|Scott Lewis||Benchley, Peter: Jaws|
|Assignment 1: Bibliographic Description|
|1. First Edition Publication Information||Published by Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y, 1974. Copyright by Peter Benchley, 1974.|
|2. First Edition in Cloth, Paper, or Both?||First Edition published in black cloth.|
|3. Image of Cover Art||A1319980210161400.jpg|
|4. Pagination||156 leaves, 22cm. 311 pages. pp 1-8, 312 not numbered. 3 Parts (14 Chapters)|
|5. Edited and/or Introduced?||N/A|
|8. General Appearance||The dust jacket is made of paper covered by a clear plastic film. On the cover of the novel is the name of the author, the title of the book, an inscription, a female swimmer, and a white shark. The name of the author appears at the top in green, block letters approximately one half inch tall and stretching across the length of the cover. Beneath the author's name is the title in bold white letters 1 & 9/16 of an inch tall, also stretching across the length of the novel. The "J" in Jaws is slightly larger, measuring 2 inches. Underneath the title in red letters is the inscription "A Novel." In the middle of the cover is a female swimmer, whose swimming motion is from left to right. At the bottom of the cover is a Great White shark, colored gray, as is the swimmer. The background color on the cover is black, and there is nothing to suggest that the swimmer or the shark are in water.
The spine contains the name of the author in block, white letters extending 2 and one half inches down the length of the spine. In the middle of the spine, and also vertical,is the title in block, white letters. The inside of the Board, in both the front and back of the novel, is a resplendent deep blue, wheras the pages containing the text are a pale yellow. The title of the book appears in black at the top center of each page, followed by the page number. The text is large, justified, and easily readable. On the back of the dust jacket is a portrait of Peter Benchley who is wearing an off white turtle neck and a black blazer. The background is gray. Alex Gotfryd is the photographer.
|9. Image of Sample Chapter Page||A1919980203171741.jpg|
|10. Description of Paper||The end of each page is jagged and uneven, creating a rough edge on a strong, heavy and durable leaf. With the exception of a few torn pages near the binding, the quality of the paper is in superb condition.|
|11. Description of Binding||Each leaf is directly stitched to the Muslin Lining, which is bound to the Board by glued, blue endpapers.|
|12. Title Page Transcription||Jaws / An Oval encompassing a dotted sketch of a white shark near the surface of the water,6cm x 4cm / Peter Benchley / 1974 / Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York.|
|13. Image of Title Page||A11319980203171741.jpg|
|14. Manuscript Holdings||Unknown|
|15. Other||Page three of the novel has the following inscription: "All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental." On the following page are the words, "for Wendy."|
|Assignment 2: Publication History|
|1. Other Editions:||In 1975, Bantam Books (a Division of Doubleday) published the first paperback edition of Jaws. The features on Bantam's paperback edition and Doubleday's hardcover edition differ slightly. On the cover of the Doubleday edition, the female swimmer and the shark appear computerized, whereas the same female swimmer and shark on Bantam's edition appear life-like. In Bantam's edition, the female swimmer is nude, and swimming near the surface of aqua-marine water (no water is evident on Doubleday's edition). A Great White shark lurks at the bottom of the cover with its open mouth revealing teeth as long as the swimmer's arm from elbow to wrist. The shark (approximately five times larger than the swimmer) is gray and white with black eyes. The swimmer is tan. From the surface of the water up, the cover is white. Within this space of apporoximately 4 1/4" x 2 3/4", in blue capital letters, is the following inscription: #1 / SUPERTHRILLER / A NOVEL OF / RELENTLESS TERROR (1/4 inch letters) / JAWS (1 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches) / BY PETER BENCHLEY. Within a fancy circle at the middle right of the cover, in capital yellow letters, is: NOW A / SPECTACULAR / MOTION / PICTURE FROM / UNIVERSAL. On the spine, in vertical, blue letters is the title of the book followed by the author's name. On the back of the novel, 'Jaws' appears at the top in bold, blue letters on a white background. Underneath the title are five terse reviews by critics, including Newsday, Book World, and The New York Times, which states, "Powerful climax...His story grabs you at once...Read Jaws--by all means read it."
