Peter Benchley Biography
Written - January 10, 2005
Sharks have always played an important part in my life. I spent my young summers on Nantucket Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, and when, on calm days, I would go sailing or fishing – or even, sometimes, just swimming in the surf- the black dorsal fins of sharks could be seen slicing through the surface of the sea. I believe that, at one time or another, all young people are fascinated either by sharks, dinosaurs and/or pirates; my passion was for sharks.
It continued through my years at Phillips Exeter Academy (1957) and Harvard College (’61), and when I became a professional writer in the 1960’s, I took every opportunity to do articles about sharks. In 1964, I read a newspaper item about a fisherman who caught a 4,550-lb. Great White Shark not far offshore from Montauk, Long Island, and I wondered what would happen if such a huge shark were to appear in a seaside resort community. I did nothing with the idea then, but seven years later I began to weave it into the story that would become the novel ”Jaws.”
After graduation from college, I traveled around the world for a year and wrote a book about the trip(“Time And A Ticket”), served briefly in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and, at last, got a job and settled down as a reporter for The Washington Post. In 1964, I moved to Newsweek, where I was the Radio & TV editor, and then, in 1967, I was hired as a (very) junior speechwriter for President Lyndon Johnson. When President Johnson left office in January of 1969, I began a career as a freelance writer.
I wrote stories for dozens of newspapers and magazines, including National Geographic, The New Yorker, LIFE, and The New York Times. I wrote novels – seven more followed “Jaws,” including “The Deep” and “The Girl Of The Sea Of Cortez” – and when, occasionally, the novels were bought by movie companies, I wrote their screenplays.
Always, though, I continued to be interested in sharks and the sea, and my family and I have dived all over the world with wonderful creatures. I have written, narrated and been in dozens of television documentaries about marine life. These days, I am a full-time marine conservationist, writing and speaking about the issues facing our oceans and their precious inhabitants … including, of course, sharks.