Peter Benchley Author Of Jaws

January 19, 2012 by staff 

Peter Benchley Author Of Jaws, Peter Bradford Benchley (May 8, 1940 – February 11, 2006) was an American author, best known for his novel Jaws and its subsequent film adaptation, the latter co-written by Benchley (with Carl Gottlieb) and directed by Steven Spielberg. Several more of his works were also adapted for cinema, including The Deep and The Island.
He was the son of author Nathaniel Benchley and grandson of Algonquin Round Table founder Robert Benchley. His younger brother, Nat Benchley, is a writer and actor. Peter Benchley was an alumnus of Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University.

After graduating from college, he worked for The Washington Post, then as an editor at Newsweek and a speechwriter in the White House for President Lyndon Johnson.

He developed the idea of a man-eating shark terrorising a community after reading of a fisherman catching a 4,550 pound great white shark off the coast of Long Island in 1964. He also drew some material from the tragic Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916.

Doubleday editor Tom Congdon saw some of Benchley’s articles and invited Benchley to lunch to discuss some ideas for books. Congdon was not impressed by Benchley’s proposals for non-fiction but was interested in his idea of a novel about a great white shark terrorizing a beach resort. The idea was inspired by the several great white sharks caught in the 1960s off Long Island and Block Island by the Montauk charterboat captain Frank Mundus. Congdon offered Benchley an advance of $1,000 leading to the novelist submitting the first 100 pages. Much of the work had to be rewritten as the publisher was not happy with the initial tone. Benchley worked by winter in a room above a furnace company in Pennington, New Jersey, and in the summer in a converted turkey coop in Stonington, Connecticut.

Jaws was published in 1974 and became a great success, staying on the bestseller list for some 44 weeks. Steven Spielberg has said that he initially found many of the characters unsympathetic and wanted the shark to win. Book critics such as Michael A. Rogers of Rolling Stone Magazine shared the sentiment but the book struck a chord with readers.

Benchley co-wrote the screenplay with Carl Gottlieb (along with the uncredited Howard Sackler and John Milius, who provided the first draft of the memorable USS Indianapolis speech) for the Spielberg film released in 1975. Benchley made a cameo appearance as a news reporter on the beach. The film, starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss, was released in the summer season, traditionally considered to be the graveyard season for films. However, Universal Studios decided to break tradition by releasing the movie with extensive television advertising. Tautly edited by Verna Fields, featuring an ominous score by John Williams and infused with such an air of understated menace by director Steven Spielberg that he was hailed as the heir apparent to “Master of Suspense” Alfred Hitchcck, Jaws became the first movie to gross $100 million at the US box office. It eventually grossed $450 million worldwide. George Lucas used a similar strategy in 1977 for Star Wars which broke the box office records set by Jaws, and hence the summer blockbuster was born. The film spawned three sequels, none of which matched the success of the original critically or commercially, two video games, “Jaws” in 1987 and “Jaws Unleashed” in 2006; both met with mostly negative critical attention. The film was also adapted into a theme park attraction at Universal Studios Florida (in Orlando, Florida and Hollywood, California), and two musicals: “JAWS The Musical!”, which premiered in the summer of 2004 at the Minnesota Fringe Festival; and “Giant Killer Shark: The Musical”, which premiered in the summer of 2006 at the Toronto Fringe Festival.

Benchley estimated that he earned enough from book sales, film rights and magazine/book club syndication to be able to work independently as a film writer for ten years.

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