Susan Backlinie: The Stuntwoman Who Set the Tone for Jaws

“Susan Backlinie, Jaws, Steven Spielberg, stuntwoman, film history, horror cinema, iconic movie scenes, shark attack scenes, film stunts, Hollywood legends”

“Explore the life and legacy of Susan Backlinie, the skilled stuntwoman and actress behind the terrifying first shark attack in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws.’ Discover her unique contributions to the film industry and how she helped shape one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history.”

Susan Backlinie
Susan Backlinie

Susan Backlinie, the iconic stunt performer and actress best known for her harrowing role as the first shark victim in Steven Spielberg’s seminal film “Jaws,” passed away at the age of 77. Her unforgettable performance set the tone for the thriller, making an indelible impact on the horror genre and cinema at large.

Backlinie’s background as a nationally ranked swimmer and professional diver profoundly shaped her career in the entertainment industry. Before her iconic role, she was an accomplished performer at the Weeki Wachee Springs tourist attraction in Florida, where she delighted visitors with her mermaid performances. Additionally, her experience working with wild animals at Ivan Tors Studios, known for producing the famous “Flipper” series, underscored her diverse talents and ability to handle challenging roles.

Her journey to the chilling role in “Jaws” began with her unique skill set and physical prowess. Spielberg, in search of a stunt person who was exceptionally comfortable and skilled in water, found Backlinie to be the perfect fit for the physically demanding role of Chrissie, the young woman who meets a terrifying end during a nighttime swim. Spielberg’s insistence on using a stunt person rather than an actress was due to the complex and physically intensive nature of the scene. Backlinie’s ability to perform intricate water ballet and endure the vigorous demands of the role made her the ideal choice.

The filming of her scene was an elaborate and meticulously planned operation. Backlinie was equipped with a harness attached to wires controlled by two teams of crew members on the beach. This setup allowed for the dramatic depiction of the shark’s attack, pulling her violently from one side to another. Spielberg’s innovative direction and the coordination of the crew helped create one of the most memorable and terrifying scenes in film history. This meticulous choreography, combined with Backlinie’s physical commitment, vividly brought to life the sheer terror of an unseen underwater attack.

Backlinie’s contribution to “Jaws” was not just physical; her suggestions regarding close-ups during the stunt allowed Spielberg to capture the intensity of the scene more effectively, enhancing the realism and emotional impact of the film. Her dedication was evident as she endured long filming hours in the water, which she described as exhausting but ultimately rewarding. This scene alone would define her career and leave a lasting legacy in Hollywood.

After “Jaws,” Backlinie continued to work in films and television, including a humorous nod to her role in Spielberg’s “1941,” where she once again found herself in perilous waters, this time encountering a Japanese submarine. Her other credits include roles in “Two-Minute Warning” and “Day of the Animals,” where she also served as an animal trainer, showcasing her versatile skills and commitment to her craft.

Beyond the screen, Backlinie’s life was filled with adventure and love. She married Harvey, with whom she shared a houseboat in Ventura, embracing a life that reflected her love for the water and nature. Her early life, marked by her achievements as a state swimming champion and her brief stint in nursing school, illustrated her multifaceted interests and talents.

Susan Backlinie’s legacy in cinema, particularly through her role in “Jaws,” highlights the critical role of stunt performers in the industry. Her ability to merge athletic skill with artistic performance not only set the stage for the thriller but also paved the way for more dynamic and physically engaging roles in film. Her death marks the end of a remarkable life but her influence on film and her pioneering contributions to stunt performance will continue to resonate. Her role in “Jaws” remains a testament to her talent and a pivotal moment in cinematic history, reminding us of the power of film to evoke fear, thrill audiences, and transcend the ordinary.

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