Friday, July 8, 2016

How a Writer's Decision to Give a Character Backstory Altered a Little Slice of WWII History: Part 2

If you missed Part One of this blog post, Click Here

So how did giving Quint backstory alter a slice of World War II history? According to an article from, an uncredited writer working on the Jaws script decided Quint needed motivation for hating sharks so much. He came up with the premise that Quint had been a survivor of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.

But what’s that? you might say--as did Steven Spielberg. The story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis is one of tragedy, valor and incredible survival—and one of the biggest disasters in U.S. Naval history. She was a cruiser with a top secret mission—to deliver the components of the atomic bomb that would end World War II. But after she delivered her cargo to Tinian Island and made it to Guam, she was ordered to go to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan. The captain asked for an escort but was denied, and tragically, as the Indianapolis crossed the Pacific waters, she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. It only took twelve minutes for the ship to sink, and those who survived the sinking were left to persevere in the water, fighting against thirst, hunger, exposure . . . and sharks. 

The true horror of the Indianapolis was that when the ship went down, no one was looking for her. Nobody missed her return. It is estimated that around 900 men survived the sinking. The men suffered at sea for not one day or two days, but for four nights and five days. By the time a passing plane found them by chance, the number of survivors had dwindled to a little over 300. 

For any shark fans out there (and I admit I love a good shark attack story, as morbid as that may be) the firsthand accounts from the survivors of the Indianapolis are both fascinating and terrifying. Men with fresh burns, covered in oil and floating with their buddies, watched the dorsal fins come and go, felt the sharks bump up against them and wondered who might be picked off next. The men huddled in groups, fending off the sharks and trying to resist the temptation to drink the salt water, which led to insanity and certain death. You read their stories and feel humbled by the tales of bravery and sacrifice, and I am incredibly grateful to these men who suffered so much as a result of defending our great country. 

Fast forward thirty years and actor Robert Shaw delivers Quint’s Indianapolis speech with perfection (redeeming himself from the previous day of shooting, where he thought he should drink to get into character and let's just say it didn’t work out so well).

Some say that this scene became Steven Spielberg’s favorite scene.

It was a powerful scene.

And it was this scene that an eleven-year-old boy watched in his living room years later, when he turned to his dad and asked, "Is that true?"

And so began a series of events that altered a slice of World War II history . . . 

Stay tuned . . .

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