In celebration of Steven Spielberg’s classic thriller Jaws turning 45 on June 20, 2020, read about Dan’s valiant effort to convince Universal Pictures to debut the film with a disclaimer that there are no sharks in the Hamptons. This classic story originally ran in the June 12, 1975 issue of The East Hampton Summer Sun.
The movie Jaws is about to be released nationwide, and friends who have seen screenings of it say it is a terror. Grown men and women become physically ill watching this movie. It is cut from the same mold as The Exorcist.
A number of people have suggested that the movie Jaws is going to destroy the Hamptons. Based on a book of the same name, it is set in a village called “Amity,” which, according to the book, is located halfway between Bridgehampton and East Hampton. From this town, the characters in both the book and the movie stand helplessly by while a giant, man-eating shark tears ocean bathers up in the sea. Altogether, about a dozen people are eaten by sharks before the giant man-killer gets his. According to those people who are concerned about the area, the film version is so vivid that it will frighten people away.
“Jaws is gonna kill ya,” a multi-millionaire said to me the other day. This man has a mansion on the beach, and he doesn’t give a damn. He was referring to my newspapers and the local economy—all us regular people.
The whole idea seemed ridiculous to me, but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. If a movie did cause people to avoid our beach resorts, could the beach resorts sue the movie company? Maybe the movie company would screen a disclaimer at the beginning of the film. On the other hand, here was grand irony. In real life, the publisher of the local newspaper is concerned that a movie about a man-eating shark will destroy the tourist economy. In the book Jaws, the publisher of the local newspaper is concerned that a man-eating shark will destroy the tourist economy. I swallowed hard and decided that I would have to go through with it.
Through a friend. I learned that FRP Productions in New York did a lot of work on Jaws. I called them and a fellow told me to call Universal Pictures, the principal movie company, about it. I called their office in New York and spoke to an attorney who said he didn’t have anything to do with it and I should call a Universal official in California. At Universal City, California, the executive wasn’t there, but his office suggested that I speak to another attorney, which I did.
“Does Universal Pictures still have those studio tours for the general public?” I asked.
“Yes, we do.”
“Well, suppose I wrote in a newspaper that you had a real live sniper along that tour. And as a result of this, business dropped off. Couldn’t the studio sue my paper?”
“Well, then the reverse is also true. A movie studio cannot cause economic hardship to a resort town without bearing the responsibility.”
The attorney thought about this.
“If a town could sue for loss of business, then W. C. Fields would have been sued long ago. Remember his famous line? ‘I went to Philadelphia last week, but it was closed.'”
“Still if this movie is SO vivid as to scare the wit out of everybody, it should have a disclaimer on it. NO MAN-EATING SHARK HAS EVER BEEN SEEN IN THE HISTORY OF THE HAMPTONS. Have you seen the film?”
“No. Let me get on this, and I’ll call you back.”
“Three hours later, the attorney called back. He’d had a reader at the studio read the script for the very reason I had called about.
“The film takes place in Amity,” he reported. “There are references to resorts up and down the Northeast coast from Maine to the Jersey shore. They’ve left it deliberately vague. It could be anywhere on the coast.”
I asked to speak to the reader and had her read me some of the location references in the script.
“There are three hundred thousand people who will gladly use the Cape Cod beaches it they can’t come here,” was one quote. And there were others.
“They’ve given us time. We’ve got to contact the Port Authority and the Coast Guard out at Montauk.”
“If one more guest leaves for Cape Cod, I’ll sign the petition.”
“We’ve had several sightings of the shark before he came here. One was off the Jersey shore.”
“If you want leaky boats, lower rates, go to the Hamptons.”
In other words, if you really think about it, you can locate the film on eastern Long Island. Still, there are enough references to New York or Boston or Maine to leave the whole thing slightly vague. The studio was being very careful in avoiding any problems.
So, I made a lot of telephone calls and I accomplished nothing. The film will be out shortly, and if it terrifies people into not going into the water, so be it. Perhaps everybody will go to the Catskills. When you think about it, though, do you realize what the film The Exorcist did to the field of parapsychology? Interest boomed after the film came out. And that film scared the daylights out of everybody who saw it, too. Perhaps we’ll be swamped with visitors who want to PROVE they can swim in the ocean.