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Book Review: Jaws: Memories From Martha's Vineyard

Book Review: Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard
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In this era when “Director’s Cuts” and “Special Edition DVD Sets” never turn out to be all that special, a new book purporting to tell the story-behind-the-story of an already well-documented classic seems destined to disappoint. But Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard by first-time book author Matt Taylor, compiled in collaboration with avid Jaws collector Jim Beller, is a refreshing surprise. It’s a giant of a book, and I mean that literally. This mammoth 296-page coffee-table publication — stuffed to the gills with never-before-seen photographs, notes, and other dynamite documentation — is a book that even the biggest Jaws-a-holic among us (and there are plenty) will drop everything for.

Its strength begins with the fact that Taylor and Beller are both huge fans of the movie themselves; Beller, who resides in Providence, Rhode Island, has one of the largest known private collections of Jaws memorabilia in the world. Even more significant, though, is the book’s approach. During the five months in 1974 when Jaws was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard, director Steven Spielberg made use of much of the island, including hundreds of residents, who worked on the sets or filled in as extras. And it’s their stories (as well as their memorabilia and photos) that drive Beller and Taylor’s book. Oh sure, there are some important Hollywood voices, including Spielberg’s (he’s written a nice foreword), as well as recollections from production designer Jo Alves and casting director Shari Rhodes, but the bulk of the story is driven by the Vineyard residents who worked with and lived around this giant of a film.

There’s Lee Fierro, who played Mrs. Kintner, the grieving mother who loses a son to the big shark and then admonishes Sheriff Martin Brody (played by Roy Scheider) with one of film’s all-time great slaps. There’s Jonathan Filley, a novice actor who was cast to appear in the movie’s dramatic opening attack scene. And there’s Lynn Murphy, a marine-shop owner in Menemsha hired to run the boats for most of the film’s water scenes. In fact, it was the hard-charging Murphy whose, shall we say, salty spirit was one of the inspirations behind actor Robert Shaw’s portrayal of the fiery Quint.

“Lynn Murphy’s irritability,” one local recalls, “seemed to afford him an almost superhuman perseverance. You’d hear those curses echoing across the harbor, but once they stopped, it usually meant someone’s supposedly irreparable engine had been fixed, or some poor sap’s boat had been unsunk.”

To his credit, Taylor gets out of the way as a writer, stepping in when necessary to move the narrative along, but largely letting the voices of those featured in the book tell the story.

Beyond just being an oral history steeped in tales and anecdotes, though, Jaws offers up an unbelievable collection of snapshots and other photographs that have rarely been seen by anyone off-island. Taylor’s Vineyard roots have a lot to do with that. A 15th-generation Vineyard resident (his family can trace its beginnings all the way back to the island’s first European settlers), Taylor knows many of the key people well. Their treasures become the reader’s, giving Jaws the kind of breadth and detail that makes it stand out.

For those movie buffs who want a little more from their read, Taylor and Beller deliver. Along with its regularly priced ($59.95) paperback version, Jaws is also offered in a $250 limited-edition hardcover edition that comes complete with a small piece of Quint’s boat, the Orca. Good luck finding that in some “Special Edition” DVD collection.

For more information about the book and to purchase a copy, visit:

Updated Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

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