It’s one of the most iconic images in film history — and no one knows where it is. The New York Post recently featured a piece explaining the origins and mysterious disappearance of the original artwork for “Jaws,” used for both the cover of the Peter Benchley book and the poster for the Steven Spielberg film, which came out 40 years ago this summer, created by Roger Kastel.
Kastel was in the offices of publisher Bantam in 1974 when boss Oscar Dystel handed him a copy of the thriller, claiming the story would be a best-seller. Castle read the book and decided that the most arresting passage was when young a young girl goes skinny-dipping off the coast of Amity, a fictional Northeast resort town, and gets attacked and eaten by the giant shark.
“I just thought it was a great visual,” says Kastel, now 83. “I did a very rough sketch for [Bantam art director] Len Leones while we were talking, and he OK’d it. He told me to make the shark larger and more realistic.”
Kastel headed over to the American Museum of Natural History and took a few photos of stuffed sharks waiting to be cleaned. For the swimmer, a photographer friend suggested 24-year-old Wilhelmina model Allison Maher. The shoot was one of her first jobs. She lay across two stools to simulate a swimming motion, and was paid $35.
Kastel painted oil on Masonite, and “Jaws” didn’t take him long. It was likely one of three paintings he completed that month. In his career, he created some 1,000 posters and covers. “It was a pleasure to do, but I never thought it would be as huge as it is now,” Kastel says.
Bantam allowed the filmmakers to use the paperback’s image as the movie poster, free of charge. The only alteration was to strategically position sea foam over the swimmer’s bare breasts. Upon its completion, the work toured bookstores and made other appearances. The last time Kastel saw it was at an American Museum of Natural History illustration show in the 1970s.
“Oscar [who died in 2014] called me years later, and he was trying to get it back,” says Kastel, who now lives in Massachusetts. “He was quite upset about it. I don’t know if it was stolen or thrown out or someone has it.”