The first two leaves (unnumbered) of the novel contain eight additional reviews. The title page, which appears on the unnumbered third leaf, reads, JAWS (underlined) / Peter Benchley. Below the author's name is the Bantam trademark, a Rooster encircled by "Bantam Books / London / New York / Toronto." On the back of the title page is the publication information, which consists of both Bantam's and other Publisher's publication information. The fourth leaf is completely blank except for the words, "For Wendy." The story begins on page 03, and ends on page 309. There are a total of 153 leaves, and 320 pages. Pages i-viii, 1, 2, and 310-312 are not numbered. This edition also contains three parts and 14 chapters. Each leaf is glued to the spine.
|2. Image of Cover Art||A2219980219133021.jpg|
|3. Sample Illustration||A2319980219135217.jpg|
|4. First Edition printings or impressions?||1974 Doubleday & Co Hardbound First Edition:
-1st printing February 1974; 35,000 copies
-2nd printing February 1974
-3rd printing March 1974
-4th printing April 1974
-5th printing June 1974
-6th printing July 1974
-7th printing July 1974
-8th printing August 1974
-9th printing September 1974
1975 Bantam Books Paperback First Edition:
-1st printing January 1975
-2nd printing January 1975
-3rd printing January 1975
-4th printing January 1975
-5th printing February 1975
-6th printing February 1975
-7th printing February 1975
-8th printing February 1975
-9th printing March 1975
|5. Editions from other publishers?||Jaws. Peter Benchley.Book of the Month Club.
April 1974. Camp Hill, Pa. 1974. Published in cloth.
Jaws. Reader's Digest Association, Inc. Pleasantville, New York.
1974. Condensed Book. April 1974 issue of Reader's Digest.
Edited for content. 131 pgs. Published simultaneously in
Canada by Reader's Digest Association, Inc. (Canada Limited).
Jaws. Peter Benchley. Playboy Book Club. July 1974. Paperback.
Jaws. Peter Benchley. London: Deutsch, 1974. 272 pgs; 21cm.
Jaws. Peter Benchley. Bantam Books. New York, NY. 1975.
Paperback. First printing in January 1975. 18 printings.
Published simultaneously in Canada by Bantam Books. Reset
in new type face and printed from new plates. Out of print.
Jaws. Peter Benchley. London: (18 Cavaye Place, SW10 9PG)
Pan Books, 1975. 285pgs; 18cm. Paperback.
Jaws. Peter Benchley. London: Hutchinson, 1977. Paperback..
128pgs; 19cm. Series; Bull-eye book. Adapted by Patrick Nobes
for Children's Stories in English.
Jaws. Peter Benchley. Special Edition. State Mutual Book and
Periodical Service. New York, NY: 1989. Hardbound, Trade Cloth. $30.00
Jaws. Peter Benchley. New Readers Press. April 1990. Abridged.
Binding: Paper Text. 64 pgs. Edited by Literacy Volunteers of
New York City Staff. $3.95 U.S.
Jaws. Peter Benchley. Signal Hill Publications. United Kingdom,
1990. UK ed. Published April 1990. 17cm.63. Paperback. 2.75 Sterling.
Jaws. Peter Benchley. Ballantine Books. New York, NY. 1991.
First Printing by Ballantine Books, August 1991. Fourth
Printing, July 1992. Binding: mass market paper. A Division
of Random House, Inc. New York, NY. Printed simultaneously
in Canada by Random House of Canada Limted, Toronto. $5.99 U.S.
Novels. Selections. Three Complete Novels. Peter Benchley.
Wings Books. New York, NY. 1994. 741 total pages; 24cm. Includes:
Jaws, The Beast, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez. Distributed by Random
House Value Club, 1994.
Jaws. Peter Benchley. Signal Hill Publications. United Kingdom.
1996.(U.S. ed.)Published September 1996. Selected from Jaws.
Paperback. 2.41 Sterling.
Jaws. Peter Benchley. Penguin. United Kingdom, 1998. (U.K. ed.)
School Textbook. Published February 1998. Paperback. 20cm.48.III.abr.e.
Series: Penguin Readers Level 2. 2.00 Sterling.
--Copyright 1974 by Peter Benchley.
|6. Last date in print?||Last printing in 1992 by Ballantine Books (the current retail edition, in Paperback).|
|7. Total copies sold?||Copies sold to date: 11,500,000
Source: Publisher's Weekly.
|8. Sales by year?||1974 - 202,270 copies of the first edition by Doubleday (hardbound).
- Number one on the hardbound bestseller list for 44 weeks.
