Saturday, June 20, 2015

“Jaws”: The Painter Behind the Predator

Astounding as this is to believe, it was 40 years ago today that Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster, Jaws, premiered on U.S. movie screens. The film’s script, about a giant man-eating shark that menaces a seaside vacation town in New England, was based on Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel of the same name and turned out to be a mammoth box-office success. Wikipedia recalls that “Jaws opened with a $7 million weekend and recouped its production costs in two weeks. In just 78 days, it overtook The Godfather as the highest-grossing film at the North American box office ...”

While that entire beachside horror film is pretty frickin’ memorable (a collection of choice clips can be enjoyed here), even people who haven’t seen the picture are probably familiar with the poster used to publicize it--a poster that gave rise to myriad thematic imitations. The artwork, inspired by the Benchley novel’s first scene and showing a young skinny-dipping woman being attacked by a great white shark, was created originally for the 1975 Bantam paperback edition of Jaws. It was painted by Roger Kastel (born 1931), a White Plains, New York, native who’d been turning out magazine and paperback book-cover illustrations since the ’60s, and would go on from the Jaws commission to create the movie artwork for the first Star Wars film sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

Unfortunately, those Hollywood projects have pretty much eclipsed Kastel’s other artistic efforts. A bit of searching around the Web, though, brings up a number of book and periodical fronts by this artist that merit attention. So as we commemorate this 40th anniversary of Jaws’ release, let us also remember the man behind its iconic poster. Below I’ve embedded Kastel’s original illustration for the 1967 Banner edition of The Tease, by Gil Brewer; several of his façades for paperback novels by Frank Kane, H.G. Wells, John Steinbeck, Franz Kafka, and others; and finally, a quartet of adventure magazine fronts that demonstrate, if nothing else, Kastel’s eye for the fame form.

Click on any of these images to open an enlargement.

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