Peter Benchley

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Peter Benchley
Peter Benchley.jpg
Benchley being interviewed about Jaws in "A Look Inside Jaws", produced by Laurent Bouzereau.
Born
Peter Bradford Benchley

(1940-05-08)May 8, 1940
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedFebruary 11, 2006(2006-02-11) (aged 65)
OccupationAuthor, screenwriter and ocean activist
Years active1967–2006
Spouse(s)
Winifred "Wendy" Wesson(m. 1964)
Parent(s)Marjorie Bradford
Nathaniel Benchley
Relatives Robert Benchley (grandfather)
Nat Benchley (brother)
Website www.peterbenchley.com

Peter Bradford Benchley (May 8, 1940 – February 11, 2006) was an American author, screenwriter, and ocean activist. He is known for the bestselling novel Jaws and co-wrote its subsequent film adaptation with Carl Gottlieb. Several more of his works were also adapted for both cinema and television, including The Deep , The Island , Beast , and White Shark .

<i>Jaws</i> (novel) book

Jaws is a 1974 novel by American writer Peter Benchley. It tells the story of a great white shark that preys upon a small resort town and the voyage of three men trying to kill it. The novel grew out of Benchley's interest in shark attacks after he learned about the exploits of shark fisherman Frank Mundus in 1964. Doubleday commissioned him to write the novel in 1971, a period when Benchley worked as a freelance journalist.

<i>Jaws</i> (film) 1975 American horror film directed by Steven Spielberg

Jaws is a 1975 American thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Peter Benchley's 1974 novel of the same name. In the film, a giant man-eating great white shark attacks beachgoers on Amity Island, a fictional New England summer resort town, prompting police chief Martin Brody to hunt it with the help of a marine biologist and a professional shark hunter. Murray Hamilton plays the mayor, and Lorraine Gary portrays Brody's wife. The screenplay is credited to Benchley, who wrote the first drafts, and actor-writer Carl Gottlieb, who rewrote the script during principal photography.

Carl Gottlieb American screenwriter, actor, comedian and executive

Carl Gottlieb is an American screenwriter, actor, comedian and executive. He is probably best known for co-writing the screenplay for Jaws and its first two sequels, as well as directing the 1981 film Caveman.

Contents

Later in life, Benchley came to regret writing such sensationalist literature about sharks, which he felt encouraged excessive fear and unnecessary culls of such an important predator in ocean ecosystems and became an outspoken advocate for marine conservation.

Shark superorder of fishes

Sharks are a group of elasmobranch fish characterized by a cartilaginous skeleton, five to seven gill slits on the sides of the head, and pectoral fins that are not fused to the head. Modern sharks are classified within the clade Selachimorpha and are the sister group to the rays. However, the term "shark" has also been used for extinct members of the subclass Elasmobranchii outside the Selachimorpha, such as Cladoselache and Xenacanthus, as well as other Chondrichthyes such as the holocephalid eugenedontidans.

Ecosystem A community of living organisms together with the nonliving components of their environment

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system. These biotic and abiotic components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Energy enters the system through photosynthesis and is incorporated into plant tissue. By feeding on plants and on one-another, animals play an important role in the movement of matter and energy through the system. They also influence the quantity of plant and microbial biomass present. By breaking down dead organic matter, decomposers release carbon back to the atmosphere and facilitate nutrient cycling by converting nutrients stored in dead biomass back to a form that can be readily used by plants and other microbes.

Marine conservation protection and preservation of saltwater ecosystems

Marine conservation, also known as ocean conservation, refers to the study of Marine plants and animal resources and ecosystem functions. It is the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas through planned management in order to prevent the exploitation of these resources. Marine conservation is driven by the manifested negative effects being seen in our environment such as species loss, habitat degradation and changes in ecosystem functions and focuses on limiting human-caused damage to marine ecosystems, restoring damaged marine ecosystems, and preserving vulnerable species and ecosystems of the marine life. Marine conservation is a relatively new discipline which has developed as a response to biological issues such as extinction and marine habitats change.

Early life

Benchley was the son of Marjorie (née Bradford) and 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 the Allen-Stevenson School, Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University.

Nathaniel Goddard Benchley was an American writer.

Algonquin Round Table

The Algonquin Round Table was a group of New York City writers, critics, actors, and wits. Gathering initially as part of a practical joke, members of "The Vicious Circle", as they dubbed themselves, met for lunch each day at the Algonquin Hotel from 1919 until roughly 1929. At these luncheons they engaged in wisecracks, wordplay, and witticisms that, through the newspaper columns of Round Table members, were disseminated across the country.

Robert Benchley American writer and actor

Robert Charles Benchley was an American humorist best known for his work as a newspaper columnist and film actor. From his beginnings at The Harvard Lampoon while attending Harvard University, through his many years writing essays and articles for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and his acclaimed short films, Benchley's style of humor brought him respect and success during his life, from his peers at the Algonquin Round Table in New York City to contemporaries in the burgeoning film industry.

