Hunting Bruce, Or, On The Trail Of The 'Jaws' Shark Thirty-five years after Jaws, NPR's Cory Turner sets out to confront his childhood fear of the fictional great white by coming face to face with the beast that terrified America — if he can find it.

Hunting Bruce, Or, On The Trail Of The 'Jaws' Shark

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Thirty-five years ago this month, one word was on the minds and lips of American moviegoers.

(Soundbite of movie, "Jaws")

Unidentified Child: Shark! There's a shark!

SIEGEL: On June 20, 1975, "Jaws" opened in theaters across the country. It starred Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw and Bruce, the mechanical shark. In the film, the three men find themselves on an obsessive search for a man-eating great white.

Well, NPR's Cory Turner recently found himself in the same boat, hunting for Bruce.

CORY TURNER: "Jaws" terrified me so much as a kid that it didn't occur to me the shark was fake. Then I found a photo of Bruce being built, a workman leaning harmlessly into his mouth, and that was my heart-of-darkness moment.

At 10 years old, I decided, A, I had to see this Bruce for myself and, B, I had to touch it. Why? Simple: How dangerous is a shark you can touch?

Here's the problem: I couldn't talk my folks into helping me track Bruce down, so I had to wait until this spring.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JEFF PIRTLE (Manager of Archives and Collections, NBC Universal): So this head right here measured 6-foot, 8 inches and 400 pounds as weighed, and that's strictly the head.

TURNER: That's Jeff Pirtle, manager of archives and collections at NBC Universal. Universal made "Jaws," and we're in Pirtle's office on the Universal lot. He's showing me schematics for the original Bruces. There were actually three. One was pulled by boat when the shark had to swim convincingly. The other two sat atop a metal arm, hidden underwater so they could, among other things, vault onto the deck of the Orca and make short work of Robert Shaw.

(Soundbite of movie, "Jaws")

(Soundbite of screaming)

TURNER: The width of those famous jaws: nearly five feet. As for length...

(Soundbite of movie, "Jaws")

Mr. RICHARD DREYFUSS (Actor): (as Matt Hooper) That's a 20-footer.

Mr. ROBERT SHAW (Actor): (as Sam Quint) Twenty-five.

TURNER: Finally, the name Bruce came from director Steven Spielberg after his lawyer, Bruce Ramer.

It's hard to believe watching the film but Bruce, the mechanical shark, had one dirty, little secret.

(Soundbite of movie, "Jaws")

Mr. DREYFUSS: (as Matt Hooper) Wherever you were on the island, you could hear the radio mics, and they were always saying: The shark is not working.

TURNER: That's Richard Dreyfuss, in a documentary on the making of "Jaws."

Joe Alves, the movie's art director, was hired to create the shark. As Bruce's proud father, Alves admits the shark was finicky, but...

Mr. JOE ALVES (Art Director, "Jaws"): When it worked, I mean, it was just great. I mean, when it first comes out of the water, when Scheider looks and he says, you know:

(Soundbite of movie, "Jaws")

Mr. ROB SCHEIDER (Actor): (as Chief Martin Brody) I can go slow ahead. Come on down and chum some of this (bleep).

Mr. ALVES: And you look and the shark comes up - I mean, it was just fantastic.

TURNER: So what happened to Bruce? I took my question straight to the top, to Spielberg himself. Well, actually, I got his spokesman, Marvin Levy, who's been working with Spielberg since "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Mr. MARVIN LEVY (Spokesman, Steven Spielberg): The original Bruces were all destroyed.

TURNER: I held out hope. Maybe there was something hiding in a warehouse somewhere, or an archive.

Mr. LEVY: There's none hiding in a warehouse somewhere. There's none in an archive somewhere.

TURNER: Marvin's a good guy and a straight shooter, but I thought maybe he just didn't ask Spielberg.

Mr. LEVY: I got this directly from Steven when I posed your question.

TURNER: Directly from Steven: destroyed. But when and why?