- 1974's longest running fiction bestseller.
- More than $1,000,000 in sales in 1974.
- 9,275,000 copies of the first edition by Bantam (paperback).
Source: Publisher's Weekly. February 03, 1975. pp 34-35.
Source: Hackett/Burke '80 Years of Best Sellers 1895-1975.'
|9. Advertising copy:||New York Times Book Review. February 03, 1975:
"Now, after a 44 week run on the harcover best-seller list and to the surprise of absolutely no one in the book business, the indomitable shark has scaled its way to the top of paperback division. In less than three weeks Bantam has shipped 2,500,000 copies. In one day, a single newsstand at Chicago's O'Hare Airport sold 392 copies. In one lunch hour, Brentano's on Fifth Avenue disposed of 75."
Publisher's Weekly. February 11, 1974:
"'Jaws' is a very short title for what looks like a very big book -- A Doubleday novel (and a first at that) by Peter Benchley which set new records while it was still in manuscript. About eight months before its official release on February 01, 'Jaws' had already earned over one million dollars in subsidary sales." -- Jean F. Mercier
New York Times Book Review. March 31, 1974:
"Super thriller...a spectacular debut for the son of novelist Nathaniel (Benchley) and grandson of Robert Benchley." --New York Post
|10. Image of sample advertisement||A21019980219163531.jpg|
|11. Other promotion?||-Jaws. Peter Benchley. Talking Book. Toronto: CNIB. 197-? Six cassettes: 1 7/8 ips., 2 track, mono. Narrated by John Stratton.|
|12. Performances in other media?||Jaws the Motion Picture. Universal Pictures, 1975.
Rated PG. c.Horror. 124 minutes.
Roy Scheider............. Police Chief Martin Brody
Robert Shaw............. Quint
Richard Dreyfuss....... Matt Hooper
Lorraine Gary............ Ellen Brody
Murray Hamilton........ Mayor Larry Vaughn
Carl Gottleib.............. Meadows
Peter Benchley........... Interviewer
Director...................... (26 yr. old)Stephen Spielberg
Producer..................... Richard D. Zanuck, David Brown
Screenplay.................. Peter Benchley, Carl Gottleib, Howard Sackler
Film Editor.................. Verna Fields
Production Designer.... Joe Alves
Special Effects............ Robert A. Mattey
Music Composer......... Bill Butler
Academy Awards (1975):
Oscar.................. Best Film Editing: Verna Fields
Ocsar.................. Best Music, Original Score: John Williams
Oscar.................. Best Sound: John Carter, Roger Heman, Robert Hoyt, Earl Mabery
Nominated........... Best Picture: David Brown, Richard Zanuck
Golden Globes (1975):
Golden Globe........ Best Original Score-Motion Picture: John Williams
Nominated............ Best Director: Stephen Spielberg
Nominated............ Best Motion Picture-Drama
Nominated............ Best Screenplay-Motion Picture: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Sales (in millions of dollars):
-Gross $470.6m Worldwide ($260m USA)
-Video Rentals $129.55m (USA)
-Film Cost $12m
-Rating **** (4 stars)
-11th highest grossing movie of all-time (U.S. Box Office)
-Jaws made more money faster than any other motion picture in history (1976), grossing $124,322,872 between June 22 and September 5, 1975.
-Jaws. Videorecording. Universal Pictures. 119 minutes. c1975. Videocassette.
Produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown.
Directed by Stephen Spielberg.
|13. Translations?||Language: Japanese
Author: Peter Benchley
Title: Jaws. By P. Benchley.
Publication: Hayakawa, 1975.
Page count: 281. Translation.
Author: Peter Benchley
Title: Pai sha feng pa.
Publication: Taipei, Huang kuan, 1975.
Page count: 336. Translation.
Author: Peter Benchley
Title: Tiburon / Peter Benchley.
Publication: Mexico: Editorial Pomaire, 1976.
Page count: 414; 21 cm. 12th edition. Translated by Sebastian Martinez y Luis Vigil.
Author: Peter Benchley
Title: Tiburon / Peter Benchley.
Publication: Valencia, Barcelona : Circulo de Lectores, 1973.
Page count: 349; 20 cm. 12th edition. Translation.
Author: Peter Benchley
Title: Ahgari / Peter Benchley.
Publication: Soeul, Korea : Sam Ji, 1976.
