Peter Bradford Benchley (May 8, 1940 – February 11, 2006) was an
American author and screenwriter. He is known for the bestselling
Jaws and co-wrote its subsequent film adaptation with Carl
Gottlieb. Several more of his works were also adapted for cinema,
including The Deep, The Island, Beast, and White Shark.
Later in life, Benchley came to regret writing such sensationalist
literature about sharks, which he felt encouraged excessive fear and
unnecessary culls of such an important predator in ocean ecosystems
and became an outspoken advocate for marine conservation.
1 Early life
3 Subsequent career
6 See also
8 External links
He was the son of Marjorie (née Bradford) and author Nathaniel
Benchley and grandson of
Algonquin Round Table
Algonquin Round Table founder Robert
Benchley. His younger brother, Nat Benchley, is a writer and actor.
Peter Benchley was an alumnus of the Allen-Stevenson School, Phillips
Exeter Academy and Harvard University.
After graduating from college in 1961, Benchley travelled around the
world for a year. The experience was told in his first book, a travel
memoir titled Time and a Ticket, published by Houghton Mifflin in
1964. Following his return to America, Benchley spent six months
reserve duty in the Marine Corps, and then became a reporter for The
Washington Post. While dining at an inn in Nantucket, Benchley met
Winifred "Wendy" Wesson, whom he dated and then married the following
year, 1964. By then Benchley was in New York, working as television
editor for Newsweek. In 1967 he became a speechwriter in the White
House for President Lyndon B. Johnson, and saw the birth of his
Once Johnson's term ended in 1969, the Benchleys moved out of
Washington, and lived in various houses, including an island off
Stonington, Connecticut where son Clayton was born in 1969. Peter
wanted to be near New York, and the family eventually got a house at
Pennington, New Jersey
Pennington, New Jersey in 1970. Since his home had no space for an
office, Benchley rented a room above a furnace supply company.
By 1971, Benchley was doing various freelance jobs in his struggle to
support his wife and children. During this period, when Benchley would
later declare he was "making one final attempt to stay alive as a
writer", his literary agent arranged meetings with publishers.
Benchley would frequently pitch two ideas, a non-fiction book about
pirates, and a novel depicting a man-eating shark terrorizing a
community. This idea had been developed by Benchley since he had read
a news report of a fisherman catching a 4,550 pounds (2,060 kg)
great white shark off the coast of
Long Island in 1964. The shark
novel eventually attracted Doubleday editor Thomas Congdon, who
offered Benchley an advance of $1,000 leading to the novelist
submitting the first 100 pages. Much of the work had to be rewritten
as the publisher was not happy with the initial tone. Benchley worked
by winter in his Pennington office, and in the summer in a converted
chicken coop in the Wessons' farm in Stonington. The idea was
inspired by the several great white sharks caught in the 1960s off
Long Island and Block Island by the Montauk charterboat captain Frank
Jaws was published in 1974 and became a great success, staying on the
bestseller list for 44 weeks. Steven Spielberg, who would direct the
film version of Jaws, has said that he initially found many of the
characters unsympathetic and wanted the shark to win. Book critics
Michael A. Rogers
Michael A. Rogers of
Rolling Stone shared the sentiment but
the book struck a chord with readers.
Benchley co-wrote the screenplay with
Carl Gottlieb (along with the
Howard Sackler and John Milius, who provided the first
draft of a monologue about the USS Indianapolis) for the Spielberg
film released in 1975. Benchley made a cameo appearance as a news
reporter on the beach. The film, starring Roy Scheider, Robert
Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss, was released in the summer season,
traditionally considered to be the graveyard season for films.
Universal Studios decided to break tradition by releasing the
film with extensive television advertising. It eventually grossed over
$470 million worldwide.
George Lucas used a similar strategy in 1977
for Star Wars which broke the box office records set by Jaws, and
hence the summer blockbuster was born.
Benchley estimated that he earned enough from book sales, film rights
and magazine/book club syndication to be able to work independently as
a film writer for ten years.
His second novel, The Deep, is about a honeymooning couple discovering
two sunken treasures on the
Bermuda reefs — 17th century Spanish
gold and a fortune in World War II-era morphine — who are
subsequently targeted by a drug syndicate. This 1976 novel is based on
Benchley's chance meeting in
Bermuda with diver Teddy Tucker while
writing a story for National Geographic. Benchley co-wrote the
screenplay for the 1977 film release, along with
Tracy Keenan Wynn and
an uncredited Tom Mankiewicz. Directed by
Peter Yates and starring
Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset, The Deep was a box
office success, and one of the top 10 highest-grossing films in the US
in 1977, though its box office tally fell well short of Jaws.
The Island, published in 1979, was a story of descendants of 17th
century pirates who terrorize pleasure craft in the Caribbean, leading
Bermuda Triangle mystery. Benchley again wrote the screenplay
for the film adaptation. But the film version of The Island, starring
Michael Caine and co-starring David Warner, failed at the box office
when released in 1980.
