I think I’m going to need a bigger column.
The film was shown Monday evening at the Angelika Film Center in Fairfax. Earlier that day, I called up one of the stars, Greg Dole.
What, you haven’t heard of Greg Dole? If you’ve seen “Jaws,” you’ve seen Greg. He has spent most of his working life as a D.C. lawyer, first on the Hill and then with Boeing. But in 1974, he was a 24-year-old Navy veteran living near Woods Hole, Mass., where he parked cars and waited to head off to law school at Georgetown.
Woods Hole is where you catch the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. “And so I’m parking cars, about to go to law school, when this big blue van pulls up with ‘Universal Studios’ on the side,” Greg said.
His interest piqued — Greg used to perform in high school plays on Cape Cod, where he grew up — he asked the driver why a movie crew was headed to Martha’s Vineyard.
“Making some story about a fish,” was the reply.
Greg quickly learned they were shooting a movie of Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel. He ran out and bought a copy, speed-read it, then headed to the island himself. He met the local casting director, Shari Rhodes, who described a few parts, outlined a few scenarios and asked Greg what he’d say in certain situations. For example, what would he say if he was a Coast Guard sonar operator in a skiff off a crowded beach who just happened to spot a great white shark?
“I told her I’d yell, ‘Jesus Christ! Fin! Shark, three-five-zero,’” Greg said. (The “3-5-0” is the compass point where he spotted the shark.)
Steven Spielberg happened to walk in just as Greg delivered the line.
“I like that,” said the director. “Take him down to wardrobe.”
You know the scene. Greg’s announcement prompts a chaotic evacuation from the water for what turns out to be two kids with snorkels and a fake fin. Greg was on the “Jaws” set for three weeks — the weather was not cooperating — and when it came time to shoot his scene, he did it in one take.
Greg’s mother, Marion, always thought her son ought to be in pictures. When he was 3, a photographer in their town said she should take the blond, blue-eyed tyke to Hollywood.
“My brother, my mother and I got on a train and headed to California,” Greg said. “We ran out of money in Lincoln, Nebraska.”
They stayed with some friends there before heading back east, stardom deferred.
Before Greg left Martha’s Vineyard in 1974, he asked Benchley, Spielberg and star Richard Dreyfuss to sign his copy of “Jaws.”
The author signed it “Peter Benchley — who may spend more time NOT working on the picture than he did working on the book.”
Spielberg wrote: “Greg, Keep it up. Acting is hard. P.S. Stay away from L.A. It’s a bad place to start.”
Dreyfuss wrote: “I told it to [Clark] Gable and I’ll tell it to you — your ears are too big. Get out of the business.”
In 1975, Greg went with his mother to a packed movie theater in Falmouth, Mass. When that scene came on — “Jesus Christ! Fin!” — two people in the audience stood up and said, “I know that guy!”
Greg, 73, hewed more to Dreyfuss’s advice than to Spielberg’s. He retired from Boeing six years ago and lives in McLean. Every month a “Jaws” royalty check lands in his mailbox.
“I've made about $200,000 in royalties for that scene,” he said.
And all for saying four words and a three-digit number. He really does say them well.
A big helping hand for Helping Hand
I have been amazed and delighted by the support readers have been giving to The Washington Post Helping Hand. Last week alone, readers donated nearly $40,000 to Miriam’s Kitchen, Friendship Place and Bread for the City, three charities that are working to end hunger and homelessness in the District.
And I have some more good news: The Robert I. Schattner Foundation has pledged to give $150,000 to Helping Hand, to be divided equally among our charity partners.
Schattner was a chemist, dentist and entrepreneur who combined his varied interests in a product he invented: the sore-throat medication Chloraseptic. He later patented Sporicidin, used to sterilize and disinfect medical instruments.
Originally from New York, Schattner moved to the Washington area in the 1950s. He died in Bethesda in 2017. I hope his foundation’s gift will inspire others to support Helping Hand. To donate, visit posthelpinghand.com.