Jaws is an iconic Steven Spielberg movie that helped to define the summer blockbuster. It’s fascinating then that Spielberg very nearly didn’t make the film. In fact, another director was attached to the film before him. Universal pictures producers, Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, originally offered the thriller movie to Dick Richards.
Richards, like Spielberg at the time, was a relatively new director, but he’s got a lot of attention after his debut movie, a Western called The Culpepper Cattle Company, which won praise for its gritty portrayal of the wild west. So what happened? Why did Spielberg get the job? Well, hilariously, it all apparently boiled down to one of Richard’s annoying habits.
According to Steven Spielberg: A Biography by Joseph McBride, Richards kept calling the shark, for whatever reason, a whale during initial meetings. Anecdotally, this bothered Zanuck and Brown, who reportedly said they weren’t making Moby Dick and couldn’t work with someone who didn’t know the difference between a whale and a shark. The rest, as they say, is history.
Despite not landing the Jaws job, Richards – who was a very talented filmmaker – went on to have an impressive career. His biggest hit was probably Tootsie, which he produced for Sydney Pollack.
Tootsie tells the story of a talented but difficult actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman), who disguises himself as a woman to land a big acting gig. The film was a huge hit commercially and critical and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
As for Spielberg? Well, he had a terrible time making Jaws, but it all worked out in the end. If you love Jaws, check out our list of the best movies of all time.