She filmed ‘Jaws’ and then worked to undo the damage

Steven Spielberg I really needed a shark.

Before the young director started shooting “Shark” with his famous malfunctioning animatronic beast off Martha’s Vineyard (Massachusetts), he hired two underwater cinematographers so that they filmed great white sharks off the coast of southern Australia.

Ron and Valerie Taylorexperienced divers and well-known in their country, set out to capture the footage that would be used in the climactic scene of 1975 in which the Hooper of Richard DreyfussSeemingly safe in a shark cage, he faces the monster that terrorizes bathers.

Taylor worked as a director of underwater photography. His mother told him: “Try what you like. It won’t hurt you and you will learn.” Photo Ron and Valerie Taylor

But, as Valerie Taylor, the subject of a new documentary, put it in a recent video interview from her home in Sydney:

“You may be able to lead a dog, a human, or a horse, but you can’t lead a shark.”

It soon became clear that the Taylors were fighting two unwilling parties:

the shark and the stuntman Carl Rizzo, who did not know how to dive and panicked when lowered into the cage.

As he staggered on the deck of the ship, the shark approached, got tangled in the cables that held the cage, and ended up releasing the container winch’s vacuum, causing him to plummet into the depths.

Taylor on a dive in 1982. Many of the underwater scenes he witnessed in his early days no longer exist, he said.  Photo Ron and Valerie Taylor.

Taylor on a dive in 1982. Many of the underwater scenes he witnessed in his early days no longer exist, he said. Photo Ron and Valerie Taylor.

Ron filmed it all underwater, while Valerie took a camera on the boat and filmed from above.

Spielberg liked the pictures of the unexpected turn of events so much that he made rewrite the script to adapt it, modifying the fate of Hooper, who went from being a shark bait to being a survivor while the animal flailed over his head.

Valerie Taylor’s work on “Jaws” is just one chapter in her incredible life, in which she went from being a deadly underwater fisherwoman to filmmaker and pioneer of the conservation.

Valerie and Ron Taylor worked together until his death in 2012. Photo Ron and Valerie Taylor

Valerie and Ron Taylor worked together until his death in 2012. Photo Ron and Valerie Taylor

“She was like a superhero from Marvel for me, “said Australian producer Bettina Dalton.

“It influenced everything related to my career and my passion for the natural world.”

That veneration led Dalton to team up with director Sally Aitken for the documentary of National Geographic “Playing With Sharks”, which follows Taylor’s career and is now available at Disney+.

Born in Australia and raised primarily in New Zealand, Valerie Taylor, now 85, grew up in poverty.

She was hospitalized with polio at age 12 and was forced to drop out of school while learning to walk.

She started working as a comic book artist and then took her first steps in the theater, but she hated being tied to the same place every day.

“I had a good mother. She told me to do whatever I wanted. Try what you like. It can’t hurt you and you’ll learn,” Taylor told me, her gaudy earrings swinging under her silver hair.

However, when he started diving and spearfishing professionally, his mother was “horrified”.

Valerie added, “I was supposed to get married and have children.”

In the end he got married. Ron Taylor, another spearfishing champion, was also skilled with an underwater camera, and they began making films documenting marine life together.

Valerie Taylor, with her glamorous look of “chica Bond”, became the center of attention, as they could get more money if she appeared on screen.

They were together until Ron died of leukemia in 2012.

“Here we have this incredible front-line character and an incredible wizard of technique,” Aitken said.

Together, they realized that it was a winning combination “.

Valerie Taylor not only had a magnetic presence on camera, but she had a rare ability to connect with animals, including sharks, which were then little known.

“Everyone hasn different personalities. Some are shy, some are bullies, some are brave, “Taylor said.

“When you get to know a school of sharks, you get to know them as individuals.”

After killing a shark while making a movie in the 1960s, the Taylors had an epiphany: Sharks had to be studied and understood, rather than killed.

They abandoned spearfishing altogether, and Aitken compared their journey from hunters to conservationists to that of John James Audubon.

“I have that kind of personality that doesn’t scare me. I get mad,” Valerie Taylor said.

“Even when I have been bitten, I stayed still and I waited for him to let go of me, because they made a mistake. “

Still, he admitted, “I don’t expect others to behave like me.”

Her signature look – a pink wetsuit and brightly colored headband – might be seen as a defiant embrace of her femininity in a male-dominated industry, but it was also an easy way to stand out in underwater sequences.

“Ron wanted color in a blue world,” explains Valerie Taylor.

“He said, ‘Cousteau has a red hat. You can have a red bow.’ That was it.”

When asked, she shrugged off the thought that she faced additional challenges for being the only woman on ships full of men for most of her life, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was still expected that she would. women stick to traditional roles.

“I was as good as them, so there you go. No problem,” he said.

“And although I didn’t realize it, it was probably just as hard“.

The filmmakers of “Playing With Sharks”, who pored over decades of media coverage and archival footage, described Taylor as someone who faced a difficult battle on multiple levels, but was also seen as a intriguing novelty.

“Of course, she had to fight to be taken seriously,” Aitken said.

“She was working class. She was someone who really had very little education. I think the culture saw her as something extraordinary. That in itself can be a liberating path, precisely because you are unique.”

When “Jaws” became an unexpected and instant box office hit in 1975, the Taylors realized that the film was causing a damage they had never considered:

The recreational hunting Sharks gained popularity and the public feared that legions of bloodthirsty sharks would stalk humans just below the surface.

There are actually hundreds of species of sharks and only a few are known few bite humans.

Those that do often mistake people for their natural prey, such as sea lions.

“For some reason, viewers bought it. There is no shark like this alive in the world today,” Valerie Taylor said.

“Ron had a saying: ‘You don’t go to New York and expect to see King Kong at the Empire State Building. Nor should you go into the water expecting to see Jaws. ‘”

In an attempt to calm the public’s fears, Universal took the Taylors to the United States for a speaking tour educating the public about sharks, and Valerie Taylor said:

“Since then, I have been fighting for the poor, much-maligned sharks, and for the marine world in general.”

In 1984, he helped campaign for the gray nurse shark was the first protected species of shark in the world.

His nature photography has appeared in National Geographic.

The same area where she and Ron Taylor filmed the “Jaws” sequence is now a marine park that bears his name.

And he continues to publish essays passionately defending animals.

However, shark populations have been decimated around the world, mainly due to overfishing, and Valerie Taylor claims that many of the underwater scenes she witnessed in the beginning they no longer exist.

“I hate being old, but at least it means I was in the ocean when it was pristine,” she said, adding that today “is like going to a rainforest and seeing a cornfield“.

Despite everything that is told in “Playing With Sharks”, he said, “it is not the whole story of my life, far from it.”

This is the time she stayed at sea and saved herself by anchoring her headbands to a piece of coral until another ship crossed her.

Or the day you taught Mick Jagger to dive on a whim.

He learned fast, despite the weight belt that slid down his narrow hips.

He also survived a breast cancer

Although he’s still diving, his arthritis makes it difficult for him to be in the colder Australian waters, and he’s looking forward to getting back to Fiji, where swimming is like “Take a bath“.

“I can’t jump anymore, it’s not that I particularly feel like jumping,” he says.

“But if I go into the ocean, I can fly.”

c.2021 The New York Times Company

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