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Show Business: Introducing Bruce

3 minute read

What is bigger than a bakery truck, has skin like sandpaper, three rows of pointy white teeth and beady black eyes? Of course, it is Hollywood’s newest star: a 25-ft. mechanical great white shark named Bruce.

Bruce was born, or built, to play the title role in the film version of Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel Jaws, about a beach resort beset by a rampaging shark. The producers would like to keep their star under wraps. “It’s like The Exorcist, ” says Director Steven Spielberg. “If everybody knew that that kid was really vomiting pea soup, they wouldn’t have been shocked.” Anyway, much of the movie’s shark footage will use real fish. Bruce is for close-up action of limb tearing, boat bashing and man eating that will inspire “40 minutes of uninterrupted terror and excitement.”

Created by former Disney Special Effects Chief Robert Mattey and Jaws Art Director Joe Alves, Bruce is, in fact, triplets—one to be photographed from the right side, one from the left and one for all angling. The three are currently working on location in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard.

The Bruces are indeed paragons of piscine verisimilitude. Their gray and white polyurethane skin, sprayed with a fine-grained silica, is authentically sandpapery enough to be the envy of all the lady sharks at sea. Their eyes dart frighteningly, then-great tails are fully articulated, and their three-way stretch jaws—with head-and-shoulder roominess—are filled with three rows of pearly polyurethane teeth.

Seen from their off-camera sides, however, Bruce’s right and left look more like cutaway drawings of an old Messerschmitt 109. Each has a 25-ft. spine of tubular and spring steel, painted a decidedly unsharklike yellow, and 50 bright green, double-jointed ribs, housing some 500 ft. of plastic tubing, 25 remote-controlled valves and 20 electric and pneumatic hoses.

The one-sided Bruces are operated from an underwater platform with a huge, cranelike arm. Hydraulically powered and manipulated by the arm, Bruce is agile enough to sink a ship, which he does. All-Around Bruce, known as the “free-floater,” is controlled by a towing boat with a 300-ft. pneumatic line. That Bruce, says Creator Mattey, “has unlimited running room, like a person on water skis being pulled on the open sea.”

Even though the new star is coddled with his own 200-ft. by 75-ft. “Shark City” workshop and a corps of 23 crewmen in daily attendance, all of Bruce’s schizoid personae are temperamental. He has a shocking tendency to corrode after his daily saltwater swishing. His grainy skin is subject to sun bleach too, so every week he needs a new epidermis. When not skillfully supervised, in fact, Bruce simply gets out of hand. Three weeks ago, during a difficult diving scene, he hauled off and rammed headfirst into his control platform. His nose job took a week, adding another delay to an enterprise already two months behind schedule.

But Bruce’s performance, say the producers, is worth enduring all his vagaries. The first time out, as Bruce bloodily “tore apart” a fellow actor, even the hard-crusted crew burst into applause. On a later occasion, as Bruce “tore apart” a victim, Actor Chris Rebello, 5, playing the son of the town’s police chief, burst into terrified tears.

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