‘Gotcha!’ Misterjaw doing his signature move in 1976 cartoon series.
Go ahead: Blame Steven Spielberg’s Jaws for the launch of the summer blockbuster and giving us everything from Shark Week to Sharknado 2-3 to Left Shark. Beyond its monster-sized impact on Hollywood, Jaws also spawned an ocean’s worth of quickie cash-ins, shameless knockoffs, and insta-parodies.
Within weeks of its release on June 20, 1975, the film became a full-blown pop-culture phenomenon. Stores were flooded with cheap rubber sharks, shirts ripping off Roger Kestel’s iconic movie poster, plastic “shark-tooth” necklaces, and the ever-popular inflatable dorsal fin. There were endless shark books and magazines (Jaws of Death, Maneater, Killer Shark!), dozens of TV specials, and rush-released films like Orca and Piranha.
Universal Studios engaged in some half-hearted efforts to shut down the unauthorized products while happily cranking out as much Jaws-branded merchandise as they could think up.
“It started with what everyone does: with the T-shirts,” producer Richard Zanuck recalled. “ But everything mushroomed with the release of the picture. I even had a toilet seat that when you opened it up, there was a big shark facing you. It was one of the first big merchandising events to take place in connection with the movie.”
A sampling of Universal’s official ‘Jaws’ merchandise, including novelty rings, shark squirters, and inflatable fins and sharks (image courtesy of PlaidStallions.com)
We embarked on an Internet archeological expedition to unearth the best — and just plain weirdest — vintage Jaws artifacts that surfaced during “Shark Mania” 40 years ago.
The Game of Jaws (1975)
Aside from the rubber sharks and inflatable fins, this game from toymaker Ideal might be the best-remembered official tie-in to the film. The premise was simple enough: Try to remove bones (fish and human), ship detritus, and other junk from Bruce’s mouth before his spring-loaded jaws clamp shut. The game didn’t exactly capture the thrill of the film, but was popular enough to remain in production — it’s now called “Sharky’s Diner.”
Shark Jaws (1975)
Atari’s unlicensed game featured “shark” in teeny-tiny letters and “JAWS” in all caps on the cabinet with a very familiar-looking illustrated great white. The gameplay was downright primitive — you control a diver who tries to catch fish while avoiding the killer shark — but the popularity of the film helped sell thousands of these units. For those who preferred more analog games, there was The Shark pinball machine (circa 1976) whose backsplash featured a shark about to devour a group of scantily clad teens.
Jaws of the Shark (1975)
Peter Pan’s Power Records line was essential listening to fanboys of the 1970s. The read-along 45s featured adaptations of comic books as well as hit sci-fi TV shows and movies. Whereas those were all officially licensed, Jaws of the Shark was a quickie release, featuring a trio of poorly acted, dubiously plotted stories geared to the kiddie set. But that sleeve was killer.
“Land Shark” (1975)
One of the all-time greatest Saturday Night Live recurring sketches, the candygram-peddling predator (initially played by Chevy Chase) debuted on the fourth episode of the show’s inaugural season in a skit called “Jaws II,” and reappeared nine more times, including February’s 40th anniversary special. As everyone knows, the Land Shark is much cleverer than the great white, able to disguise its voice and strike “at any place, any time.”
“Mr. Jaws” (1975)
The biggest-selling parody song by novelty-record purveyor Dickie Goodman, “Mr. Jaws” peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard charts and was a favorite on the Dr. Demento radio show. An example of Goodman’s “break-in” recordings, he played an interviewer whose questions to the various Jaws cast (shark included) were answered by snippets of hit songs of the day by the likes of the Eagles, Olivia Newton-John, James Taylor, and K.C. and the Sunshine Band. For example, when Goodman asks Captain Quint how it feels to catch a shark, the response comes via Glen Campbell: “Like a Rhinestone Cowboy…” And that’s why the '70s were a music wonderland.
Not to be confused with “Mr. Jaws,” this 1976 cartoon was part of The Pink Panther and Friends TV show on NBC and featured a German-accented shark (voiced by Arte Johnson) who jumped out and scared anybody near a body of water. He was accompanied by his pal Catfish and was avowed enemies of Harry Halibut and Fearless Freddy the Shark Hunter. The show ran 34 episodes.
Misterjaw was not related to Jabberjaw, another cartoon shark of the 1970s. One of the lesser Hanna-Barbera efforts of the period, the cartoon focused on the titular great white who played drums in a rock band alongside four undersea-dwelling human teenagers. Over the course of 16 episodes, they kick out the jams — like the other Hanna-Barbera 'toons, the show had a catchy theme song (“Jabber-Jabber-Jabber-Jabber-Jabber-Jabber-Jabberjaw, he’s the latest, greatest shark you ever saw”) — and thwart megalomaniacal villains. I forgot to mention: This is all set in 2076. Groovy.
Mad magazine’s inevitable, inspired parody in issue 180 found Chief Broody trying to take down the shark, as well as the separate “A Mad Look at Sharks” by the reliably zany Sergio Aragones. The classic cover starred an unappetizing Alfred E. Neuman.