Page count: 299; 18cm. Translation.
Author: Peter Benchley
Title: Les dents de la mer.
Publication: Montreal ; Editions internationales A. Stanke, c1975.
Page count: 283; 23cm. Translated by Michel Deutsch.
Author: Peter Benchley
Title: Lo squalo: romanzo / Peter Benchley.
Publication: Milano, 1975. 5th edition.
Page count: 291; 21cm. Translated by Mariapaola Ricci Dettore.
Author: Peter Benchley
Title: Lo squalo.
Publication: Milano: Club degli editori, 1974.
Page count: 291; 20cm. Translated by Mariapaola Ricci Dettore.
Author: Peter Benchley
Title: Lo squalo / Peter Benchley.
Publication: Novara: Mondadori-De Agostini, 1986.
Page count: 290; 20cm. Translated by Mariapaola Ricci Dettore.
Author: Peter Benchley
Title: Hajen / Peter Benchley.
Publication: Stockholm: Aldus, 1976 (Stockholm: Bonnier).
Page count: 269; 19cm. Transalted by Staffan Andrae and Ingemar Forsstrom.
note: 4 Swedish publications.
|15. Sequels or Prequels?||N/A|
|Assignment 3: Brief Biography|
|According to World Authors, Peter Benchley was down to his last six hundred dollars when he struck a deal with Doubleday Senior Editor Tom Congdon to write the novel Jaws (1985-1990). To begin the project, Benchley received a one thousand dollar advance. Before the first edition was even published on February 01, 1974, Bantam Books purchased the reprint rights for $575,000, Brown-Zanuck acquired the film rights for $150,000, and Benchley himself was hired to write the screenplay for an additional $25,000. The New York Times Book Review notes that Peter Benchley is "the most successful first novelist in literary history" (July 8, 1979). After writing several abortive drafts, Benchley completed the successful final draft of Jaws on January 02, 1973.
Peter Bradford Benchley was born in New York City on May 08, 1940. He is the son of writer Nathaniel (Goddard) Benchley and Marjorie (Bradford) Benchley, and grandson of humorist/writer/actor Robert Benchley (1889-1945) and wife Gertrude Benchley. Following in the footsteps his sapient father and grandfather, Benchley remarked that "it was inevitable that I should end up a writer" (Palm Springs Life, 1975). He began submitting articles to magazines while still in his teens.
Peter and his younger brother Nathaniel Robert grew up on Manhattan’s East Side. From 1953 to 1957, Peter attended Phillips Academy of Exeter in New Hampshire. Like his father and grandfather before him, he enrolled in Harvard University where he majored in English and graduated cum laude in 1961. Shortly after graduation, he embarked on a world tour that inspired his book Time and Ticket (1963). All copies of the first edition were sold. Eleven years later Benchley jokingly told Guardian journalist Stuart Wavell that his "wife's great-aunt and [his] grandmother bought them all" (Nov.29, 1975). He served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 1962-1963.
The Washington Post provided Benchley with his first job in 1963. He worked as a reporter and obituary writer for six months, then left to secure a job with Newsweek, where he worked as a humorist and television critic from 1963-1967. In February 1967, he was hired by the White House to write speeches for President Lyndon B. Johnson. In an Interview with New York Times Magazine reporter Ted Morgan, Benchley commented that sometimes "Johnson would pick up something I’d written and say, ‘This is the worst thing I ever read—all these chickenshit writers giving me names I can’t pronounce’ " (April 21, 1974). After being dismissed from the White House in 1969 when Richard Nixon took office, he made a living through free-lance writing. He wrote numerous articles for magazines such as Holiday, Life, Travel, New Yorker, Time Magazine, and National Geographic. He still works as a free-lance writer.
At 34 years of age, he began his novelistic debut with Jaws. Since then, he has written seven additional novels: The Deep (1976), The Island (1978), The Girl of the Sea of Cortez (1982), Q Clearance (1986), Rummies (1989), The Beast (1991), and White Shark (1994). Other works by Peter Benchley include Jonathan Visits the White House, a children’s short story published in 1964. He has narrated and hosted several TV specials, including The American Sportsman TV (1974-83), and Expedition Earth TV series (1990-96). He also was the executive producer for the TV mini-series The Beast in 1996. In addition to Jaws, Benchley co-wrote screenplays for The Deep (Columbia, 1977), and The Island (Universal, 1980).
