From the time Gabe DiSaverio was a little boy, he’s been obsessed with sharks. “I think one of the reasons for my fascination was that I spent summers on the North Fork of Long Island, not far from Montauk,” DiSaverio said, “and that was a major shark-fishing port.” Every Christmas he’d get a shark book or some other shark-related gift, and then, when he was 8 years old he finally got to see the blockbuster movie “Jaws” on TV and he felt like he’d died and gone to heaven. “I was fascinated,” DiSaverio said, “I wasn’t frightened — I was mesmerized.”
When he got older, DiSaverio toyed with the idea of going to the University of Miami and majoring in marine biology, where he could concentrate on studying sharks, but thought better of it, a decision he has minor misgivings about even today. Instead he went to Boston College and majored in business in order to make more money than a marine biologist. Still, sharks were always in the back of his mind, and one of the advantages of being at Boston College was that Martha’s Vineyard — Amity Island — was just a short drive away. “It was too expensive for a poor college kid to go down to the Vineyard in the summer,” DiSaverio said, but he’d go down in the winter, and then again after he graduated from school.
“I don’t think they had any ‘Jaws’ tours when I went down there,” DiSaverio said, “so I’d just ask the cab companies what drivers knew the most about ‘Jaws.’” DiSaverio’s favorite location by far was “Jaws Bridge,” a.k.a. the Big Bridge, the location of the famous “Michael is in the pond,” scene where Chief Brody’s son Michael (played by Vineyarder Chris Rebello, who died in 2000) went in the water when Jaws suddenly appears. DiSaverio took printouts from the movie with him when he visited the various locations, to compare what they looked like then and now. DiSaverio’s only regret about his early visits was that he went in the winter, so he never got a chance to dive off the bridge.
One of the greatest weekends of DiSaverio’s life was Jaws Fest 2012, held here on the Island. He told this reporter that he was like a kid in a candy shop. “Other than Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, and Lorraine Gary — who played Chief Brody’s wife — just about everyone was there,” DiSaverio said. He remembers talking to and getting autographs from Susan Backlinie, who played Chrissie Watkins, the swimmer in the opening scene who became the first victim of Jaws, as well as Jeffrey Voorhees and Lee Fierro of the Vineyard, who played Alex Kintner and Mrs. Kintner. One of the most interesting and inspiring people DiSaverio met at Jaws Fest was Wendy Benchley, the wife of Peter Benchley, the author of “Jaws.”
“She talked to me for about 20 minutes,” DiSaverio said, “and really got me interested in shark conservation. She told me that the biggest regret that her husband had was that his book demonized sharks, which in turn led to their wholesale slaughter.” DiSaverio joined the conservation group Shark Savers in Benchley’s honor.
At the time, DiSaverio had a good job working as a sales manager at the Boston Beer Co. but in 2018 he decided to cut his corporate ties and go out on his own. He started a hot sauce company called — no surprise here — The Spicy Shark Hot Sauces. The Spicy Shark measures the heat level on a shark scale: One Fin (mild) to Five Fin (wicked hot). The company donates part of its sales to shark charities like Sharks for Kids, Blue Ocean Society, and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.
Starting The Spicy Shark was not the only way that sharks insinuated their way into DiSaverio’s life. He’s taken up scuba diving, and often dives with sharks. His obsession with “Jaws” resulted in him naming his daughter Ellen after Ellen Brody, Chief Brody’s wife in “Jaws.”
When Gabe’s wife Jill was pregnant with their first child, Gabe began lobbying for the baby to be named Ellen a good six months before she was due. “I didn’t think Jill would go for naming our daughter after a ‘Jaws’ character,” he said, “but I figured maybe we could make Ellen her middle name. I tried to tell Jill that no one even knows anyone’s middle name — I didn’t even know Jill’s middle name until long after we’d been dating.”
Jill finally gave in; their daughter’s name would be Joanna Ellen DiSaverio. Besides, she knew what it was like to have a passion for a movie. In her case the movie was “Star Wars.” Then one day while Jill and Gabe were out for a ride, Jill had a revelation. She said to Gabe, “What are the initials of our daughter?” Gabe said, “J-E-D,” and Jill said, “Add the next letter of our last name,’ and he said “J-E-D-I … JEDI!” And with that Jill was totally sold.
As is befitting a self-described “Jaws nut,” DiSaverio has managed to collect a fair amount of “Jaws” memorabilia … posters, pictures, autographs … but the item that he most coveted was the iconic 1975 Chevy Blazer that Chief Brody used as his police car. DiSaverio looked through car catalogs and searched online, but ’75 Blazers were extremely hard to find. It turns out that was the last year Chevy made the removable hardtop, which made them collectibles. And the few that he found were fixer-uppers, and not being a “car guy,” that was not something DiSaverio had the skill set to do.
But then, in the beginning of the year, while he was in quarantine, he was clicking through pages on the website of a car auction company in Greensboro, N.C. and there it was — the Holy Grail! There on the page was Chief Brody’s Chevy Blazer, right down to the color. It was in good shape, and it was going up for auction at the end of July. The problem was that vintage ’75 Chevy Blazers had been known to fetch as much as $45,000, so first he had to clear the deal with Jill. “I figured she’d say, ‘You’re out of your mind,’ DiSaverio said, “but she totally surprised me. She said, ‘You work eight days a week, and you don’t have any toys … and you’ve been talking about this since our third date — go for it.’”
Armed with Jill’s blessing, DiSaverio called the auction company and they told him there were three ways he could bid on the car. He could fly down and do it in person. He could bid online. Or he could send a proxy to bid. He opted for the proxy, and told his bidder how high he was willing to go (it wasn’t $45,000, Gabe added) and then he listened in on the phone as the car went up for bid.
“It was like you see in the movies,” DiSaverio said, “‘Going once, going twice — SOLD!’ I was literally shaking with excitement, I couldn’t believe it.”
DiSaverio flew down to Charlotte, picked up his new car, and drove it back to Portsmouth, N.H., where he lives. The car needed a little bit of body work, and then he put on the finishing touches, like the cherry lights on the roll bar, some replica hubcaps, and an Amity Police Dept. emblem to make it match the movie. That, and of course, the AMITY vanity plates. He also put a Spicy Shark logo on the back, since he would use the Blazer as a company car.
The Blazer is getting rave reviews; people honk and wave as he drives down the streets of Portsmouth, but he has his big coming-out party planned for next summer. That’s when DiSaverio plans to come to the Vineyard and drive his car out to “Jaws Bridge,” pull over in the parking lot, and finally, after all these years — dive off the bridge.