she’s looking forward to a career “that’s actually on land.”

Ted Grossman

A professional stuntman who coordinated stunts for Jaws, Ted Grossman was listed in the credits instead as “Estuary Victim,” the guy whose leg is ripped off and seen falling to the bottom of a lagoon. Other duties included fetching a dead 900-lb. shark from Florida for filming. Friends still tease Grossman, who is now 69 and retired in Santa Monica, but not because he was a shark snack: “Just the other day, a friend of mine who runs a dive shop was complaining the movie is costing him business.”

Written by Kyle Smith

Reported by Michael Fleeman and Ed Newton in Los Angeles, Maria Eftimiades in Sagaponack and Bob Meadows on Martha’s Vineyard