He married Wendy Wesson on September 19, 1964. They have three children, Tracy, Clayton, and Christopher. He and his wife currently reside in Princeton, NJ. His hobbies include guitar, fishing, tennis, theater, film, and sharks. His agent is Ashley Famous Agency, Inc. 1301 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10019.
|"Jaws is awful," says Donald Newlove, a journalist for The Village Voice. "Jaws has rubber teeth for a plot. It’s boring, pointless, listless; if there’s a trite turn to make, Jaws will make that turn." Newlove is one of several early critics who unleashed a laconic diatribe which reproved Jaws in every way imaginable. A large portion of the negative reviews faulted the novel for its banal prose, feeble characterization, and artless plots. Andrew Bergman writes in the New York Times Book Review that "passages of hollow portentousness creep in" while poor scene "connections [and] stark manipulations impair the narrative." With respect to Benchley's characters, Michael Rogers of the Rolling Stone was far from amused. In a salty review he summarizes them as not "particularly likable or interesting." Similarly, John Spurling of the New Statesman asserts that the "characterisation of the humans is fairly rudimentary." An article in The Listener bombarded the plot, stating the "novel only has bite, so to say, at feed time," and these scenes are "naïve attempts at whipping along a flagging story-line." John Skow, whose article entitled "Overbite" was featured in Time, likewise criticized the plot. He argued that Benchley "is embarrassingly visible as he scuttles about his collapsing narrative, tugging and shoving here and there to get things moving. Nothing works." For some critics, Jaws was a consummate failure, despite the novel's rife acceptance by the reading public.
Other critics attacked Benchley’s knowledge of sharks. World renown marine explorer Jacques Cousteau was, to say the least, unimpressed with Benchley’s portrayal of sharks. In the Miami Herald, Cousteau was quoted as saying that "there are a lot of people I have met who consider this a reference to sharks, which is a disaster. However well-written and advertised it was, it is a bad book. Sharks don’t behave like that." Similarly, Donald Newlove suggested that "what hurts the most is the shark. It lacks sharkness." While Cousteau and Newlove may have scathed Jaws for its fallacious representation of sharks, other critics were pleased with Benchley’s decision to modify shark behavior in favor of suspense.
Regardless of whether the shark's behavior was actualized or fabricated, some critics found it to be the most fascinating and captivating character in the novel. The shark "is done with exhilarating and alarming skill," writes John Spurling, "and every scene in which it appears is imagined at a special pitch of intensity." Some critics, such as Andrew Bergman, found the shark so alluring that Benchley’s flaws as a novelist are momentarily overlooked. He assures his readers that "the shark is so menacingly adequate an embodiment of imagined malignity that, even though its attacks are telegraphed, they fix one’s attention. In these scenes the novel’s faults are forgotten." Patricia Meyer Spacks, who wrote an article on Jaws in the Hudson Review, found the shark to be "unquestionably the best character in the book." The shark is perhaps the second most well-known fish in the literary world. The first is arguably Moby Dick. Jaws was criticized in several reviews for mirroring works of other writers. Benjamin Stein provided his recipe for Jaws in the Wall Street Journal. According to Stein, this is how you make Jaws: "Take a generous helping, say, 6,000 pounds of Moby Dick. Add several scenes from Ibsen’s A Public Enemy, then mix in small amounts of Peyton Place, The Godfather, and innumerable scenes from any John Clever novel or short story, and, finally, several afternoons’ worth of As the World Turns." Jaws has been compared to Moby Dick, the Old Man and the Sea, and An Enemy of the People perhaps more than any other works of fiction. Some critics, such as John Spurling, claim that Jaws is haunted by Moby Dick and The Old Man and the Sea. The similarities between these tales and Jaws made it seem that Benchley was incapable of producing a unique work of his own. The combination of works that Jaws seemed to incorporate was enough for some critics to condemn the book. In a Palm Spring’s Life article, Benchley addressed the issue of Jaws being compared to these classic tales. When asked how he felt about the comparisons, he said, "I’m embarrassed. I mean, it’s nice being a little bit rich and a little bit famous, but dammit, I didn’t intend to rank with Melville." Nearly all reviews which mentioned one of these tales were negative. In propitious reviews of Jaws, comparisons to these tales are almost entirely absent.
