- Peter Benchley
name = Peter Benchley
caption = Benchley being interviewed about "Jaws"
birth_date =birth date|1940|5|8|mf=y
New York City
death_date = death date and age |2006|2|11|1940|5|8
website = [http://www.peterbenchley.com/ www.peterbenchley.com]
Peter Bradford Benchley (
May 8, 1940-11 February 2006) was an American author best known for writing the novel "Jaws" and co-writing the screenplayfor its film adaptation. The subsequent film directed by Steven Spielbergand co-written by Benchley is generally acknowledged as the first summer blockbuster. Benchley also wrote "The Deep" and "The Island" which were also adapted into films.
He was the son of author
Nathaniel Benchleyand grandson of Algonquin Round Tablefounder Robert Benchley. His younger brother, Nat Benchley, is a writer and actor. Peter Benchley was an alumnus of Phillips Exeter Academyand Harvard University.
After graduating from college, he worked for "
The Washington Post", then as an editor at " Newsweek" and a speechwriter in the White Housefor President Lyndon Johnson. [ [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/02/14/db1401.xml Peter Benchley - Telegraph ] ] He developed the idea of a man-eating shark terrorising a community after reading of a fisherman [http://www.fmundus.com/"Frank Mundus"] catching a 4,550 pound great white shark off the coast of Long Islandin 1964. He also drew some material from the tragic Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916.
Tom Congdonsaw 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. 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. [Hawtree, Christopher. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2006/feb/14/guardianobituaries.obituaries "Peter Benchley: He was fascinated by the sea, but his bestselling novel tapped into a primeval fear of the deep"] , " The Guardian", February 14, 2006. Accessed August 18, 2008. "In 1971, he was asked by Tom Congdon, an editor at the publishers Doubleday, if he had anything in mind for a book, and he pitched this as a "long story"; he produced a hundred pages, and, with a $1000 advance, he reworked it steadily, holing up to do so, during the winter, in a room above the Pennington Furnace Supply Co in Pennington, New Jersey, and, by summer, in an old turkey coop at Stonningtonsic, 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. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/arts/3400291.stm] Book critics such as Michael Rogers of "
Rolling Stone Magazine" shared the sentiment but the book struck a chord with readers.
Benchley co-wrote the
screenplaywith Carl Gottlieb(along with the uncredited Howard Sacklerand John Milius, who provided the first draft of the memorable USS Indianapolis speech) for the Spielberg film released in 1975. Benchley made a cameo appearanceas a news reporter on the beach. The film, starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfussand Robert Shaw, was released in the summer season, traditionally considered to be the graveyard season for films. However, Universal Studiosdecided to break tradition by releasing the movie with extensive television advertising. Tautly edited by Verna Fields, featuring an ominous score by John Williamsand infused with such an air of understated menace by director Steven Spielbergthat he was hailed as the heir apparent to "Master of Suspense" Alfred Hitchcock, "Jaws" became the first movie to gross $100 million at the US box office. It eventually grossed $450 million globally. George Lucasused a similar strategy in 1977 for "" which broke the box office records set by "Jaws", and hence the summer blockbuster was born. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/film/1653733.stm] 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, Floridaand 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 ["Peter Benchley",
Contemporary AuthorsOnline, Gale, 2003] .
His reasonably successful second novel, "The Deep", is about a honeymooning couple discovering two sunken treasures on the Bermuda reefs -- 17th century Spanish gold and a fortune in World War Two-era morphine -- who are subsequently targeted by a drug syndicate. This 1976 novel is based on Benchley's chance meeting in
Bermudawith diver Teddy Tucker while writing a story for " National Geographic". Benchley co-wrote the screenplay for the 1977 film release, along with Tracy Keenan Wynnand an uncredited Tom Mankiewicz. Directed by Peter Yatesand starring Robert Shaw, Nick Nolteand Jacqueline Bisset, "The Deep" was a moderate success, and one of the Top 10 highest grossing films in the US in 1977, though its box office tally fell well short of "Jaws".
"The Island", published in 1979, was a story of descendants of 17th century
pirates who terrorize pleasure craft in the Caribbean, leading to the Bermuda Trianglemystery. Benchley again wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation. But the movie version of "The Island", starring Michael Caineand David Warner, failed at the box office when released in 1980.
During the 1980s, Benchley wrote three novels that did not sell as well as his previous works. However, "Girl of the Sea of Cortez", a beguiling
John Steinbeck-type fable about man's complicated relationship with the sea, was far and away his best reviewed book and has attracted a considerable cult following since its publication. "Sea of Cortez" signposted Benchley's growing interest in ecological issues and anticipated his future role as an impassioned and intelligent defender of the importance of redressing the current imbalance between human activities and the marine environment. "Q Clearance" published in 1986 was written from his experience as a staffer in the Johnson White House. "Rummies" (aka Lush), which appeared in 1989, is a semi-autobiographical work, loosely inspired by the Benchley family's history of alcohol abuse. While the first half of the novel is a relatively straightforward (and harrowing) account of a suburbanite's descent into alcoholic hell, the second part -- which takes place at a New Mexico substance abuse clinic -- veers off into wildly improbable thriller-type territory.
