Jun 24, 2023

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back To The Drive-In

Screenwriter Spotlight: Jaws and The Jerk
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
Friday night's double feature at the drive-in may look like an odd pairing at first glance, but the 1975 thriller and the 1979 Steve Martin comedy flick do share one important fact in common: they were both the work of legendary screenwriter Carl Gottlieb.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

The event was more than just a celebration of Mr. Gottlieb on the big screen because the man was there in person to meet fans, sign autographs, and tell stories about his time as a writer, director, and actor.  The list of projects that he's worked on is truly impressive.  He wrote for quite a few highly successful television shows, including The Smothers Brothers for which he won an Emmy in 1969.  He also wrote for The Bob Newhart Show, The Odd CoupleThe Dean Martin Comedy World, and The Flip Wilson Show, among many other shows.  He appeared on screen as one of the actors, both in shows that he has written for, as well as several shows and movies that he isn't credited as having written for, including M*A*S*H, Baretta, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, The Long Goodbye, Cannonball, and Clueless.

In 1975, Mr. Gottlieb crossed over from television to movies as the screenwriter for Jaws, which became the highest grossing movie of all time until it was overtaken by Star Wars.  He also wrote Jaws 2 and Jaws 3-D, as well as the 1977 Richard Pryor comedy Which Way Is Up, and the 1983 Dan Aykroyd comedy Doctor Detroit.  He also wrote and directed the 1981 comedy starring The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, Caveman.

Mr. Gottlieb also wrote several books, including the one that was the subject of our book club meeting before Friday night's double feature: The Jaws Log.  It's a detailed account of the making of the film which was written and published in 1975, and its a fascinating read for anyone who is a fan of Jaws or of movies in general.  It has sold over two million copies since it was published and has had several expanded and anniversary editions released in the 48 years since it first hit store shelves.

In the weeks leading up to the event, Sandy mentioned that Mr. Gottlieb might have a moment to pop in to our book club meeting to say hello and maybe answer a question or two about The Jaws Log.  What I didn't expect is that he would spend the entire hour with us, not only to talk about his book, but to share stories about his time working on Jaws and on other projects.  He even took a moment to speak about the tragedy of the OceanGate exploration of the Titanic that has been in the news for most of the week.  Mr. Gottlieb is an incredibly kind man and was extremely interesting to speak with.  His memory at 85 years old is far superior than what mine is at age 42.

I can't begin to express how incredible of an experience this was for my wife and I.  Jaws is one of our favorite movies.  We've watched it so many times that I think both of us know every word of it, and rarely a week goes by where we don't make a reference to it to each other.  Being able to not only meet the man who wrote the movie, but for him to take an hour to sit down and chat with us about it just a few hours before we got to see it projected from 35mm at the drive-in is an experience that I will never forget.

We ended up taking a few photos with Mr. Gottlieb, and I couldn't decide which one I liked more, so here are both of them.  The first one was before our book club meeting in the projection booth (the one on the right).  He had come early to meet fans and take photos sitting in front of the Simplex projectors that would be showing his movie, with the 35mm film canisters from the film on the floor next to him.

Later on in the day after our book club meeting, we stood in line to ask Mr. Gottlieb to sign our book.  Our friend Louie, who volunteers at the drive-in, was taking photos of fans with the writer after he signed their book.  I said I had already taken a photo, but Louie said "naaw, go ahead!", so that's how we ended up with the second picture.

Here is the book that Mr. Gottlieb signed for us.  It's the same one that Angie ordered and read for our book club meeting.  I ordered one too so that we could both read it at the same time, but it seemed greedy to me to ask him to sign my copy of the book too, so we asked him to sign this one to the two of us.  We're getting quite an impressive collection of signed books since we became regulars at the Mahoning

Another special guest on the lot last night was the Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company with two of their IPAs: a beer with a Mahoning Drive-In Theater theme called Showtime At Sundown and a Jaws-inspired sour ale called Summer Dollars.  I bought a good amount of both.  Dad and I are going to crack open some Showtime At Sundown on Sunday, but I tried the Summer Dollars on the lot and it was very good.  I wish I had bought more of it.

There were a lot of folks who showed up to the lot in cosplay, while others decorated their car to celebrate Jaws.  The bottom photo is our friend Kate.  I mentioned her last month during The Muppets Take Mahoning when she and her husband surprised Angie and I with our own custom-made puppets.

The t-shirt for last night's event was designed by artist Tom Bifulco.  It was available in both blue and white, and as both a regular t-shirt and as a tank top.  I wanted to get a blue one, but I was a bit too late to get one in my size, so I'm the proud owner of a white t-shirt featuring Jaws gobbling up a bucket of popcorn, a cup of Moxie, and a 35mm film reel.

The special concession item was a beverage called the Shark Bite, which was a blue juice mixed with grenadine and some gummy shark candies.

Carl Gottlieb gave a nice introduction before the opening trailer reel, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy the fact that the entire lot honked their horns in appreciation for his film and for the fact that he joined us on the lot for its screening.  Next up was the trailer reel, which was comprised entirely of movies that Mr. Gottlieb had worked on throughout his career, and then a screening of a beautiful 35mm print of one of the most iconic movies of all time: Jaws.

In addition to having written the screenplay for Jaws, Mr. Gottlieb was one of the actors who appeared in the film.  He plays Amity Island reporter Harry Meadows, who serves as the right hand man of the mayor throughout the movie.  In several of the scenes when the mayor is arguing with Chief Brody, you'll see Meadows drop in lines like "It's happened before" when the mayor suggests that Chrissie Watkins was killed in a boating accident instead of a shark attack, and "We've never had that kind of trouble in these waters" when Chief Brody suggests closing down the beaches for public safety.  Mr. Gottlieb is the man in the center of the screen standing in front of the car behind the mayor in the picture of the screen above.

A short film called The Absent-Minded Waiter was shown between the two features.  The seven minute film was directed by Mr. Gottlieb and released in 1977.  It stars Steve Martin as the worst waiter, and it's pretty damn funny.  It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 1978.

The second half of the double feature was the 1979 comedy The Jerk.  It was written by Carl Gottlieb and directed by comedy legend Carl Reiner, and it features Steve Martin what I believe to be his first starring role in a full-length feature film.  Before I saw it last night at the drive-in, I had always thought that I watched this movie once before, but I think that I had it mixed up in my head with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels because I didn't recognize the movie at all as I was watching it.  It's a different kind of humor that you don't really see in movies these days so I don't know if I'd recommend it to everybody, but I thought it was very funny.

Mr. Gottlieb also appears on screen in The Jerk.  He's only on screen for a few seconds, but when you're cast as Iron Balls McGinty, you only need a few seconds to make an impact.

This was definitely a memorable night at the drive-in.  The rain held out during the screening of Jaws, so we were able to enjoy the movie from our camping chairs.  It drizzled a little bit during The Jerk, but it only lasted for a couple of minutes.  When you consider that they were calling for a 90% chance of thunderstorms all night, that's a win, and it helped contribute to another great night at the drive-in.