Friday, July 23, 2010

Catching up with Joe Jaws (Part 3 of 3)

Sculli on a recent visit to the Jaws ride at Universal Studios
Continuing our summer-long celebration of the 35th anniversary of the release of Jaws, this is the third and final installment of our interview with Vince Sculli.

(Read Part 1 and Part 2)

During the Summer of 1975, Sculli became a local celebrity at the Blaker Theatre in Wildwood, where he was known as "Joe Jaws." He set unofficial records for the amount of tickets purchased to watch the iconic film that season.

The following year, he would go on to work at the old movie house, one of the famed Hunt's Theatres that were then so prominent on the island.

In this portion of the interview, Sculli discusses a variety of Jaws and Wildwood-related topics, and puts his one-of-a-kind experience as in perspective...

Al Alven:  In total, how many times did you see Jaws at the Blaker during the Summer of '75?

Vince Sculli:  The final count was 68 shows.

AA:  And how many times since? Do you still keep track?

VS:  (laughs) No, I couldn't tell you the exact number. Not anymore. But, I'd say I've watched it at least a couple hundred times over the years. I have it on DVD and every now and then I'll catch it on TV, when they show it. I still get excited when it comes on, watching the opening credits in anticipation, reciting all the classic lines. My kids look at me and say "Oh geez, dad. Not again." They just roll their eyes and leave the room.

AA:  This may sound like an odd question to ask of Joe Jaws, but I know you're a real movie enthusiast. So, is Jaws you're all-time favorite flick?

VS:  You know... I'd have to say that it is. And I'd say it has mostly to do with all of the memories I have attached to it.

AA:  What do you think it was about Jaws that made it not just a big hit at the time, but such an enduring classic?

VS:  I think it really taps into peoples' emotions, and there's a timeless quality to that. It's a realistic story, something anyone can easily relate to. Some disaster movies, the action can be a bit far fetched. But, really, this is a very basic story about a killer shark terrorizing this beach town. Could it happen? Yeah, it has happened. And it could happen again, it's entirely feasible. So, playing off of that fear factor, you had this story that was just perfect for its time. It was so much fun, but it really had an impact on people. Some people wouldn't go into the water after they saw it, and some people still think twice to this day.

AA:  Were you afraid to go into the ocean, Vince?

VS:  Not really. I mean, yeah, things go through your head sometimes. But, I've always taken the necessary precautions, you know. I keep my eyes open, don't go in too deep, wear my bright orange swim trunks. As they say, the brighter the colors, the better to keep the killer sharks away. (laughs)

AA:  I've heard that. Is that a legimtiate deterent?

VS:  I'm not really sure. But, take no chances, right? Anyway, I've always been much more creeped out by the bay. The ocean, it's wide open, and at least you can see what's coming at you. The bay... who knows what's lurking back there.

AA:  Good point.

VS:  Yeah, I'm always waiting to see a fin pop up. But, getting back to your question about what made Jaws so special, I think it really was just a combination of factors that made it the film it was. The acting in the movie was perfect, they couldn't have casted any better. Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, a young Richard Dreyfuss, come on. You can't get any better than that. And Steven Speilberg's directing style was groundbreaking. That influenced me to the point that, for a while, I really wanted to become a director. I wanted to make movies, too.

AA:  Neat. Did you pursue that passion in any way?

VS:  Just for fun. I once recruited some family and friends and shot my own version of Jaws on 8mm film. I directed it, and played the mayor of Wildwood. It was really cool, good hokey fun. We even had it transferred to VHS. 

AA:  I'm sure it was better than Jaws 2...

VS:  Oh, don't get me started on that. Jaws 2 was just awful!

AA:  I had to bring it up sooner or later. (laughs)

VS:  It was Just terrible, wasn't it? The total opposite of the first one. I think the worst part was the hype. There was so much anticipation, but it was such a huge letdown. I remember we got some of the promotional material at the theaters. Merle Paul was saying it was going to be better than the original, maybe the biggest movie ever. And, remember, this was at a time when all of those iconic movies were coming out, like Rocky and Star Wars. All the posters looked great, but... it was just so bad. It didn't have the spirit of the original at all. That and the rest of the sequels, they were a mess.

AA:  So, I guess I shouldn't bother asking about your favorite scene from Jaws: The Revenge?

