Saturday, April 25, 2009

Jaws by Peter Benchley

Jaws was born out of a struggle between an author, an editor and a father. In 1964 Peter Benchley came across a New York Daily News article about the capture of an enormous 4,550-pound Great White shark by a fisherman at Long Island, and began writing the story that would become Jaws: initially, however, he wrote it as a comedy. Realizing half-way through that a comedy about shark attacks was never really going to work – it was, as he said in an interview, ‘a nearly perfect oxymoron’ – he switched into thriller mode. But on completion of his novel he was still minus a title. His working titles had included Great White and A Silence in the Water, but none of them seemed quite right. With publication looming, he appealed to his father, the humorist Nathaniel Benchley (himself the son of the Algonquin Round Tabler Robert Benchley), who came up with over 200 suggestions, including Wha's That Noshin' on My Laig? Unsurprisingly, the editor at Doubleday, Thomas Congdon, didn’t like any of them, and suggested The Jaws of Leviathan. Peter Benchley pointed out that Leviathan was a mammal, not a fish. Finally ‘Jaws’ turned into the only word editor and author could agree on. ‘At least it's short,’ Congdon commented. When Benchley broke the news to his father, his father asked, ‘What's it mean?’ ‘I have no idea,’ Benchley said. ‘But at least it's short.’

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