Jeffrey Voorhees’ film career lasted one scene, in the most famous summer blockbuster film of all time.
In Jaws (1975), he played Alex Kintner, the kid who takes his inflatable raft out for a swim and never comes back. He was the second shark victim in the film, and the first death witnessed from the beach by Chief Brody (played by Roy Scheider) .
Voorhees has never acted in another film. But still, after 39 years, the ‘Jaws Fanatics’ keep circling him.
Rhett Bartlett: Are you still surprised people recognise you and talk to you about your one scene?
Jeffrey Voorhees: I receive interview requests from Europe, Japan and all over the place, but this is the first time I’ve spoken to Australia.
I thought all this interest was going to end after five or 10 years, but I live on the island where they filmed the movie and you get people coming from all over the world just to see where they filmed Jaws. ‘Jaws Fanatics’, we call them.
I run a bar and restaurant here and that’s how the waitresses get even with me. They say to the customers ‘Oh by the way, the guy running this place died in Jaws’.
This one fanatic came in this year and said ‘I know this is odd but I’ve got to show you something’ and he rolled up his sleeve and there was this big Jaws tattoo with my name and Steven Spielberg’s on it!
I couldn’t believe it. I’m only in the film for one minute.
RB: Does Jaws screen regularly on TV at Martha’s Vineyard?
JV: In summer it is on a lot. Because I’m part of the Screen Actors Guild, any time the film is on TV I get royalties … it’s not much but I’ll take it.
My brother lives over in Spain and I hear from him occasionally and he’ll say ‘Good news, you just died on TV over here’.
I got a royalty cheque a couple of weeks ago and it was $190.
RB: What are your memories of filming your one scene?
JV: I was 12 years old and I had just moved to the island. They just needed a lot of extras in the film and they invited people down and would pay them $40 a day to be an extra.
So me and my mates all went down to the hotel and we filled out paperwork and a few of us got a call back to read a couple of lines.
A speaking part was $140 a day which I got, and my friends only got $40.
It wasn’t scary filming the scene because the shark was just a big machine. Spielberg said to me ‘Okay, you are going to swim out on this raft and then we will say cut!’.
Well the water was freezing cold during the shoot.
I was then told that they were going to put half of my raft on top of the mechanical device and then blow it up with all this fake blood going up in the air.
As that was happening I was to go underwater and stay underwater for as long as I could.
They tried it for the first time and it blew up and I went underwater and they yelled ‘Cut! Your arm was sticking out of the water Jeff, we are going to have to try it again’.
But it took 5-6 hours for all the blood to clear out of the water before we can do the shot again, so I waited in my nice warm dressing room that I was entitled to because I had a speaking part. My friends had to wait outside in the freezing cold.
After about five attempts filming the scene they got two guys in wet suits with oxygen tanks to pull me down and give me air whilst I was underwater. That’s the take that made it into the film.
RB: What was the mood like on set ?
JV: They were all very nice. They had cook outs and baseball games for all the people that were in it.
But Robert Shaw (who played ‘Quint’) wanted nothing to do with anybody. If you approached him he would say ‘get away from me you little kid!’
Lee Ferro played my grieving mother in the film (who famously slaps Roy Scheider).
I see her occasionally around the town. At the restaurant I run there is a sandwich called the “Alex Kintner Burger” and one time this lady came in with her friend and I recognised instantly it was my mother from the film.
So I said approached her table and said ‘Can I ask you a very personal question, if you think this is a little odd tell me to go away, but do you believe in reincarnation, because I think I died years ago and you look like my mother from a previous life’.
And Lee realised who I was and so she went along with the joke and said ‘Oh my god, I had a son that died years ago in the ocean!’ And everyone in the restaurant, including her friend were just wondering what the hell was going on!
RB: Many people who have watched Jaws have had a fear of the beach ever since. Do you?
JV: Not at all. I live two miles from that beach. It was all a movie, I know it was fake.
But my nieces and nephews, aged seven and nine wanted to watch the movie recently and they were finally allowed to, and guess what, they refused to go in the water for a long time after watching it.
RB: I noticed that Jaws was your only film appearance.
JV: When they did Jaws 2 they filmed on the island again and we all went down to be extras once more and I was told ‘Wait a minute you can’t be in this, you were dead in the first film’, so they wouldn’t let me be in the sequel.