Susan Backlinie, First Shark Attack Victim in ‘Jaws,’ Dies at 77

Actress and stuntwoman Susan Backlinie, whose portrayal of a violent death as the first victim of a shark attack in the opening scene of the hit film “Jaws” terrified moviegoers, is died Saturday. She was 77 years old.

Ms. Backlinie died at her home in California, her agent, Sean Clark, said Sunday. He said she had a heart attack.

“Jaws,” the 1975 film directed by Steven Spielberg, memorably features Ms. Backlinie in a scene in which she plays Chrissie Watkins, a skinny girl, who runs along the beach and dives into the water for a night swimming.

The placid scene is shattered when she is suddenly pulled underwater. She screams as she is violently beaten by an invisible great white shark and desperately tries to hold on to a sonic buoy to be pulled underwater one last time.

For the scene, Ms. Backlinie was strapped into a harness, according to The Daily Jaws website. The Palm Beach Post reported that Ms. Backlinie was wearing jeans with metal plates sewn into the sides and cables attached.

“To create the effect of being pulled through the water, Susan was attached to a line anchored to the ocean floor beneath her and deliberately ignored when she would initially submerge, in an attempt to provide more surprise. authentic on his part”, Le Quotidien Jaws reported.

In an interview with The Post in 2017, Ms. Backlinie recalled Mr. Spielberg telling her: “When your scene is finished, I want everyone under the seats with popcorn and bubble gum. »

She said: “I think we did it. »

In the documentary “Jaws: The Inside Story,” Mr. Spielberg described the sequence as “one of the most dangerous stunts.”

“She was actually being pulled from left to right by 10 men on one rope and 10 men on the other to the shore, and that’s what caused her to move like that,” he said.

Actor Richard Dreyfuss, who starred in the film as oceanographer Matt Hooper, explained in the documentary how Ms. Backlinie and Mr. Spielberg added to the terror of the scene by later recording her screams.

Mr. Spielberg “tilted her head back and poured water down her throat while she screamed, which is now known as simulated drowning,” Mr. Dreyfuss said.

Ms. Backlinie worked with Mr. Spielberg again in the 1979 parody war film “1941,” in which she spoofed his “Jaws” character by taking a late-night swim. As the suspenseful music of “Jaws” played, she encountered the ascending periscope of a Japanese submarine instead of a shark.

By age 10, Ms. Backlinie was living in West Palm Beach, Fla., where she swam for miles off the coast and in local pools, The Post reported. In high school, she was a cheerleader and a state champion in freestyle swimming.

She played the role of a mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, a tourist attraction on the west coast of Florida, and eventually moved to California.

Ms. Backlinie, born September 1, 1946, is survived by her husband, Harvey Swindall, according to Mr. Clark.

After “Jaws,” she continued to work in films, appearing in the horror film “Day of the Animals” (1977) and as a water ballet performer in Jim Henson’s “The Great Muppet Caper” (1981). She also appeared in an episode of the stunt television series “The Fall Guy” in 1982.

But it is the opening scene of “Jaws” that will remain in his memories.

In the Post interview, she recalled how fans attending movie conventions told her about their fear of swimming because of this scene.

“One of the biggest comments I get from everyone is, ‘You know you kept me above water,’” she said.

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News Source : www.nytimes.com


With a penchant for words, Eleon Smith began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, Smith landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, Eleon also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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