From Junkyard To Museum: The Journey Of A 'Jaws' Shark

Feb 10, 2016
Originally published on February 11, 2016 2:33 pm

Call it a happy ending to a fish-out-of-water story.

Today, a one-of-a-kind, fiberglass shark cast from the same mold as the iconic, mechanical sharks used in the 1975 classic movie, Jaws, is leaving home.

After more than 25 years keeping watch over Aadlen Brothers Auto Wrecking, a junkyard in Sun Valley, Calif., the shark known as Bruce is headed to a museum.

This matters to me. Because the shark and I have a past.

Like many people, I used to be afraid to go in the ocean because of Jaws.

Unlike most people, I began a journey to cure myself of that fear — by trying to find and touch one of the movie's fake sharks.

As I chronicled in this story from 2010, that proved difficult.

For filming, three sharks were made and hauled to Martha's Vineyard. But, in the salt water, they broke so often that the movie ran over schedule and over budget.

"We were in deep trouble," says production designer Joe Alves, who helped create the sharks. "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."

The movie opened in the summer of 1975 and broke box office records. At some point that year, the studio, Universal, used Alves' original mold to make one more shark, which hung by its tail for studio visitors until around 1990.

By then, both the shark and the franchise were showing their age (nice try, Michael Caine), so the studio scrapped Bruce, along with a pile of old stunt cars, and sold them to Sam Adlen, an enterprising junkyard owner.

Adlen had the flair of a showman. He wanted to make his junkyard, well, more than just a junkyard. Memorable.

Not only did Adlen mount the shark in a prime spot overlooking the yard; beneath it he kept chickens, a cow and, at one point, a bull (all real, by the way). To get a leg up in phone book searches (back when good placement meant good business), Adlen even added an extra "a" to the company's name.

Were it not for Sam Adlen, the fourth Jaws shark would have no doubt rotted away, just like the others.

"You know, it's just amazing what good shape he's in for having been outside for so many years," says Sam's son, Nathan Adlen, who inherited the junkyard and the shark when his father died.

Not long ago, Nathan sold the yard and just about everything in it. But not the shark — though he'd gotten plenty of offers.

Instead, Adlen donated Bruce to a new movie museum in Los Angeles being built by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — the folks behind the Oscars.

Sonja Wong manages new items that come into the museum. What did she say when she was told they were getting the shark?

"Well, I think it was more the face that I made," she says. "You know, it's a challenge because it's so large. It's kind of an awkward shape too."

How large and how awkward?

Wong says it's 25 feet long, 12.5 feet wide, and 8 feet high.

How do you move an awkward, one-of-a-kind artifact that's at least 40 years old?

A sling, of course. Wong says workers plan to cut the two, metal poles holding Bruce up and use the sling — and a crane — to lift him into a special crate on the back of a very big truck.

The shark will spend the next few years in cushy, climate-controlled storage while the academy figures out (a) how to conserve it and (b) how to display it. As for where — exactly — Bruce is being kept, Wong won't say. The location is ...

"Secure, undisclosed — but thankfully not my house."

Turns out, sharks have made her afraid of the water, too.

"I'm sure I'll go back in again," Wong says rather sheepishly. "It's just, I know the logic behind it isn't very good but ..."

I tell her, she should try touching the shark.

It worked for me. And I have the beach vacation photos to prove it.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

All right, now we have a happy ending to a strange little story about a very big fake shark. Like many people, NPR's Corey Turner wouldn't go into the ocean after he saw the movie "Jaws" as a kid. But unlike most people, he began a journey to cure himself of that fear by trying to find and touch a shark from "Jaws." This all came up in a story he did back in 2010. His journey ended in a Los Angeles junkyard.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

COREY TURNER, BYLINE: 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.

MCEVERS: Well, today, Corey Turner reports that junkyard shark begins a journey of its own to a museum.

TURNER: When I found the shark, he'd been keeping watch over Aadlen Brothers Auto Wrecking for two decades, and here's how he got there. For the movie, which opened in 1975, three sharks were made. Director Steven Spielberg collectively nicknamed them Bruce. But in the saltwater off Martha's Vineyard, the Bruces broke so often that "Jaws" ran over schedule and over budget.

JOE ALVES: We were in deep trouble.

TURNER: Production designer Joe Alves helped create the sharks.

ALVES: 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: But the movie became a hit, so the studio, Universal, took Alves' original mold and made one more shark out of fiberglass. That Bruce hung by his tail for studio visitors from 1975 until around 1990. By then, both the shark and the franchise were showing their age, so the studio sold him along with a pile of scrapped stunt cars to Sam Adlen, an enterprising junkyard owner.

NATHAN ADLEN: You know, it's just amazing what good of shape he's in for having been outside for so many years.

TURNER: That's Sam's son, Nathan Adlen, who inherited the junkyard and the shark when his father died. Not long ago, Nathan sold the yard and just about everything in it but not the shark though he'd gotten plenty of offers. Instead, Adlen donated the only remaining Bruce to a new movie museum in LA being built by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the folks behind the Oscars. Sonja Wong manages new items that come into the museum. What did she say when she was told, we're getting the shark?

SONJA WONG: Well, I think it was more the face that I made (laughter).

TURNER: He is, after all, big.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JAWS")

RICHARD DREYFUSS: (As Hooper) That's a 20-footer.

ROBERT SHAW: (As Clint) Twenty-five, three tons on him.

TURNER: How do you move a 25-foot fiberglass shark that's at least 40 years old?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JAWS")

ROY SCHEIDER: (As Brody) We're going to need a bigger boat, right?

TURNER: Wong says workers made a sling for Bruce. They then cut the poles holding him up and lifted him by crane into a special crate on the back of a very big truck. He'll spend the next few years in cushy, climate-controlled storage while the Academy figures out, A, how to conserve him and, B, how to display him. As for where exactly Bruce is being kept, Wong won't say.

WONG: Secure, undisclosed (laughter) but, thankfully, not my house.

TURNER: Turns out sharks have made her afraid of the water, too.

WONG: I'm sure I'll go back in again. I know the logic behind it isn't very good.

TURNER: I tell her she should try touching the shark. It worked for me, and I have the beach vacation photos to prove it. Corey Turner, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.