A lot of what I’m going to say about author Edith Blake, who passed away over the weekend at the age of 97, I wrote in my introduction to the 45th Anniversary edition of her much-loved book, “On Location – On Martha’s Vineyard: The Making of the Movie JAWS,” which I had the humbling opportunity to update for new generations of fans.
Edie’s obituary will surely mention her favorite activities, among them photography, writing, sailing, tennis (she played actively until she was 90) and animals of all types. But it was her up-close experiences on the set of JAWS that endeared her to fans the world over. Referring to herself as “the girl photographer,” Edie spent hours on end documenting with her camera the day-to-day activities on a major motion picture film set. From milling around with the extras to being knocked backwards by the exploding shark, her words and photos painted a picture of an amazing story, one that brought thousands of fans – maybe even hundreds of thousands – the world over to Martha’s Vineyard.
Edie self-published her book in June 1975, the same month the film opened. The success of the film led Ballentine books to reprint the paperback. Over the years the book has sold millions of copies in many languages. The book, like Carl Gottlieb’s “The JAWS Log,” was one of the first to give film fans a real inside look at how a movie is made.
I first “met” Edie in September 1976. After reading her book I took a chance and called directory assistance for Martha’s Vineyard. I asked for the number of Edith Blake and soon I was speaking with her. I told her how much I loved the book and mentioned my association with Richard Dreyfuss’ official fan club. Before we said goodbye she asked for my address. Soon I received in the mail (3) photos of Richard she had taken on the set that hadn’t been in the book. I was overwhelmed by her act of kindness.
It wasn’t until the first official JAWSFest in 2005 that I officially met her. To my surprise she seemed to remember the kid from Florida who called her. She marveled at how her book had influenced so many people and always seemed puzzled when people would seek her out for an autograph or a quick “hello.” The fans loved her, and she loved the fans. Sadly, that affection was betrayed when one fan, Michael Roddy, stole her JAWS-period negatives from the local museum, where she had donated her archives when she retired. It took time but, after the authorities were called in, the negatives slowly began to return. I was visiting with her at the museum in 2006 when a batch arrived, mailed in an envelope with a Universal Studios return address.
In late 2019, Donna Honig asked me if I would be interested in helping Edie bring her book to new generations. In 2005, the Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Edgartown had, without Edith’s knowledge or permission, reprinted her book. It was terribly reproduced, with many of the images too dark for fans to enjoy. The idea was to not only release an authorized edition (the Ballentine edition was long out of print), but to update it for fans. It was one of my greatest honors to be allowed to contribute not only an Introduction to the book, but an additional chapter, looking not only at the people that had made the film but the people the film influenced. The book was released on Edith’s birthday in 2020 and was well received, earning a Book of the Year nomination in the annual Rondo Hatton Horror Awards.
I last spent time with Edie in September 2021. Surrounded by fans I had the privilege of joining her for a book signing at Edgartown Books. Afterwards we joined a large group for dinner at the Wharf. It was a surreal moment for me. Not only was I having dinner with an author that had so influenced my youth, but we were joined by guitarist Michael Haydn and Alex Kintner himself, Jeff Voorhees. When dinner was over, I walked with Edie to her waiting car. It was raining and I held an umbrella over her head. I opened her door and when she got inside, I thanked her again for allowing me to be a part of her book and I wished her a good night. It was certainly a great one for me.
Rest well, dear lady. Your work will live on forever.