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From Junkyard To Museum: The Journey Of A 'Jaws' Shark

Call it a happy ending to a fish-out-of-water story.

Today, a one-of-a-kind, fiberglass shark cast from the same mold as the iconic, mechanical sharks used in the 1975 classic movie, Jaws, is leaving home.

After more than 25 years keeping watch over Aadlen Brothers Auto Wrecking, a junkyard in Sun Valley, Calif., the shark known as Bruce is headed to a museum.

This matters to me. Because the shark and I have a past.

Like many people, I used to be afraid to go in the ocean because of Jaws.

Unlike most people, I began a journey to cure myself of that fear — by trying to find and touch one of the movie's fake sharks.

As I chronicled in this story from 2010, that proved difficult.

For filming, three sharks were made and hauled to Martha's Vineyard. But, in the salt water, they broke so often that the movie ran over schedule and over budget.

"We were in deep trouble," says production designer Joe Alves, who helped create the sharks. "The studio was reluctant in the first place to make the movie. When we came back, they just dumped the sharks in the back lot, and they just rotted away."

The movie opened in the summer of 1975 and broke box office records. At some point that year, the studio, Universal, used Alves' original mold to make one more shark, which hung by its tail for studio visitors until around 1990.

By then, both the shark and the franchise were showing their age (nice try, Michael Caine), so the studio scrapped Bruce, along with a pile of old stunt cars, and sold them to Sam Adlen, an enterprising junkyard owner.

Adlen had the flair of a showman. He wanted to make his junkyard, well, more than just a junkyard. Memorable.

Not only did Adlen mount the shark in a prime spot overlooking the yard; beneath it he kept chickens, a cow and, at one point, a bull (all real, by the way). To get a leg up in phone book searches (back when good placement meant good business), Adlen even added an extra "a" to the company's name.

Were it not for Sam Adlen, the fourth Jaws shark would have no doubt rotted away, just like the others.

"You know, it's just amazing what good shape he's in for having been outside for so many years," says Sam's son, Nathan Adlen, who inherited the junkyard and the shark when his father died.

Not long ago, Nathan sold the yard and just about everything in it. But not the shark — though he'd gotten plenty of offers.

Instead, Adlen donated Bruce to a new movie museum in Los Angeles being built by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — the folks behind the Oscars.

Sonja Wong manages new items that come into the museum. What did she say when she was told they were getting the shark?

"Well, I think it was more the face that I made," she says. "You know, it's a challenge because it's so large. It's kind of an awkward shape too."

How large and how awkward?

Wong says it's 25 feet long, 12.5 feet wide, and 8 feet high.

How do you move an awkward, one-of-a-kind artifact that's at least 40 years old?

A sling, of course. Wong says workers plan to cut the two, metal poles holding Bruce up and use the sling — and a crane — to lift him into a special crate on the back of a very big truck.

The shark will spend the next few years in cushy, climate-controlled storage while the academy figures out (a) how to conserve it and (b) how to display it. As for where — exactly — Bruce is being kept, Wong won't say. The location is ...

"Secure, undisclosed — but thankfully not my house."

Turns out, sharks have made her afraid of the water, too.

"I'm sure I'll go back in again," Wong says rather sheepishly. "It's just, I know the logic behind it isn't very good but ..."

I tell her, she should try touching the shark.

It worked for me. And I have the beach vacation photos to prove it.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Cory Turner reports and edits for the NPR Ed team. He's helped lead several of the team's signature reporting projects, including "The Truth About America's Graduation Rate" (2015), the groundbreaking "School Money" series (2016), "Raising Kings: A Year Of Love And Struggle At Ron Brown College Prep" (2017), and the NPR Life Kit parenting podcast with Sesame Workshop (2019). His year-long investigation with NPR's Chris Arnold, "The Trouble With TEACH Grants" (2018), led the U.S. Department of Education to change the rules of a troubled federal grant program that had unfairly hurt thousands of teachers.
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