Just When You Thought it was Safe to Hope for a Parade

I do not ask for much in life (and friends of mine say that sometimes it shows), but this springtime I do ask why the Vineyard staged Jaws Fest, the all-Island hullabaloo over the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Jaws three summers ago, but – at press time anyway – shows no sign whatsoever that it’s going to hold a Jaws 2 Fest to honor the 1978 release of the first of the three sequels to follow it. It’s now been thirty years since the premiere of the first – and sort of the best – of the three Jaws sequels, and I humbly ask: Where’s our parade?

Here’s why I care: In the summer of 1977, when I was sixteen, Universal Studios returned to the Island to shoot Amity- centric scenes for the sequel to what was then the most financially successful movie of all time. A big part of the story concerned a group of good-looking teenagers who cruised around the Amity coastline all day in their slick Lightning sloops and souped-up catamarans. They needed a dork who could plausibly keep up in a Herreshoff 12 1/2, which is more like a small whaling ship than a catamaran, and my mom submitted my name to the casting office because she knew I was a ham and thought I could handle that part of the assignment all right.

Also, my stepfather owned the first Herreshoff 12 1/2 ever moored in Edgartown harbor, and I’d sailed it maybe half a dozen times. When I was led into the office at the Kelley House in Edgartown and met Shari Rhodes, the casting director, I told not the first lie in my life, but certainly the biggest: I said that a Herreshoff 12 1/2 was the most complicated sailing vessel of its size on earth, and that so far as I could make out, no other kid in town would dare even try. As it happened, I knew at least two kids who at that very moment were on the water sailing one much better than I ever could, but Shari’s window faced the wrong way for her to see it, and I got the part of Timmy, the dork who could sail a Herreshoff 12 1/2.

There went the next eight months of my life. After four weeks of waterfront shooting in Edgartown, we were shipped down to Navarre Beach, a strip of sand along the Florida panhandle, where we did all the water stuff with the shark. Because there was never a finished script, and because my fellow actors Keith Gordon, Billy Van Zandt, and I were fairly skilled at making up scenes and dialogue on the fly, our parts grew, and Timmy became the dork who could sail a Herreshoff 12 1/2 and also say a few lines. But mostly I came to be known down there as the young, unchaperoned actor who was very far from home and incredibly patient and good humored and almost never asked when this darn thing was going to be finished.

I kept my cool back then because I knew that one day, a generation hence, this first sequel to the most successful movie of all time would have its own festival on Martha’s Vineyard, where I would get to sit in front of large crowds who would marvel at what we’d brought to the Jaws franchise (first shark attack on a helicopter, first assault with a deadly weapon by a police chief on a school of bluefish, first dork in a Herreshoff 12 1/2 to persuade a really pretty girl to go sailing with him). You expect a bit less when your movie comes second, naturally, and while I was realistic enough to know that people wouldn’t come from as far away as Spain, Bulgaria, and Australia to celebrate our landmark derivative achievements, the way they did for the original Jaws Fest, I was dead certain that cousins of mine would come from as far away as central Connecticut.

For those of you who played supporting parts in the fourth Jaws sequel, known as The Revenge, and are expecting your own Fest on the thirtieth anniversary in 2017, my experience suggests that you should not hold your breath. Your movie may have had the first shark attack in Amity harbor on Christmas Eve, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough to get Martha’s Vineyard to give you a parade either. Even so, let’s you and me get together then, and we’ll laugh our heads off at the poor forgotten pretenders who embarrassed themselves in Jaws 3-D, set at Sea World and featuring the first shark to spend most of a movie hiding in a big infiltration pipe. Nobody will ever throw them a Fest.