Art director Joe Alves says by the time they finished shooting "Jaws," they were so over budget and over schedule that Bruce just wasn't a priority.

Mr. ALVES: We were in deep trouble. The studio was reluctant in the first place to make the movie. When we came back, they just dumped the sharks in the back lot, and they just rotted away.

TURNER: Heartbroken, I went to Facebook. Believe it or not, Bruce, the mechanical shark, has his own Facebook page - and more friends than I ever will. And many of those friends still hold out hope that he's alive - I mean, intact. And it's there, on Facebook, that I first heard about a possible fourth Bruce. It sounded too good to believe, so I asked Jeff Pirtle, the NBC Universal archivist.

Mr. PIRTLE: The fourth shark was originally brought to my attention probably two years ago, by a "Jaws" fan who had found my phone number and said the fourth "Jaws" shark was in existence at a - auto parts junkyard in Sun Valley.

TURNER: Now, this fourth shark was not used in the film, but it does appear to have been cast from the original Bruce mold at the time of the film, before the mold was lost. The shark hung by its tail at Universal Studios Theme Park in Hollywood from 1975 to 1990.

So, what happened to this fourth Bruce?

(Soundbite of music)

TURNER: I started cold-calling junkyards. The conversations all went something like this:

Hi, I'm calling from NPR. Do you happen to have a shark in your junkyard? Yeah, a shark. Hello?

Until a few calls into my list, when the guy on the other end of the line didn't hang up on me.

Mr. NATHAN ADLEN (Adlen Brothers Auto Wrecking): I'm Nathan Adlen, Adlen Brothers Auto Wrecking in Sun Valley, California.

TURNER: Nathan inherited the business from his father, Sam Adlen, who in 1990, was buying vehicles from Universal's transportation department. Now, Nathan doesn't know exactly how it happened - his father died more than 10 years ago. All he knows is one day, lumped into a huge batch of cars at Universal, was a shark.

Mr. ADLEN: It caught my father's eye. I'm hearing it secondhand that when it got here, it was a little bit damaged. I think we added the teeth back to it and whatever else needed mending.

TURNER: I flew across the country and headed for Sun Valley. But I had to be sure this was Bruce, so I brought a little help: the man who designed him, Joe Alves. And Alves brought his friend Roy Arbogast, whom he had hired to help create the original Bruce mold.

Nathan Adlen leads us through a compound of buildings, through a garage and then finally:

(Soundbite of banging)

TURNER: Two large gates - and there he is. That's it, standing in the middle of five palm trees.

In front of us is a sea of junked cars - 26 acres' worth - and a tiny oasis of palms and loquat plants. In the middle of that oasis, atop two metal poles, is a shark. His skin is cracked; his color badly faded. Instead of rows of menacing teeth, he has harmless wooden dentures.

But as Joe points out, the size is right.

Mr. ALVES: You know what amazes me, though, seeing it? How big the damn thing is.

TURNER: But is it Bruce? Joe thinks so, but defers to Roy Arbogast. Roy walks under the belly of the beast, poking it with the handle of a rake. Then he stops and says something to himself.

What was that, Roy?

Mr. ROY ARBOGAST (Special Mechanical Effects, "Jaws"): That's the real one.

Mr. ALVES: Yeah?


Mr. ALVES: Is it?


TURNER: You're pretty sure, huh?

Mr. ARBOGAST: Yeah, definitely. It's all - it's from the same mold.

TURNER: Just looking at it, can you tell me what about it strikes you?

Mr. ARBOGAST: No. It's just kind of nice to see it again after 25 or 30 years. It's amazing that it's still here.

TURNER: It's older than I am. And though I'm not 10 anymore, I just can't help myself. It's too tempting.

Nathan has been kind enough to give me a ladder, and we've put it just below the shark. And I'm walking up the ladder. My head is officially in his mouth, and I am now touching the shark.

Cory Turner, NPR News, Sun Valley, California.

SIEGEL: And you can see a family album that we've put together of the four Bruces at our website,

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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