‘Jaws’ First Victim Was 77

Susan Backlinie, the stuntperson and actress who as a younger skinny-dipper out for a nighttime swim off the coast of Amity Island grew to become the shark’s first victim in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, has died. She was 77.

Backlinie died Saturday at her dwelling in Ventura, California, her conference agent, Matthew Templeton, told The Each day Jaws web site.

Backlinie was a nationally ranked swimmer {and professional} diver who had carried out as a mermaid and labored as an animal coach when she was employed at age 28 to play the skinny-dipping Chrissie in Common’s Jaws (1975).

“I didn’t need an actor to do it. I needed a stuntperson as a result of I wanted someone who was nice within the water, who knew water ballet and knew find out how to endure what I imagined was going to be a complete lot of violent shaking,” Spielberg mentioned in Laurent Bouzereau’s 2023 ebook, Spielberg: The First Ten Years. “So, I went to stunts to seek out her, and Susan was as much as the problem.”

“The very first thing [Spielberg] mentioned to me was, ‘When your scene is finished, I need everybody underneath the seats with the popcorn and bubblegum,’” Backlinie informed The Palm Beach Post in a 2017 interview.

Because the director described it in Bouzereau’s ebook: “She had a harness on. There have been two eye rings in it and wires that led to 2 stakes on the seaside [about 50 yards away]. 5 crew have been on one aspect and 5 crew on the opposite, they usually principally pulled Susan. There was a ribbon hanging from the wire, and when it obtained to one of many stakes, they needed to cease pulling and the opposite staff took over and pulled the opposite method.

“What you didn’t wish to have occur was for each groups to tug on the similar time. For additional security, she had the power to rapidly launch the wire if one thing went flawed. It needed to be completely choreographed to offer the impression the shark was pulling her violently to the proper after which instantly violently to the left.”

Susan Backlinie in ‘Jaws’


Backlinie labored on the scene for 3 days in Martha’s Winery. “We’d movie wherever from 6 or 7 within the morning till 9, due to the sunshine,” she said in an interview final 12 months. “I’ll inform you, I used to be exhausted on the finish of the day.”

Due to her, individuals by no means went swimming within the ocean once more.

Born on Sept. 1, 1946, Backlinie and her household moved from Washington to West Palm Seaside, Florida, when she was 10. She was a cheerleader and state swimming champion at Forest Hill Excessive College; after graduating in 1964, she attended nursing faculty for a 12 months.

In line with the Put up, she swam as a mermaid on the Weeki Wachee Springs vacationer attraction in Florida and labored with wild animals in Miami at Ivan Tors Studios, dwelling of Flipper on NBC. On a nationwide tour with Tors, she shared a stage with Light Ben, the bear who would star on the 1967-69 CBS collection with Dennis Weaver and Clint Howard.

Backlinie was capturing on location with a tiger in Canada when the Jaws workers discovered her. She informed Spielberg: “For those who use me, you can get close-ups in the course of the stunt itself. For those who use an actress, she’ll have to cover her face.’”

Within the 2010 TV documentary Jaws: The Inside Story, she mentioned that in her scene, “as I’d really feel my hips go to at least one aspect, I’d simply throw my arms in the other way as laborious as I may.

“I additionally had a pair of fins on as a result of once they would pull me to at least one aspect, I’d go underneath, so I needed to kick with all my energy to remain above the water. It took a whole lot of power, however I used to be in fairly good condition again then.” Between takes, Spielberg was in an internal tube beside her.

Jaws would mark her first film look. Backlinie went again into the water bare and in the dead of night for Spielberg in 1941 (1979) — there was that ominous music once more — solely this time she encountered a Japanese submarine.

Backlinie additionally appeared in Two-Minute Warning (1976), A Stranger within the Forest (1976), Day of the Animals (1977) — she was an animal coach on that as properly — The Nice Muppet Caper (1981) and a 1982 episode of The Fall Man earlier than retiring from stunt work.

She and her husband, Harvey, lived on a houseboat in Ventura.

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