"Here's To Celebrating Role Model Women"

Jaws, a film about three men at sea battling against a monster shark, you probably don’t get much more macho than that.

And when most people think about Jaws it is no doubt the likes of Quint, Brody, Hooper, Spielberg and Williams that first spring to mind.

But the women of Jaws, both in front of and behind the camera are just as beloved and just as an important part of the film’s success and enduring legacy.

Verna Fields, editor

It may have been Spielberg calling the shots but cutting them was Verna Fields, her contribution to Jaws is immeasurable and is part of why it is just so damned (re)watchable each and every single time.

She won one of the films’ three Oscars (it was nominated for four) and edited the movie on location - where she was affectionately known as ‘Mother Cutter’ - as the footage slowly crept in, not only editing around the underperforming shark but also continuity problems of an ever changing sea and sky, not that you’d notice.

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She was also instrumental to adding the ‘head in the boat’ scene that was shot in her very own swimming pool and added long after filming had wrapped. And that scene gave the extra jump that Jaws needed, even after all those viewings it is still hard to judge exactly when it will pop out.

Fields never worked with Spielberg again, but she did introduce the Jaws director to George Lucas, so without her we might not have had Indiana Jones either. As well as taking home an Oscar, Fields was rewarded by Universal with the role of Studio Executive. It was a role that kept her from directing Jaws 2 (imagine the potential) and was one she would continue until her death in 1982.

Lorraine Gary, actress

Gary - who played the Ellen, the wife of Chief Brody - was the very first person to be cast in Jaws. Spielberg had spotted her in the pilot episode of Kojak - directed by future Jaws the Revenge helmer Joseph Sergeant.

Gary brought a natural charm to the film, something which first struck Spielberg in the Kojak episode.

She also happened to be the wife of Spielberg’s mentor and then Head of Universal Studios, Sid Sheinberg, who sadly passed away earlier today. Of course, there will be those that said that can’t have not helped. Gary’s role may not have been huge but was memorable, full of humour, heart, warmth, great timing and she proved a great foil for Brody, with whom she has a terrific onscreen chemistry. You may never be an islander, but we still love you Mrs Brody.

Gary would go onto reprise her role in Jaws 2 and Jaws the Revenge, she would also appear in Spielberg’s World War 2 comedy, 1941.

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Susan Backlinie, actress/stuntwoman

She was the first. Not only featuring in the opening scene, Backlinie’s character, Chrissie Watkins, was also immortalised on the film’s poster.

That opening sequence – which took three days to shoot - doesn’t just set the scene for the movie; it also establishes its stylistic DNA: the use of John Williams’ ominous Jaws theme to alert us to the shark’s presence; the voyeuristic shark’s POV and deception. At first the scene has an initially humorous tone with Chrissie’s drunken suitor on the beach – that rug is soon pulled from beneath us.

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That attack is an assault on the senses and still takes your breath away to this day, in fact arguably only the equally iconic shower scene in Psycho can only really hold a candle to it. The Daily Jaws was lucky enough to meet Backlinie when she appeared in the UK at a signing in 2018, and she looked a lot better than when we last saw on the beach on Amity Island.

Like Gary she would go onto work for Spielberg again in 1941, this time sending up her famous shark attack scene, now being ‘attacked’ by a rising submarine with Christopher Lee on board. I guess she just attracted characters known for their teeth.

Backlinie would continue to be luckless against nature in the Jaws with a bear rip-off, The Grizzly (1977), but would survive crossing the path of another bunch of furry animals in The Great Muppet Caper in 1981.

Valerie Taylor, camera operator: live shark footage

Valerie is one half of Australian diving duo, Ron and Valerie Taylor. Before their involvement in Jaws, the pair are perhaps most famous for featuring in the 1971 shark documentary Blue Water, White Death, so were the obvious choice when it came to picking someone to film the live shark footage for Hooper’s cage encounter.

They filmed that scene in South Australia with a smaller cage and smaller stuntman, 4”11 Carl Rizzo, to scale up the shark. During filming a scene with Rizzo being in the cage a shark got entangled in ropes near the cage and thrashed about until it didn’t really look like a cage anymore. That footage was so good that it ends up in the finished film, even though it meant an empty cage.

Thus we have the escaping of Matt Hooper from the cage, for some reason Rizzo wouldn’t return to it after the shark got entangled. To quote Matt Hooper, I can’t imagine why?

The Taylors would return on live shark footage duties for Jaws 2, but not before they did the same on Jaws rival, Orca.

Lee Fierro, actress

Fierro played poor Mrs Kintner. Alex’s death may be horrific but it is her trying to find him on the beach – even more impressive in silly yellow hat – and dialogue when she confronts Chief Brody that breaks our hearts each and every time we watch Jaws. And boy, can that woman slap.

Apparanly it took some 13 takes , each time Scheider getting a battering. Reportedly one was so hard she even knocked his glasses off. For years later fans would ask Lee for a ‘slap’, a practice she has now retired from.

Alex and his mum were reunited several decades later though as Ferro walked into a Martha’s Vineyard restaurant and spotted an ‘Alex Kintner Sandwich’. Commenting that she’d played his mum in Jaws the owner came out to meet her, he was none other Alex Kintner actor, Jeffrey Vorhees.

Ferro would reprise her role of Mrs Kintner in the Amity Island segment of Jaws The Revenge, comforting Ellen Brody post the death of Sean. A longtime Island resident (Ellen would have been so jealous) Fierro left Martha’s Vineyard for Ohio in 2017.

By Dean Newman 

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