In my attempts to inject “authentic fun” into the “Jaws” reading, I have acquired some genuine 1970s props. An October 1974 Indianapolis phone book will allow the audience to fully inhabit the soul of a desperate Mayor Vaughn as he effortlessly locates Quint’s name in the “Q”of the white pages. Of course, I would have preferred a directory from Cape Cod or Long Island, but even the casual fan will remember Robert Shaw’s scene-chewing U.S.S. Indianapolis speech, a grave late night retelling of that ship’s disaster which provides the motivation for Quint’s shark vendetta that is sadly lacking in the book.
A May 1974 issue of Cosmopolitan for the scene in which a “randy” (a word that sounds even worse than the dreaded “horny”), Chief Brody comes home to find his wife Ellen in bed wearing a diaphanous nightgown and reading Helen Gurley Brown’s quasi-liberation rag. In the novel, Ellen Brody is a bored housewife and former preppie princess ever aware that she married “down” when she hooked up with Martin Brody, policeman. Class differences are a recurring source of tension in the book. Hardworking Brody’s amorous overtures toward his scantily clad wife are no match for the potent brew of nostalgia for her old upper middle class flame David Hooper, (the brother of Matt Hooper, the ichthyologist with whom she will enjoy a round of fervent, but mechanical sex), and Seconal.
“Jaws” is not a PC novel. Peter Benchley varied his shark attacks with half-baked mafia subplots, weird sex talk (though the sex itself is stilted and bizarre and occurs only in flashback), words like “faggot” and “dyke,” and “grass.” Ellen, though too old and too straight to be an unapologetic hippie chick like minor but pivotal character Daisy Wicker, clearly craves SOME sort of liberation from routine, and at least some fleeting escape to a classier time.
Seeing what a frustrated and curious Ellen Brody would have read in Cosmo circa 1974 is a weird “meta” experience. For example, “Jaws” is offered in the Book of the Month Club right between “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and “Pat Loud: A Woman’s Story.” Would Ellen have applauded beleaguered celebrity wife Pat Loud’s divorce or quietly recalled Jonathan Livingston’s lessons in spiritual flight when she watched the petty gulls of Amity stealing sandy French fries from the beach?
One of the most ridiculous moments of the novel details Ellen’s elaborate post-shower/pre-sex hygiene routine, which involves daubing cologne all over her body including her feet. If she were to have selected a scent from the pages of Cosmo, Ellen would have had her choice of faux-natural perfumes like Green Apple cologne by Max Factor (“Wear Green Apple. He’ll bite.”), or a host of Sweet Earth Fragrances by Coty like Amberwood or Hyacinth. Maybe these are Daisy Wicker territory. Ellen would probably prefer Chanel No. 5, but take a blast of Charlie or a splash of Jean Nate in a pinch.
Although no mention is made (sexist) of Matt Hooper’s pre-love cleansing ritual, Wind Drift AfterShave (“The clean, refreshing scent for women who love men who love the sea”) would have been a nice choice. Matt gifts Ellen with a tiger shark tooth necklace. The least she could have done was pick up a bottle of Wind Drift for him. In the ad, a hand rising from the sea clutches a square bottle of Wind Drift topped with an enormous cork. The ad’s print quality is so bad that the cork looks a little like a polluted water sample. But thankfully, I located a clearer photo on ebay where 3.75 ounces of Wind Drift is going for $29.99. (0 bids, 2d, 17h remaining), and can appreciate Wind Drift as nature and English Leather intended it.
After a restorative post-coital bath, I’m pretty sure an exhausted and confused Ellen read the article “Why Girls Can’t Have Orgasms.” But she might have only made it through the opening couple paragraphs before the Seconal kicked in:
“Darling, did you come?” he asked. You lie there, not answering.
There’s no loneliness like it, no sense of private loss to compare with the soul-sickening anguish of making love with everything you’ve got—and not having an orgasm.
“Are you alright?” he persists, looking pleased with himself.
Sometimes you cheat and tell a lie. “Wonderful.” You like or even love this man. He can’t help it if your vagina feels cramped and heavy. Help! Somebody help me! He did his best and you did your best but now you feel alone and rejected by him as well as by your own body. Sometimes you lose your cool. “Of course I’m not all right you selfish bastard! Can’t you tell when a girl comes?”
(Stay tuned for “Jaws” & Feminism Part 2)