DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Next year in Los Angeles, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, known for the Oscars, will open what it hopes is going to be the world's preeminent museum for the movies. There's going to be a pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers from "The Wizard Of Oz," also the doors to Rick's Cafe from "Casablanca." But one of its largest and most recognizable artifacts is a 25-foot great white.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JAWS")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Did you see that?
GREENE: That is from the 1975 classic, "Jaws," about a great white that terrorizes a New England beach town. And the shark that's going to go on display at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures has quite a story. And for nearly a decade, one of my colleagues, NPR reporter Cory Turner, has been a part of some of the biggest twists in that story. And Cory joins me now. Cory, before we get to the shark now or all the twists, will you take me back to 1975?
CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Yeah. That is, of course, the summer that "Jaws" came out.
TURNER: It was a huge hit, smashed box office records, was nominated for a best picture Oscar, won three other Oscars. And a lot of that success was due to the three mechanical sharks that they used in the filming that were collectively known as Bruce.
GREENE: Wait. Jaws offset was called Bruce?
TURNER: (Laughter) Yeah. They were named after Steven Spielberg's lawyer, Bruce Ramer. And it was Spielberg and the film's production designer, Joe Alves, who came up with the idea that, to really scare audiences, they'd need to build a full-size mechanical shark - because you got to remember, back in this time, like, there were no digital effects.
TURNER: And even though the film was ultimately a big hit, you know, filming was really problematic. The sharks broke a lot. The movie went way over budget. It went over schedule. Studio executives were furious. They thought "Jaws" was going to flop.
Here's how production designer Joe Alves explained it to me.
JOE ALVES: We were in deep trouble. The studio was reluctant, in the first place, to make the movie. When we came back, they just dumped the sharks in the backlot, and they just rotted away.
GREENE: Wait a minute. They threw away Jaws, like, the Bruces? And then the movie goes and kills it at the box office?
TURNER: That's exactly what happened. And the problem is that people weren't just terrified by these sharks, but they were fascinated. I mean, these Bruces were a real feat of engineering. I talked recently with Greg Nicotero. He's a movie effects and makeup pioneer. He's best known for his work on the hit TV show "The Walking Dead." And he remembers seeing "Jaws" as a 12-year-old with his mom.
GREG NICOTERO: And that's all I can think of for the rest of the movie was, oh, my God. That thing is, like - it was huge. And then when Quint was getting eaten, my mom covered - tried to cover my eyes, because she didn't want me to see it because she was afraid it would traumatize me - and it did in a good way, though, not in a bad way. So...
TURNER: So after this movie comes out, Nicotero is just one of lots of people who want to see these sharks for themselves. But obviously the sharks had been trashed. So the studio, though, for some reason it managed to save the mold that the special effects team had created to make these sharks.
So very quickly, they create one more - a fourth shark. I call him the last Bruce. And this is the shark that visitors are going to be able to see at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures next year. But the reason we're talking about it, David, is because this shark took the craziest path to get to this museum.
TURNER: So he hung at Universal from about 1975, when the movie came out, until 1990, when he started to get kind of old and show his age. And so guess what the studio did?
GREENE: Tell me they didn't throw him away.
TURNER: They threw him away.
GREENE: Thank God they learned their lesson.
TURNER: Yeah. They put him on top of a pile of wrecked stunt cars and sold him off to a nearby junkyard dealer in Sun Valley (laughter). But the junkyard dealer, he kept the shark. He put it up on these two poles in a clutch of palm trees inside his junkyard. And he kept it there for decades. And hardly anybody knew it was there. I mean, even director Steven Spielberg did not know about this last shark.
GREENE: And this is where you found him, right?
TURNER: Yeah. I found the shark in 2010. As a reporter, I had set out trying to figure out what happened to these sharks. So I found him a couple years later. The junkyard owner actually decided, you know what? I'm going to donate the shark to the Academy Museum.
GREENE: What shape was it in?
TURNER: Pretty terrible, actually. He had chipped wooden teeth. He'd been painted a lot. And this is where we come full circle to Greg Nicotero from "The Walking Dead," who'd seen "Jaws" and his mom closed his eyes. When he heard that the shark was going to be donated, he immediately reached out to the museum and said, I want to restore this shark.
So Nicotero got to work, gave the shark not only a paint job, but had to sculpt basically a new mouth, then made new teeth based on the original molds. And then a few weeks ago, Nicotero and the Academy invited me out to his workshop to see the result.
NICOTERO: Now, you know what this thing looked like before because you'd seen it at the junkyard many times.
TURNER: Yeah. It was - it was sad.
NICOTERO: Yeah. It's not sad anymore.
TURNER: Oh, my God.
I mean, David, (laughter) there are no words to describe how real and terrifying this shark looks now.
I don't want to go anywhere near that thing (laughter).
NICOTERO: Hi, Roy. Roy.
TURNER: And, David, you can hear the Roy - is Roy Arbogast, who was one of the original special effects guys on those sharks.
ROY ARBOGAST: Well, yeah. I got goosebumps. I'm not kidding.
TURNER: Also joining us was even one of the actors from the original movie, Jeffrey Kramer. He played the police deputy. And he still remembers how anxious he was when filming started.
JEFFREY KRAMER: I was so nervous I could have thrown up on the beach...
KRAMER: ...Easy. What an experience. I mean, who knew, Joe? Who knew?
TURNER: Now, David, I don't know if you can hear it in Jeffrey's voice, but this meetup, it was kind of sweet.
GREENE: It sounds like it. I mean, these guys - it meant a lot to come back together again.
TURNER: Yeah. I mean, he said, who knew? They all said that to me. You know, they had no idea in 1974 that they were making a classic. And the shark isn't just their crowning achievement. I mean, they built him when they were really young men doing something that everyone told them was crazy. Now Roy's in his late 70s. Joe's in his early 80s. And, you know, in a bunch of old photos that Greg Nicotero had taped to the wall of his workshop for reference, you could actually see Roy early in his career working on the shark.
ARBOGAST: That's me. I'll be darned.
TURNER: Do you know what you're doing there...
ARBOGAST: I was a young, handsome guy then.
GREENE: That's great.
TURNER: Yeah. And, you know, David, with the help of Greg Nicotero and his team, this artifact, this shark has done what Joe and Roy can't. Bruce is young again.
(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "MAIN TITLE (THEME FROM JAWS)")
GREENE: Well - and listeners will be able to see Bruce, who is not as scary when named Bruce as opposed to...
TURNER: (Laughter) Yeah.
GREENE: ...Referring to him as Jaws, I got to say. But everyone's going to be able to see that shark sometime next year when the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens, right?
TURNER: Yeah, just when you thought it was safe to go to a museum (laughter).
GREENE: Love it. That was NPR's Cory Turner. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.