You’re gonna need a bigger boat.
– Roy Scheider
Forty years ago this past June, I saw Jaws for the first time. Moviegoers, like me, left the theatre with a new fear of the ocean and the creatures within. The news has been full of shark attack stories lately. Every time I hear of shark attacks, I still think of Jaws and this crazy film buying story. I worked in an era where multiplexes didn’t exist. Film buyers had to fight hard to get movies for their theatre company. Picking the right film oftentimes was a gamble…
Excerpts from Hollywood’s Chosen:
Doneata and I arrived at the Park Terrace Theatre forty-five minutes before the feature began. . .All the advance publicity from Universal Pictures was true: Jaws was two hours of edge-of-the-seat entertainment. About forty-five minutes into the film, the great white shark came roaring up out of the ocean for the first time, and when it did, it scared me half to death!. . . .I knew I had just seen the biggest picture of the year, and quite possibly the biggest picture ever made.
Driving home from the theatre . . . my mind drifted back to a few weeks earlier. Several of us film buyers who represented all the theatre circuits in Charlotte were having a very important “split” meeting in the office of John Huff, VP and head film buyer at ABC. We met together to discuss “splitting” the upcoming summer’s movies among ourselves rather than bidding against each other for the right to play a particular movie. Negotiating among ourselves to decide who would play a given film was always much less expensive than bidding against each other for the right to play a film.
Well, this was a very interesting split meeting because every film buyer in the room desperately wanted Jaws to play in his company’s theatre. We spent the better part of an hour trying to decide which circuit would play Jaws and what it would take to satisfy the other circuits that didn’t get to play it.
In desperation, I offered an unconventional solution:
I cleared my throat and began speaking. . . .“Gentlemen, shall we cut high card, and winner take all?”
That unexpected suggestion seemed to have every bit the effect of a slap in the face, or you might say a wake-up call, to those weary, tired men in the room.
Huff broke the silence. “Well, why not? Does anyone have a better suggestion?”
One of the men, who was not noted for his card-playing abilities, was picked to shuffle the cards. After shuffling the deck, he placed it on the corner of Huff’s desk. One by one, each man walked to the edge of the desk to make a draw. One man would walk over and draw quickly. Another would act very cautiously, as if there were a snake under the top card. Each of us knew this was a million-dollar draw.
Huff and I were the last to take a card. Huff motioned for me to step forward. He said, “Mr. Vaughn . . .” I thought to myself, “What happened to ‘Larry’?”
Huff continued, “Since this was your bright idea, I think it’s only right for you to have the honor of drawing for ABC.”
I smiled on the outside but was quite tense on the inside. As I reached for the deck, I said, “My pleasure.” I picked a card and cupped it in the palm of my hand.
Acting somewhat irritated at me, he said, “Well, get on with it! Let’s have a look at it!”
In a Frisbee-like manner, I tossed the card toward the center of the desk. I then watched each man’s expression as he saw the ace glide to its resting place atop the large mahogany desk. Immediately, Huff released a huge sigh of frustration as the other men frowned, shook their heads in disbelief, and mumbled to themselves as they walked slowly back to their seats.
Huff was the first to speak. “Well, if and when there’s a Jaws II, Larry will draw for ABC.”
Movie Trivia: Robert Shaw could not stand Richard Dreyfuss, and they argued all the time, which resulted in some good tension between Hooper and Quint. You would think a shark the size of Jaws would have been enough to keep them in line!