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Susan Backlinie, the first victim of Jaws, dies at 77

Jaws swimmer Susan Backlinie has died at the age of 77 at her home in Ventura, California.

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Susan Backlinie, the first victim of Jaws, dies at 77

Jaws swimmer Susan Backlinie has died at the age of 77 at her home in Ventura, California. His appearance in the prologue of Steven Spielberg's film will remain one of the great thrills in the history of the seventh art.

His brief appearance in the film considered the first blockbuster remains memorable. Susan Backlinie played the role of Chrissie Watkins. During an evening on the beach, the young woman decides to go swimming in the waters of Amity Island. A few seconds later, the young woman is sucked into the depths. We won't see her again. The scene sets its terrifying tone for the rest of the thriller.

The director, revealed by this film, spoke about this shoot years later. “I didn’t want an actor to do that. "I wanted a stuntman because I needed someone who was good in the water, who had mastered aquatic choreography and who was able to withstand what I had imagined to render these violent shocks," Spielberg recounted in the book by Laurent Bouzereau, Spielberg: The First Ten Years.

The filming setup in fact resembled an instrument of torture: two teams of five men each had to pull ropes at the end of which Susan Backlinie was harnessed, in one direction then the other. “The goal was to give the impression that the shark was pulling her violently to the right and then immediately violently to the left,” remembers Steven Spielberg. After three days of filming, grueling according to the stuntwoman, the scene was in the box. “I want at the end of this scene, everyone to be hidden under their chairs among the popcorn and chewing gum,” the director had given as main instructions to Susan Backlinie. Mission accomplished.

Four years after Jaws, Susan Backlinie appeared in Steven Spielberg's 1941, released in 1979. In this war film parody, she replayed her role in Jaws. This time the swimmer was not devoured by a shark, but it was hung at the top of the periscope of a Japanese submarine which was coming to the surface. Despite a failure both critically and commercially, this film was selected in three categories for the 52nd Academy Awards in 1980.

In addition to her collaborations with Steven Spielberg, Susan Backlinie continued her career for around ten years. Sometimes a stuntwoman, sometimes an animal trainer, she notably participated in the filming of Day of the Animals in 1977. In 1982, she played in an episode of the television series The Fall Guy, broadcast on ABC . She then retrained in IT, becoming a chartered accountant in California.

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