Remembering ‘Jaws’ Actress Susan Backlinie

JAWS, scene, Susan Backlinie, 1975
Courtesy of Everett Collection

Susan Backlinie, the former stuntwoman and actress who played Chrissie Watkins, a beautiful young woman who gets chased along the beach by a guy she meets at a bonfire in the opening scene of the classic 1975 horror flick Jawsdied on May 12, 2024 at her home in California. Her husband, Harvey Swindall, recalls her as the “most amazing person” he’d ever met.

Remind Magazine recently talked to Backlinie at the 2023 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, a three-day event in Hunt Valley, MD, filled with collectibles, superfans, celebrities and an all-around love of all things Old Hollywood, where Backlinie appeared to talk with fans and told us she’d “felt like shark bait” filming the iconic opening scene.

Read the interview below:

JAWS behind the scenes, Susan Backlinie, 1975

Courtesy of Everett Collection

Not to spoil anything, but if you haven’t seen it (and you really should!) it is a movie about a killer shark, so things don’t go well for Chrissie. The young man accompanying her is so drunk he falls asleep in the sand before joining her in the water and is deaf to her screams (perhaps a metaphor for women killing themselves trying to impress a man who isn’t even worth the time?). The shark attack is now considered one of the most iconic opening scenes in Hollywood history.

Backlinie was happy to sit and chat with me about what it was like to be behind the scenes of Steven Spielberg‘s mega-blockbuster hit.

Did filming Jaws make you scared of sharks?

No. You know, once I was in Coco Keeling Islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and every time you went out of the lagoon like ten bronze whalers would come out, and that was interesting. I was in the water and turned around and a shark was just sitting there and looking at me. I went up to it and he just sat there and stared at me. I wasn’t scared. I was just trying to figure out how to swim backwards.

What was a memorable moment from your time on the set of Jaws?

After I did my first scene, the nurse on set came up to give me a shot of liquor. So, I was home an hour later, in the tub, just… singing. I told her nu-uh the next day. I don’t think so.

Why did she do that?

Just to warm me up, because I was freezing.

JAWS, Susan Backlinie, 1975

Courtesy of Everett Collection

What was filming the attack scene like? Was it challenging getting pulled around in the water like that?

They put a pair of cutoff jeans on me and hooked cables up to the side. At night I’d stop and think, “You know, that’s exactly what calls sharks to you: flailing, stopping, flailing.” I kind of felt like shark bait.

You also appeared in a parody of this beach scene in the opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s 1979 comedy 1941. Do you remember anything from that?

It was cold. They did it in Washington on the coast and it was cold. I was freezing. I was freezing during Jaws, too, because they keep you in there for three hours.

Do you still watch the movie at all?

I always miss the first scene. I just watch the rest of it; I’ve seen it so many times.

Where Are They Now - The Seventies
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Where Are They Now - The Seventies

June 2022

Who can forget all the great TV shows, movies and music of the ‘70s?

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