After graduating from college in 1961, Benchley travelled around the world for a year. The experience was told in his first book, a travel memoir titled Time and a Ticket, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1964. Following his return to America, Benchley spent six months reserve duty in the Marine Corps, and then became a reporter for The Washington Post . [1] While dining at an inn in Nantucket, Benchley met Winifred "Wendy" Wesson, whom he dated and then married the following year, 1964. By then Benchley was in New York, working as television editor for Newsweek . In 1967 he became a speechwriter in the White House for President Lyndon B. Johnson, and saw the birth of his daughter Tracy. [2]

<i>The Washington Post</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper published in Washington, D.C.

The Washington Post is a major American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C., with a particular emphasis on national politics and the federal government. It has the largest circulation in the Washington metropolitan area. Its slogan "Democracy Dies in Darkness" began appearing on its masthead in 2017. Daily broadsheet editions are printed for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.

Nantucket Town and county in Massachusetts, United States

Nantucket is an island about 30 miles (50 km) by ferry south from Cape Cod, in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. Together with the small islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, it constitutes the Town of Nantucket, and the conterminous Nantucket County. As of the 2010 census, the population was 10,172. Part of the town is designated the Nantucket CDP, or census-designated place. The region of Surfside on Nantucket is the southernmost settlement in Massachusetts.

Newsweek is an American weekly news magazine founded in 1933.

Once Johnson's term ended in 1969, the Benchleys moved out of Washington, and lived in various houses, including an island off Stonington, Connecticut where son Clayton was born in 1969. Benchley wanted to be near New York, and the family eventually got a house at Pennington, New Jersey in 1970. [2] Since his home had no space for an office, Benchley rented a room above a furnace supply company. [3]

Stonington, Connecticut Town in Connecticut, United States

The town of Stonington is located in New London County, Connecticut in the state's southeastern corner. It includes the borough of Stonington, the villages of Pawcatuck, Lords Point, and Wequetequock, and the eastern halves of the villages of Mystic and Old Mystic. The population of the town was 18,545 at the 2010 census.

Pennington, New Jersey Borough in New Jersey

Pennington is a borough in Mercer County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the borough's population was 2,585, reflecting a decline of 111 (-4.1%) from the 2,696 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 159 (+6.3%) from the 2,537 counted in the 1990 Census.

Jaws

By 1971, Benchley was doing various freelance jobs in his struggle to support his wife and children. During this period, when Benchley would later declare he was "making one final attempt to stay alive as a writer", his literary agent arranged meetings with publishers. Benchley would frequently pitch two ideas, a non-fiction book about pirates, and a novel depicting a man-eating shark terrorizing a community. This idea had been developed by Benchley since he had read a news report of a fisherman catching a 4,550 pounds (2,060 kg) great white shark off the coast of Long Island in 1964. The shark novel eventually attracted Doubleday editor Thomas Congdon, who 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 his Pennington office, and in the summer in a converted chicken coop in the Wessons' farm in Stonington. [1] [3] 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. [4]

Great white shark Species of large lamniform shark

The great white shark, also known as the great white, white shark or white pointer, is a species of large mackerel shark which can be found in the coastal surface waters of all the major oceans. The great white shark is notable for its size, with larger female individuals growing to 6.1 m (20 ft) in length and 1,905 kg (4,200 lb) in weight at maturity. However, most are smaller; males measure 3.4 to 4.0 m, and females measure 4.6 to 4.9 m on average. According to a 2014 study, the lifespan of great white sharks is estimated to be as long as 70 years or more, well above previous estimates, making it one of the longest lived cartilaginous fish currently known. According to the same study, male great white sharks take 26 years to reach sexual maturity, while the females take 33 years to be ready to produce offspring. Great white sharks can swim at speeds of over 56 km/h (35 mph), and can swim to depths of 1,200 m (3,900 ft).

Long Island island in New York, United States of America

Long Island is a densely populated island off the East Coast of the United States, beginning at New York Harbor approximately 0.35 miles (0.56 km) from Manhattan Island and extending eastward into the Atlantic Ocean. The island comprises four counties in the U.S. state of New York. Kings and Queens Counties and Nassau County share the western third of the island, while Suffolk County occupies the eastern two-thirds. More than half of New York City's residents now live on Long Island, in Brooklyn and Queens. However, many people in the New York metropolitan area colloquially use the term Long Island to refer exclusively to Nassau and Suffolk Counties, which are mainly suburban in character, conversely employing the term the City to mean Manhattan alone.

Doubleday is an American publishing company. It was founded as the Doubleday & McClure Company in 1897 and was the largest in the United States by 1947. It published the work of mostly U.S. authors under a number of imprints and distributed them through its own stores. In 2009 Doubleday merged with Knopf Publishing Group to form the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, which is now part of Penguin Random House. In 2019 the official website presents Doubleday as an imprint, not a publisher.