Critics who lauded Jaws found brilliance in the same characteristics that were berated by other critics. Robert Nolan, an English instructor at Queens Borough Community College in New York, was delighted with Jaws. He states that the "narrative is tense and absorbing, the characterization excellent, and the climactic shark hunt as exciting a sea story as one could want…An eminently successful combination of adventure story and moral fable." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt likewise praised Jaws in a short review which highlighted the "strong plot" and "rich thematic substructure." "This is a taut and exciting novel," says Burk Wilkinson of Christian Science Monitor, "a fine thriller." According to Robert Jones, "Jaws is much more than a gripping fish story. It is a tightly written, tautly paced study," and " the author Peter Benchley knows his sharks and his shark-fishing techniques." He adds that "Benchley has forged and touched a metaphor that still makes us tingle whenever we enter the water." Reviews like these helped make Jaws a smash hit in 1974.
The shark craze did indeed strike mild fear into many Americans, but the fear didn’t culminate until the movie landed big at the Box Office in 1975. The negative criticism in 1974 had little impact on the novel’s success. The reading public overlooked any flaws critics pointed out and made Jaws a bestseller for over 44 weeks. A little over one million copies of the novel were sold in 1974, but when the movie came out in 1975, over nine million copies were sold! Neither positive nor negative reviews of the novel had any bearing on sales once the movie became a success. The movie, not the critics, influenced book sales.
1. Bergman, Andrew. New York Times Book Review. February 03, 1974. p14.
2. Jones, Robert F. Book World, Washington Post. Sunday, January 27, 1974. p3.
3. Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. New York Times. Vol. 123. January 17, 1974. p37.
4. The Listener. Vol. 91. May 09, 1974. p606.
5. Miami Herald. June 08, 1975.
6. Newlove, Donald. The Village Voice. February 07, 1974. pp23-4.
7. Nolan, Robert. Library Journal. Vol. 99. March 15, 1974. p774.
8. Palm Springs Life. April 1975.
9. Rogers, Michael. Rolling Stone. April 11, 1974. p75.
10. Skow, John. Time. Vol. 103. February 04, 1974. p76.
11. Spacks, Patricia Meyer. The Hudson Review. Vol. 27. Summer 1974. p293.
12. Spurling, John. New Statesman. Vol. 87. May 17, 1974. p703.
13. Stein, Benjamin. Wall Street Journal. April 18, 1974.
14. Wilkinson, Burk. Christian Science Monitor. Vol. 66. February 05, 06, 1974. pF5.
|Lengthy criticism on Jaws desisted after 1976. The criticism that made it to the printing press was macroscopic rather than microscopic, and nearly all references to Jaws were tacked onto reviews of Benchley’s subsequent novels. Most of the post-1976 references to Jaws consist of one or two sentences. The review for Benchley’s 1986 novel Q Clearance is one such example. David Remnick states that Jaws, like Q Clearance, "is a story of peril. Benchley begins modestly and succeeds modestly." In another review for Benchley’s 1991 novel Beast, John Lawson briefly compares Jaws and the Beast, citing that both are "well-written, well-researched sea adventures." After 1976, reviews focusing on Jaws alone were rare.
Twenty years after the release of Jaws the movie, Nancy Griffin conducted an interview with the cast members. The topic revolved around the ups and downs of making the film, but brief mention of the novel surfaced near the beginning of the interview. Spielberg, after reading the novel over a weekend in 1974, said, "I love this book, and I’ve found the movie in it" (Premiere Magazine, 1995).
1. Remnick, David. New Republic. October 13, 1986.
2. Lawson, John. School Library Journal. Quoted in Book Review Digest, 1991.
3. Spielberg, Stephen. Premiere Magazine, 1995.
|During the week of March 10, 1974, Burr by Gore Vidal held the number one spot on the New York Times Hardbound Bestseller List. Jaws held the number 10 spot. It took Jaws five weeks to reach the top ten, but once it arrived in the top ten, it remained there for the next straight thirty-eight weeks. From number ten, Jaws slowly inched up the charts, arriving at number two on March 31, 1974. It held the number two spot for the next four weeks and then fell to number three on May 05. On May 12, Jaws once again reached number two, this time trailing Watership Down by Richard Adams. It remained number two for the next ten weeks, and by September of 1974, it had slipped to number four. Between October 1974 and January 1975, Jaws gradually slid down the charts, often falling off the charts, then reentering at number ten and number seven. On February 02, 1975, one year after its release, Jaws made its final exit from the Hardbound Bestseller list. It never reached number one. Jaws was on the Hardbound Bestseller list for a grand total of forty-five weeks between March 1974 and January 1975. More than one million copies were sold.
