In the UK its election time (again) and of course last year it was the Presidential election in the US. So, in this time of media savvy, truth-bending, baby-kissing, sharp-suited political types, who best to turn the Jaws spotlight on than Mayor Larry Vaughn?
Colourful characters don’t come more so than Vaughn, not just as a written character but also for his threads. So much so that there is even a ‘Town of Amity Mayor Larry Vaughn’s Anchor Jacket’ Facebook page with over 3,260 followers!
His pale blue suit adorned with anchors, and another pastel coloured effort where practically looks like a walking deckchair. Both are that kitsch – even in 1975 – that they are practically cool (to a Jaws fan at least).
Obviously it suggests that he is Amity through and through, fully supporting the economy and all the resort offers. All of which is confirmed by his actions throughout the film. Vaughn lives and breathes Amity Island.
You certainly don’t get that sort of outfit with The Mayor of London or New York. Although talking of The Mayor of London, its former Mayor, Boris Johnson, was reported as saying that he was inspired to run for the role by the character of Mayor Vaughn himself. See the full article from The Telegraph here.
Like one Donald J Trump, Mayor Vaughn has a canny knack of being media savvy – or likes to think he is – so when a TV crew come to a bustling beach on July 4th he is the consummate professional. As ever with politicians it is as much about what he doesn’t say as what he does.
“I’m pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have, in fact, caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers.”
Clearly he is talking in alternative truths, or should that be that others are just talking fake news? This very much echoes his tone to Chief Brody earlier in the film when he utters the famous you yell barracuda line. No mention of a shark or an attack.
Whatever you may say about Vaughn, he is very much a man of the people, well the small businesses and entrepreneurs of Amity at least when he says: “If people can’t swim here, they’ll be glad to swim at the beaches of Cape Cod, The Hamptons, Long Island.”
Perhaps it isn’t just the shark that is greedy, but also the Mayor, clearly putting profits before people. A staple of disaster movies at the time – in The Towering Inferno it was cutting corners in building materials - which this could be argued was part of that cycle. Here with it being man vs nature. A smooth talker, flash of that smile, he is very convincing.
Vaughn just has to go too far when cajoling people to go into the water to their uncertain (to them at least) deaths. He may as well have killed Alex Kintner himself.
He’s a master of spin before the term was even invented, perhaps best articulated when he is talking to Chief Brody on the ferry and is explaining away Chrissie’s death. He can certainly sell a narrative,
“A summer girl goes swimming, swims out a little far. She tires, fishing boat comes along…”
Ah, the 1970s. We’ve just had Watergate so the cover-up by the Mayor and towns folk ties in with the political climate of the day. It was also something very much echoed in films that dealt with cover-ups and conspiracy theories at the time such as The Parallax View, The Marathon Man (also featuring Roy Scheider in his next role post Jaws), Capricorn One, Three Days of the Condor and All The President’s Men.
There was still the cover-up in the original novel, but this was less to do with the welfare of the town and more to do with Mayor Vaughn’s links to the mob. In Peter Benchley’s book Vaughn is under pressure from the mafia to keep the beaches open as they have invested heavily in Amity real estate and want to keep its value high.
And real estate is of course invested in in Jaws 2, where seemingly Mayor Vaughn has learnt absolutely nothing.
Okay, so there may not have been any live studio debates in Jaws with Paxman et al but there are a couple of ‘debate’ moments that show how Vaughn would have shined.
The first is that Question Time style setting of the hall when the closing of the beaches is discussed along with the capture of the Kintner boy killer. Eventually Vaughn is leading the meeting a la David Dimbleby fielding questions from the floor.
Clearly a man of the people, when he senses that the Amity audience is reeling against the message that the beaches will be closed, he pipes up that they will only be closed for 24 hours.
The second is the classic sign conversation - altercation even – with Brody and Hooper post finding (and losing) the shark’s tooth from Ben Gardner’s boat. They are trying to tell Vaughn that Amity still has a ‘shark problem’.
Vaughn is nothing but hostile, evasive and seeking evidence. No evidence, no shark.
And you don’t get better put downs than: “Love to prove that wouldn’t you? Get your name into the National Geographic.”
I know, what isn’t quotable in Jaws, right? But considering he is only onscreen for little more than 11 minutes and only for the first half of the film, Murray Hamilton’s portrayal is so memorable and so are his most famous lines.
Some of them would make pretty nifty election slogans on the side of battle buses, such as ‘Amity, as you know, means friendship’ and ‘Amity is a summer town. We need summer dollars’.
To me though he’ll always be The Mayor of Shark City.
By Dean Newman
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