Jaws was published in 1974 and became a great success, staying on the bestseller list for 44 weeks. Steven Spielberg, who would direct the film version of Jaws, has said that he initially found many of the characters unsympathetic and wanted the shark to win. [5] Book critics such as Michael A. Rogers of Rolling Stone 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 a monologue about the USS Indianapolis) 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 film with extensive television advertising. It eventually grossed over $470 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. [6]

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. [7]

Subsequent career

His 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 II-era morphine — who are subsequently targeted by a drug syndicate. This 1976 novel is based on Benchley's chance meeting in Bermuda with diver Teddy Tucker while writing a story for National Geographic . Benchley co-wrote the screenplay for the 1977 film release, along with Tracy Keenan Wynn and an uncredited Tom Mankiewicz. Directed by Peter Yates and starring Robert Shaw, Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset, The Deep was a box office 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 Triangle mystery. Benchley again wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation. But the film version of The Island , starring Michael Caine and co-starring 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 fable influenced by John Steinbeck about man's complicated relationship with the sea, was his best-reviewed book and has attracted a considerable cult following since its publication.[ citation needed ]Sea of Cortez signposted Benchley's growing interest in ecological issues and anticipated his future role as an impassioned advocate of the importance of protecting the marine environment. Q Clearance, published in 1986, was written from his experience as a staffer in the Johnson White House. Rummies (also known as 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 account of a suburbanite's descent into alcoholic hell, the second part, which takes place at a New Mexico substance abuse clinic, is written as a thriller.

He returned to nautical themes in 1991's Beast written about a giant squid threatening Bermuda. Beast was brought to the small screen as a made-for-television film in 1996, under the title The Beast . His next novel, White Shark , was published in 1994. The story of a Nazi-created genetically engineered shark/human hybrid, it failed to achieve popular or critical success. It was also turned into a made-for-television film titled Creature, with Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times saying it "looks more like Arnold Schwarzenegger than any fish". [7] Also in 1994, Benchley became the first person to host Discovery Channel's Shark Week.

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, [8] 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." [9] 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 Defense and 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, worldwide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors." [10]

He was also one of the founding board members of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI).

Benchley died of pulmonary fibrosis in 2006. [11]

Legacy

In light of Peter Benchley's lifelong record of shark conservation and educating the public about sharks, the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards have been instituted by Wendy Benchley and David Helvarg as his legacy. [12]

In 2015 researchers confirmed a new species of lanternshark had been found off the Pacific coast of South America, naming it Etmopterus benchleyi . Lead researcher Vicki Vásquez noted the author's work in promoting ocean conservation, particularly sharks, as motivation. [13] [14]

Works

Fiction

Non-fiction

Film

See also

Related Research Articles

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Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916

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References

  1. 1 2 Hawtree, Christopher (February 14, 2006). "Peter Benchley". The Guardian . Guardian News and Media Limited . Retrieved February 15, 2011.
  2. 1 2 Stratton, Jean (April 2, 2008). "After Nine Years on Borough Council, Wendy Benchley Sets New Agenda". Town Topics . 62 (14). Princeton's Weekly Community. Retrieved May 12, 2018.
  3. 1 2 Benchley, Peter (June 4, 2002). "2: Jaws". Shark Life: True Stories About Sharks & the Sea. New York: Random House Publishing Group. pp. 14–19. ISBN   0-307-54574-1.
  4. Downie, Robert M. (2008). Block Island History of Photography 1870–1960s (PDF). 2. p. 243. OCLC   428688552.
  5. Dowling, Stephen (February 1, 2004). "The book that spawned a monster". BBC News . BBC . Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  6. "Rise of the blockbuster". BBC News . BBC. November 16, 2001. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  7. 1 2 "Peter Benchley". Contemporary Authors Online. Gale. 2003.Missing or empty |url= (help)
  8. Wood, Robin (June 28, 2002). "Peter Benchley's 'Shark Trouble'". CBS News . CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved May 12, 2018.
  9. Benchley, Peter (June 4, 2002). Shark Trouble: True Stories and Lessons About the Sea. Random House Publishing Group. p. 13. ISBN   9781588362070.
  10. Hodgson, Tim (February 17, 2006). "Make your company a world wide known name with us!". The Royal Gazette . Archived from the original on June 5, 2006. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  11. "Jaws author Peter Benchley dies". BBC News . BBC. February 13, 2006. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  12. "About the Awards". Peter Benchley Ocean Awards. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  13. "Forget the Flashlight: New Ninja Shark Species Lights up the Sea". Live Science. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
  14. Vásquez, V.E.; Ebert, D.A.; Long, D.J. (2015). "Etmopterus benchleyi n. sp., a new lanternshark (Squaliformes: Etmopteridae) from the central eastern Pacific Ocean" (PDF). Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation. 17: 43–45.