He returned to nautical themes in 1991's "Beast" written about a
giant squidthreatening Bermuda. "Beast" was brought to the small screen as a made for TV movie in 1996, under the slightly altered title "The Beast". His next novel, "White Shark", was published in 1994. The story of a Nazi-created genetically engineered shark/human hybrid failed to achieve popular or critical success. It was also turned into a made-for-TV movie titled "Creature", with Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the "New York Times" saying it "looks more like Arnold Schwarzeneggerthan any fish". ("Peter Benchley" Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003) In 1999, the television show " Peter Benchley's Amazon" was created, about a group of plane crash survivors in the middle of a vast jungle.
In the last decade of his career, Benchley wrote non-fiction works about the sea and about sharks advocating their conservation. Among these was his book entitled "Shark Trouble," [Benchley, Peter: "Shark Trouble," page 9. Random House, 2003.] which illustrated how hype and news sensationalism can help undermine the public's need to understand marine ecosystems and the potential negative consequences as humans interact with it. This work, which had editions in 2001 and 2003, was written to help a post-"Jaws" public to more fully understand "the sea in all its beauty, mystery, and power." [Benchley, P: "Shark Trouble", page xiii. Random House, 2003.] It details the ways in which man seems to have become more of an aggressor in his relationship with sharks, acting out of ignorance and greed as several of the species become increasingly threatened by overfishing.
Benchley was a member of the
National Council of Environmental Defenseand a spokesman for its Oceans Program: " [T] he shark in an updated "Jaws" could not be the villain; it would have to be written as the victim, for, world-wide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors." [http://www.theroyalgazette.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060217/MIDOCEAN/102170132]
Benchley's legacy continues as part of The Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Award. The Shark Research Institute presents this award which is given to honor Benchley's memory and ensure continuation of his conservation efforts on behalf of sharks. The Shark Research Institute, is a multi-disciplinary non-profit 501(c)(3) scientific research organization. It was created to sponsor and conduct research on sharks and promote the conservation of sharks. Founded in 1991 at Princeton, New Jersey, USA, SRI has field offices throughout the United States, including Connecticut, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas, as well in Canada, the Galapagos Islands, Honduras, Mexico, South Africa, Taiwan and the Seychelles. A new data collecting site has been established in Australia.
The Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Award is given annually for outstanding contributions to shark conservation. The Award is open to individuals, projects or organizations throughout the world. Nominations of an individual, project or organization are made by the individual, project member or organization to be considered. Nominations for the Award close on February 2nd of each year. It consists of a publicized announcement of the Award, and a cash award of $1,000 US dollars. It is open to individuals, projects or organizations throughout the world.
The first of the Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Awards were presented on May 8, 2007, at The Explorers Club in New York. The gala event was attended by celebrities and marine conservationists from around the world. The 2007 winners of these prestigious awards were Jason Holmberg, Ecocean; Sonja Fordham, Ocean Conservancy; and Rob Stewart, "Sharkwater." Also in attendance were Wendy Benchley and Stan Waterman, President of the Shark Research Institute, actor-writer and brother Nat Benchley, and filmmaker Guy Perrotta . [http://www.sharks.org]
Works by Benchley
* "Jaws (1974)
The Girl of the Sea of Cortez(1982)
* 1994 ""
* 2001 ""
* 2002 ""
* 2005 "" (with
* "Jaws", 1975 film adaptation; actor: Interveiwer.
* "The Deep", 1977 film adaptation
Jaws 2", based on characters from "Jaws"
* "The Island", 1980 film adaptation
Jaws 3", based on characters from "Jaws"
* "", a fourth film based on characters from "Jaws"
Dolphin Cove", 1989 TV series
* "The Beast", 1996 TV film adaptation
* "Creature", 1998 TV film adaptation
* "Amazon", 1999 TV series
* " Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle", 1994 (actor, as Frank Crowninshield)
Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916
List of bestselling novels in the United States
* [http://www.peterbenchley.com/ Official site]
* [http://www.theroyalgazette.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060217/MIDOCEAN/102170132 Peter Benchley: Rapture of The Deep]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4707576.stm BBC News - Author dies]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/film/1653733.stm BBC News "Rise of the blockbuster"]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/arts/3400291.stm BBC News "The book that spawned a monster"]
NAME=Benchley, Peter Bradford
SHORT DESCRIPTION=American writer
DATE OF BIRTH=
May 8, 1940
PLACE OF BIRTH=
New York City
DATE OF DEATH=
February 11, 2006
PLACE OF DEATH=Princeton,
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