VS:  (laughs) No, thanks! I wouldn't be able to tell you, anyway.

AA:  Unfortunately, Blaker and Shore theaters were finally knocked about five years ago. Tell me about what goes through your mind when you pass by that area today.

VS:  It's heartbreaking, to tell you the truth. On one hand, there are so many great memories. That's the important thing. Sometimes, I just can't help but smile when I think about it all. Other times, especially when I drive by on Atlantic Avenue in the middle of the summer, there's a combination of sadness and anger. The Blaker was an old theater, probably needed a lot of renovation. But, what a classic place. I won't set foot inside the Strand Theater today, just out of principle. That's the last of the old Hunt's movie theaters that are left. I'll tell you, though, I can walk down that extended Boardwalk area of Cedar Avenue, where the entrance to the Blaker was, close my eyes and still feel like I'm right there, in 1975. Wildwood has changed a lot over the years. Some things that are gone, we all really miss. You can never bring back a place like the Blaker, the other theaters, Hunt's Pier... But, some of the change has been good, too. There are some great things going on down there.

AA:  Have you been on the Ghost Ship yet?

VS:  My wife and I had the chance to check it out last weekend. We really enjoyed it. It's a real throwback type of ride. Seems like they're getting back to basics with custom rides, which is great. It really took me back, with the walkthrough aspect.

AA:  Do you still vacation regularly in Wildwood?

VS:  Absolutely. There's still no place like it. It's still the best vacation spot on Earth. We have our own regular place these days, but I also think about the great motels I stayed at with my parents in the past. I still remember the years - from 1960 to '69, we were at the old Sun Deck at Ocean & Andrews; that was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Ruland. From about '70 to '80, my teenage years, we stayed at this great place in the Crest called the Jay Mar. That was at Atlantic & Lavender. Jack Jennings was the owner. From about '86 to '93, our home was the Nomad Motel, down further in the Crest. That was owned by Jack, Albert, and Jan Monoco. I mention all of the owners because they were all such nice people, who we got to know, year after year. In Wildwood, it's always been about family.

AA:  For sure. And, wow, that's a wealth of info. You have a great memory.

VS:  Thanks! I could talk for hours about Wildwood. So many great places, people, and memories. I literally grew up there, and it's a huge part of me. Been a Wildwood fanatic since I was in my mom's belly!

AA: What are you up to these days?

VS: I guess you could say I'm just your average Joe Jaws. (laughs) I work as an area sales manager for Oce North America in Bala Cynwyd, PA. I have a great family, happy married with my awesome kids. Huge Eagles and Phillies fan, still love going to the movies and, spending as much time in Wildwood as I can during the summer. Have I mentioned that I love Wildwood? That's pretty much me!

AA:  I'm starting to get the distinct sense that you love Wildwood, Vince.

VS:  That kind of comes through, doesn't it?

AA:  Sure does. And that's always a good thing. In closing, any other thoughts or perspective on your experience as Joe Jaws, as you look back on it all?

VS:  Honestly, Al, the more we talk about it, the more the memories are coming back to me. So many great stories. A couple of years ago, I was with my family at Universal Studios down in Florida, and we went on the Jaws ride. When one of the attendents asked who has seen Jaws, my kids rolled their eyes and I just kind of smirked. Then... I totally embarrassed them.

AA: Uh-oh, what did you do?

VS:  Well, the line was really long. So, I went to the attendant and asked if I could recite the first five minutes of the movie, word-for-word, would they let us into the Fast Pass line. Of course, I did, and they let us in.

AA:  That's too funny.

VS:  It was great, one of those fun memories I have of sharing my passion for Jaws with my family. Kind of tied it all together. In the end, that's most important to me. The Joe Jaws thing, it was a one summer, but it was a wonderful time and a great experience in my life. Today, it still comes up and I love talking about it. Oh, I don't know that it's a great ice-breaker, but once you get to know me a bit, it's so much fun to share and reminisce about.

AA:  I can certainly vouch for that. This has been a real pleasure.

VS:  Thanks, Al. It's been a blast re-living the old times, and I'm sure many more stories and memories will come to you that I can hopefully share in the months and years ahead!

I would like to personally thank Vince, once again, for taking the time out to talk with me, and have the interview featured here on Wildwood 365. 

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