During the 1980s, Benchley wrote three novels that did not sell as
well as his previous works. However, Girl of the Sea of Cortez, a
fable influenced by
John Steinbeck about man's complicated
relationship with the sea, was his best-reviewed book and has
attracted a considerable cult following since its
publication. Sea of Cortez signposted Benchley's
growing interest in ecological issues and anticipated his future role
as an impassioned advocate of the importance of protecting the marine
environment. Q Clearance, published in 1986, was written from his
experience as a staffer in the Johnson White House. Rummies (also
known as Lush), which appeared in 1989, is a semi-autobiographical
work, loosely inspired by the Benchley family's history of alcohol
abuse. While the first half of the novel is a relatively
straightforward account of a suburbanite's descent into alcoholic
hell, the second part, which takes place at a New Mexico substance
abuse clinic, is written as a thriller.
He returned to nautical themes in 1991's Beast written about a giant
squid threatening Bermuda. Beast was brought to the small screen as a
made-for-television film in 1996, under the title The Beast. His next
novel, White Shark, was published in 1994. The story of a Nazi-created
genetically engineered shark/human hybrid, it failed to achieve
popular or critical success. It was also turned into a
made-for-television film titled Creature, with Christopher
Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times saying it "looks more like Arnold
Schwarzenegger than any fish". Also in 1994, Benchley became the
first person to host Discovery Channel's
In 1999, the television show Peter Benchley's Amazon was created,
about a group of plane crash survivors in the middle of a vast jungle.
In the last decade of his career, Benchley wrote non-fiction works
about the sea and about sharks advocating their conservation. Among
these was his book entitled
Shark Trouble, which illustrated how
hype and news sensationalism can help undermine the public's need to
understand marine ecosystems and the potential negative consequences
as humans interact with it. This work, which had editions in 2001 and
2003, was written to help a post-
Jaws public to more fully understand
"the sea in all its beauty, mystery and power." It details the
ways in which man seems to have become more of an aggressor in his
relationship with sharks, acting out of ignorance and greed as several
of the species become increasingly threatened by overfishing.
Benchley was a member of the National Council of Environmental Defense
and a spokesman for its Oceans Program: "[T]he shark in an updated
Jaws could not be the villain; it would have to be written as the
victim; for, worldwide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the
He was also one of the founding board members of the Bermuda
Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI).
Benchley died of pulmonary fibrosis in 2006.
In light of Peter Benchley's lifelong record of shark conservation and
educating the public about sharks, the
Peter Benchley Ocean Awards
have been instituted by Wendy Benchley and David Helvarg as his
The Deep (1976)
The Island (1979)
The Girl of the Sea of Cortez (1982)
Q Clearance (1986)
Shark (1994; republished as Creature in 1997)
Time and a Ticket (1964)
Life's Tempo on
Ocean Planet: Writings and Images of the Sea (1994)
Shark Trouble: True Stories About Sharks and the Sea (2001)
Shark!: True Stories and Lessons from the Deep (2002)
Shark Life: True Stories About Sharks and the Sea (with Karen Wojtyla)
Jaws, 1975 film adaptation; actor: Interviewer.
The Deep, 1977 film adaptation; actor: Mate (uncredited)
Jaws 2, based on characters from Jaws
The Island, 1980 film adaptation
Jaws 3-D (a.k.a.
Jaws 3), based on characters from Jaws
Jaws: The Revenge, a fourth film based on characters from Jaws
Dolphin Cove, 1989 TV series
The Beast, 1996 television film adaptation
Creature, 1998 television film adaptation
Amazon, 1999 TV series
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, 1994; actor: Frank Crowninshield
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916
Publishers Weekly lists of bestselling novels in the United States
^ a b Hawtree, Christopher. "Peter Benchley: He was fascinated by the
sea, but his bestselling novel tapped into a primeval fear of the
deep", The Guardian, February 14, 2006. Accessed February 15, 2011.
^ a b 
^ a b Benchley, Peter (2006). "2: Jaws".
Shark Life: True Stories
About Sharks & the Sea. New York: Random HouseCollins.
pp. 14–19. ISBN 0-307-54574-1.
^ Downie, Robert M. Block Island History of Photography 1870–1960s,
page 243, Volume 2, 2008
^ Dowling, Stephen (February 1, 2004). "The book that spawned a
monster". BBC News. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
^ Internet Movie Database,
^ "Rise of the blockbuster". BBC News. November 16, 2001. Retrieved
August 17, 2012.
^ a b "Peter Benchley",
Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003.
^ Benchley, Peter:
Shark Trouble, p. 9. Random House, 2003.
^ Benchley, P:
Shark Trouble, p. xiii. Random House, 2003.
^ "Make your company a world wide known name with us!".
Theroyalgazette.com. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
Peter Benchley dies". BBC News. February 13, 2006.
Retrieved August 17, 2012.
Peter Benchley Ocean Awards. Retrieved 25 December
Peter Benchley at the
Shark Research Institute
Shark Conservation Awards
Peter Benchley on IMDb
Peter Benchley: Rapture of The Deep
Shark Conservationist (LA Times)
Jaws 2 (1978)
Jaws 3-D (1983)
Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Shark Is Still Working
The Game of Jaws
Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916
Universal Studios Theme Parks Adventure
Back to the Future Part II
Ocean of Fear
Blood in the Water
Megalodon: The Monster
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