Susan Backlinie, 1st Jaws victim Chrissie Watkins, dies

Susan Backlinie, who played the first shark victim in 1975’s Jaws and star of one of the cinema’s scariest scenes, has died at the age of 77.

Susan Backlinie

Susan Backlinie, who made her debut as Chrissie Watkins, the first victim in 1975’s Jaws, has passed away at the age of 77.

Susan Backlinie’s role in Jaws cannot be understated, setting the tone for what might be dubbed the “first girl”, the initial victim that establishes the terror that will come throughout the rest of the film. Out for a late night swim in the nude, things turned dire fast for Chrissie Watkins, thrashing about the pitch black waters by a virtually unseen force. Backed by John Williams’s score – which Backlinie’s performance undoubtedly helped enhance (and vice versa) – the opening scene of Jaws remains at the peak of cinematic horror. Something that adds to this is also something many fans may not know: Susan Backlinie was an accomplished swimmer, a little backstory that would outline that indeed nobody is safe in the water.

Backlinie’s short but impactful performance in Jaws was also successful in part due to her having a passion for stunt work. She would later have credits as such on 1979’s The Villain and 1981’s Image of the Beast. She, too, had a one-off appearance on TV’s The Fall Guy, which centered around a stunt actor.

Outside of Jaws, Susan Backlinie’s onscreen accomplishments were few, although she did parody her iconic role later for Steven Spielberg in 1941. Other big screen credits include that same year’s The Grizzly and the Treasure and 1977 nature horror flick Day of the Animals, one in a huge wave of movies that tried to capitalize on vicious animals.

Despite her most memorable role, Susan Backlinie had a genuine love for animals, even working as a trainer. But no, Jaws did not make her afraid of sharks, once saying, “I was [once] in the water and turned around and a shark was just sitting there and looking at me. I went up to it and he just sat there and stared at me. I wasn’t scared.” Still, her big screen moment was tough to shoot, recalling, “They put a pair of cutoff jeans on me and hooked cables up to the side. At night I’d stop and think, “You know, that’s exactly what calls sharks to you: flailing, stopping, flailing.” I kind of felt like shark bait.”

What are your memories of the opening scene in Jaws? Leave your condolences for the late Susan Backlinie the comments section below.

Source: The New York Times

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Mathew is an East Coast-based writer and film aficionado who has been working with JoBlo.com periodically since 2006. When he’s not writing, you can find him on Letterboxd or at a local brewery. If he had the time, he would host the most exhaustive The Wonder Years rewatch podcast in the universe.