When Jaws was released in February of 1974, it was regarded by some as the perfect bestseller. Jaws was not the usual moral story, or even an inspirational story, but the story of a twenty-foot, six thousand pound great white shark which snacked on humans. It instilled fear. Very little was known about great white sharks in 1974, and thus Benchley’s novel had a more profound and frightening impact on its readers. The novel’s gripping content won the approval of many critics because it satisfied the requirements for a bestseller. First of all, it was a subject about which the public knew very little. The less the public knows about a subject, the greater the impact. Secondly, "it conjured up the external menace. Such situations as a fire in a skyscraper or a jumbo jet with a dead pilot at the controls." Chilling situations such as these, which could tamper with the public’s survival instincts, were thought to attract the public’s interest and help make a bestseller. For Jaws, it worked. In effect, the novel provided a medium through which the public could escape the ordinary and plunge into the chimerical. A man-eating shark paved the way.
The shark is unquestionably the most praised aspect of the novel. Jaws consists of both a main plot and a sub-plot. The main plot revolves around the shark. The sub-plot revolves around the adulterous affair of the police chief’s wife. The sub-plot was considered nothing more than a nuisance because it impaired the main plot. It was considered boring, pointless, and agitating, and it distracted readers from the real subject, the great white shark. All of the action lies in the shark scenes, so who needs "adultery when there’s a big fish running loose, " wrote one critic. With such a poor sub-plot, the main plot needed to be fine tuned. It also needed universal appeal. A giant shark with an insatiable appetite proved perfect. Most critics agree that the shark scenes alone carry the novel. The shark scenes were generally praised because they generate intensity, excitement, and action. Each scene was considered skillfully crafted and prepared, and the tension just enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. The shark awakes the imagination, and pulls the reader deeper into the story. Furthermore, the shark scenes move the narrative along, first slowly and then rapidly. Without such gripping shark scenes, critics claimed the reader’s attention would wander aimlessly, struggling to get through the boring sub-plot. Critics argued that the novel could have been a more successful literary work if the sub-plot were jettisoned and the main plot amplified. But, it is too late, says one critic, "the damage has been done." As it turns out, the film version did just that. Steven Spielberg and producers Robert Zanuck and David Brown eliminated the sub-plot and amplified the main plot. The result is the eleventh highest grossing movie of all-time.
A little over a year after its initial release, and just seven days after leaving the Hardbound Bestseller list, Jaws surfaced again. On February 09, 1975, Bantam’s paperback edition made its debut at number three on the New York Times Paperback Bestseller list. Two weeks later, Fear of Flying by Erica Jong took a back seat as Jaws reached number one. Jaws held the number one spot for the next eleven weeks, and on May 18 it fell to number two as Alive by Piers Paul Read claimed the number one spot. Over the next month and a half, Jaws slowly fell off the Paperback bestseller list. On July 06, 1975 Jaws returned once again and reclaimed the number one spot, taking it from Piers Paul Read. For the next eight weeks it stayed at number one. By September 28, it dropped to number four, and by November 16 it dropped off the bestseller list for the second and final time.
Between February 09, and October 05, 1975 Bantam Books sold an astounding nine million copies. Jaws was printed more than eighteen times in February alone. Ultimately, paperback sales accumulated to more than $17 million. The renewed interest between July and September 1975 was spawned by the highly successful 1975 film version under the same name. According to Steven Spielberg, the movie "should never had been made. It was an impossible effort." The making of the film was plagued by countless faults which hindered production for days at a time. When the last day of shooting came to a close, a tiresome Spielberg spoke to his crew as he climbed into a boat and sailed for land. He shouted, "I shall not return."
Jaws the movie opened on June 22, 1975 at 490 theaters nationwide. Accompanying the release was a tremendous amount of promotion: cast members made appearances at various locations across the country; T-shirts featuring the shark as depicted on the cover of Bantam’s paperback edition were produced in mass quantities; seven hundred thousand dollars was spent on television advertisement; the soundtrack, which featured the Oscar winning Jaws theme by John Williams, was released; and plenty of stuffed sharks, baseball caps and action figures were manufactured for retail outlets. The merchandising campaigns were launched with the hopes of selling the movie. The technique worked, and by December 1975 Jaws became the highest grossing movie of all time (it would later be surpassed in 1977 by Star Wars). Jaws marked the first time in history where mass merchandising helped sell a film. Universal Pictures hoped to match the $66 million dollars earned by the 1973 blockbuster The Excorcist. Jaws eventually earned more than $470 million worldwide.
Most of the major productions were released during the Fall or Winter. It was believed that most adults vacationed during the Summer, favoring the beach instead of the theater. Jaws, however, was released during the beginning of Summer. The effect was dramatic. Movie fanatics flocked to the theaters, and between June and September one of the largest movie attendance for a three month period was recorded. The film generated fear, and, though it was the vacationing season, beach attendance declined dramatically across the country, "especially when commonplace shark sightings were reported." The novel’s sales slowed down only months before the movie was released, and Jaws was still very much in the public spotlight. A great white shark terrorizing a Long Island town was not a subject soon forgotten. The Summer release only heightened the already phenomenal literary success. Slowly, Jaws gained puissant momentum.
Both favorable reviews and word of mouth helped make Jaws a blockbuster. Jaws was rated a four-star movie and nearly all reviews were positive. Some critics called it "an exhilarating adventure entertainment of the highest order" while other critics called it "a very horrifying film, a very frightening film, but, most of all, a very fine film." It was even called "a torrid moneymaker" before it became widely popular. Reviews like these helped attract attention, but word of mouth seemed to be the real seller. "The reviews were good," says one critic, "but word of mouth was better." Another critic notes that the movie’s "initial popularity came not from a vast array of promotional tie-ins, but from word-of-mouth." All three – merchandising, reviews, and word of mouth – in one form or another helped make Jaws a super thriller. Fans simply loved the movie, and the movie’s widespread acceptance helped draw attention to the origin of the story--Benchley’s novel. Not only were stuffed sharks, baseball caps, T-shirts and movie tickets selling, but books were selling; millions of them.
It seemed obvious to most critics that Jaws had something in common with other works. The last third of Jaws is a shark chase. Three men board a vessel called the Orca and set out to sea with the hopes of snagging a great white shark. The elements, man versus nature, and man versus beast, were thought to resemble The Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick. In all three novels, man is at odds with both nature and a giant fish. Critics disapproved of the similarities between Melville’s classic and Benchley’s runaway bestseller. Melville was well established in the literary world. Benchley was a newcomer. Moby Dick therefore laid claim to the sea, and Benchley’s novel was considered a cheat imitation.
Despite his success with Jaws, Benchley is not regarded as an eminent literary figure. Writers such as Faulkner, Hemingway, and Twain are often called great literary writers. Peter Benchley has never been called a great literary writers. His novels simply fail to be "classic" literary works. Jaws was considered more of a tale than a work of art. Symbolism, character depth, and enticing prose were entirely absent. Two of Benchley’s subsequent novels (The Deep and The Island) made it to the bestseller list as well as the theater, but critics failed to see literary merit in any of his work. Although Benchley has written one of the highest selling novels of all-time, his talents as a writer remain unacknowledged. Great literary writers are often written about in books dedicated solely to their accomplishments. A book focusing on the career, writings, and life of Peter Benchley has never been written.
Jaws has been hailed as one of the greatest movies of all-time. The novel did not receive as much praise, but it is still one of the most successful novels in history. The success of both the movie and the novel supplied Benchley with enough money that he "could write freely for ten years." In total, Jaws sold nearly twelve million copies between February 1974 and September 1975. It stayed on the Hardbound and Paperback Top-Ten Bestseller list for an amazing seventy weeks. Jaws held the number one spot during only eleven of those weeks.
1. Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series. Vol. 12. Gale Publishing.
2. National Observer. March 30, 1974.
3. Time. "Summer of the Shark." June 23, 1975.
4. Uricchio, Marylynn. Pittspurgh Post-Gazett. July 30, 1975.
5. Variety. June 18, 1975.
6. Turnquist, Kristi. The Portland Oregonian. June 20, 1993.
7. Crist, Judith. New York Magazine. June 23, 1975.
8. New York Times Book Review. Jan-Dec.1974, Jan-June 1975. Bestseller List.
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|Portrait of Nathaniel Benchley.||S2img19980303164824.jpg|
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