There’s no question that the shark in 1975’s Jaws is a menace, as he terrorized the town of Amity and later attacked the movie’s three main protagonists. However, as far as who the movie’s main villain is, there’s an argument to be made that Amity’s mayor, Murray Hamilton’s Larry Vaughn, could hold that title instead, as his insistence that the town’s beaches remain open and downplaying of the danger resulted in the shark killing more people. So is Mayor Larry Vaughn the real villain of Jaws, or is it still the shark?
This is a question often debated among the hosts of CinemaBlend’s ReelBlend podcast, so much so that one listener of the show turned to Jaws screenwriter Carl Gottlieb for a definitive answer. Here’s what Gottlieb had to say on the shark/mayor debate through a Cameo video, which was shared in the ReelBlend Facebook group:
"Well, clearly the shark is the primary villain since he’s the one that actually bites people, but the mayor is a contributing villain because by his failure to take action and his denial, he puts more people in jeopardy, and more people get killed. And then he realizes the error of his ways, so he’s partly redeemed. As he says, ‘My kids were on that beach too.’ So we have some sympathy for him because here’s a guy who’s been elected to serve the greater good for the greatest number, the citizens of Amity, and he’s trying to fulfill that mandate in the face of this violent and unpredictable uproar about horrible shark death in the waters of the island. So you can sympathize with his problems."
Considering that Carl Gottlieb rewrote the Jaws script during the movie’s principal photography after Peter Benchley, the author of the original Jaws novel, tackled the first drafts, other than director Steven Spielberg, he’s the best person to deliver a verdict such as this. So in Gottlieb’s eyes, while Mayor Larry Vaughn certainly didn’t help improve the situation with the shark, that still doesn’t qualify him as Jaws’ main villain. That title still belongs to the eponymous antagonist that gave sharks a bad name.
The fact that people are still asking Carl Gottlieb questions about Jaws over four decades after its release just goes to show how popular and culturally significant this movie remains. That being said, after all this time, Gottlieb admitted he has heard pretty much every Jaws question there is. As such, he recommended on the Cameo video that anyone else interested in his insights on the making of Jaws should read his book The Jaws Log, which was published the same year the movie came out.
Jaws celebrated its 45th anniversary earlier this year, and fans turned out in droves on social media to commend the movie that essentially served as the first summer blockbuster. It also announced back in March that there’s a musical stage production in the works called Bruce, which will chronicle what went down behind the scenes on Jaws. Sadly, 2020 also marked the loss of a member of the Jaws family, with Lee Fiero, who played Mrs. Kitner, passing away at age 91.