Bob Carroll and the Harbor View Hotel

Bob Carroll and the Harbor View Hotel

Sharks, food fights, and the hotel that saved a town.

"Jaws" was filmed on Martha's Vineyard 40 years ago; the cast, including Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider, stayed at the Harbor View, and reportedly had a food fight in the dining room. — Courtesy Universal Studios

This summer  marks several occasions: The 40th anniversary of the filming of the movie “Jaws;” the 90th birthday of notable Edgartown resident and former owner of the Harbor View, Bob Carroll (who also, 30 years ago this summer, founded the Martha’s Vineyard Times); and the publication, by Vineyard Stories, of a history of the Harbor View Hotel, in time for their 125th anniversary. We were happy to find a way to mark all these anniversaries and birthdays with an excerpt from the book “Harbor View, the Hotel that Saved a Town,” by Nis Kildegaard.

And along comes a big shark.

I’ll catch this bird for you, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not like going down the pond chasin bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallows you whole. . . And we gotta do it quick, that’ll bring back your tourists, put all your businesses on a payin’ basis. But it’s not gonna be pleasant…”
–Captain Quint (Robert Shaw)

Bob Carroll celebrated his 90th birthday at the Harbor View on August 15. Here, Drew Conway, one of the owners of the hotel, speaks about Mr. Carroll's illustrious hospitality career.
Bob Carroll celebrated his 90th birthday at the Harbor View on August 15. Here, Drew Conway, one of the owners of the hotel, speaks about Mr. Carroll’s illustrious hospitality career.

As much as Bob Carroll enjoyed owning the Harbor View, he says it was never a big moneymaker. “I’m not sure the Harbor View Hotel has ever made real money. You keep thinking it’s going to turn around and make money, but I had to borrow each year to make renovations.”

In 1974, with the expenses of buying and expanding the Kelley House weighing heavy on his books, Carroll was closer than ever to violating his personal code of paying every bill on time. But then came financial salvation in the sort of windfall we expect only from Hollywood. A young filmmaker named Steven Spielberg was planning to make a movie on Martha’s Vineyard. Its name was Jaws.

When the director’s advance team contacted Carroll, he had already learned the lesson that no commodity is more perishable than a hotel room for a given night. He’d been burned, and badly, when the national press corps had made reservations for Senator Edward Kennedy’s date in court after the Chappaquiddick accident in which Mary Jo Kopechne had died. That court date was postponed, and the hotel didn’t see a penny.

He says, “One of the things I discovered, early on, was that if you got a bad weather forecast, everyone who had reservations would call and cancel. I started asking for security deposits, nonrefundable.”

When the Jaws team called to reserve 50 rooms, Carroll demanded a $25,000 deposit and got it. He estimates that by the time filming was done, he and his various Edgartown enterprises — which by then included the two hotels; the Seafood Shanty restaurant; Edgartown Marine, which helped outfit the boats shooting scenes on the water; and his Carroll & Vincent Realiy business, which arranged pricey rentals for key members of the movie crew – made more than $1 million from the filming of Jaws. “That,” he says, “was a memorable experience.”

Not exactly wonderful, but certainly memorable, was the food fight that broke out at the Harbor View in that summer of 1974 as director Spielberg and his cast blew off steam from a memorably difficult production session. How exactly it started — who threw the first meatball or handful of mashed potatoes — no one can exactly recall. But bartender George Gamble later said the principals were Spielberg and actors Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss. “The three managed to make a real mess,” he said. “It was a disgusting sight, seeing them covered in ravioli, cake, and diced fruit.” According to one account of the fracas, the combatants rinsed off by jumping into the Harbor View pool.

Nearly four decades after the success of Jaws, the money continues to trickle in. Carroll, who was cast as a selectman in the fictional town of Amity, gets regular residual checks from the blockbuster film, which to date has earned a total of nearly $2 billion.

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