Remembering Susan Backlinie


Susan Backlinie getting into the harness that would pull her across the water in “Jaws”

Fifty years ago this month the film JAWS began filming on Martha’s Vineyard.  The first scene shot consisted of members of the cast finding the remains of a young girl who had gone for a midnight swim and been attacked by a shark.  The young woman’s name was Christine Watkins, and she was played by Susan Backlinie.  Ms. Backlinie passed away today (May 11th) at the age of 77.


A skilled swimmer, Susan easily found work as a “Mermaid” at the Weeki Wachie attraction in Florida in the mid-1960s.  I remember my grandparents taking me there but it was after Susan had moved on to become an animal trainer.  Her work, and beauty, was later profiled in the January 1973 issue of “Penthouse” magazine.

Susan performing as a “Mermid” at Weeki Wachee


Her first film role was as Chrissie Watkins, the first victim of the shark in JAWS.  Swimming naked in the Atlantic Ocean she is attacked and violently killed, her body thrashing across the water as her screams go unheard.  Clinging to a buoy as her life slowly flows out of her, she recites the Lord’s Prayer, to no avail.  The scene set the tone for the film and was not easily forgotten by filmgoers.





 Photo by Moviestore/REX Shutterstock (1597310a)  Used by permission.
Her work in JAWS got her noticed and soon she was working as a stuntwoman, appearing in such films as Grizzly, Day of the Animals, and Two-Minute Warning and on such television programs as “The Incredible Hulk” and, naturally, “The Fall Guy.”  She also recreated her midnight swim to comic effect when Steven Spielberg cast her as the Polar Bear swimmer who finds herself “attacked” by a submarine in 1941.   
Filming the opening scene for “1941.”

I first met Susan at the 1st JAWSFest in 2005.She was very nice, answered questions and signed autographs for anyone that asked.  It wasn’t until the next JAWSFest, in 2012, that our paths would cross again.  My wife and I were in Menemsha visiting a small shop when I noticed both Susan and Jeff Kramer standing around outside.  I said hello and Kramer commented that they had been waiting for sometime for someone from the Fest to come pick them up and take them back to Edgartown.  However, they couldn’t get ahold of anyone.  We quickly volunteered to take them back to town but, as they both were quite hungry – they had been at the shop for several hours – we offered to take them to lunch.  Jeff recommended a small shack at the end of the harbor and we headed there.  I was shocked to see that it was situated right next to the (still) vacant lot where quint’s shack had been built.  If you stood in the lot and looked towards the water you got the same view seen through the shark jaws when the ORCA pulls out of the harbor in JAWS.  We had a great lunch as both Susan and Jeff told some amazing stories.  I would see her occasionally over the years, usually at fan conventions.  She was always friendly.  I last saw her the past October when she was a guest at ScareFest in Lexington, Kentucky.  We said “hello” and I presented her with a t-shirt highlighting our JAWS 50 group.  She loved it.  As we said our goodbyes, I noted that, among the items she was signing was a Star Wars movie poster.  I was curious and I asked her why.  Had she possibly been a Stormtrooper in the film?  No.  As I mentioned earlier, Susan was an animal trainer and had, among her animals, a bear cub.  Her cub’s growl was recorded and was used for the growls of Chewbacca the Wookie! 


Susan is survived by her husband of nearly three decades, Harvey Swindall. 

Speak Your Mind

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *