Robert Shaw was, in effect playing Teddy Tucker
In 1976 the movie 'The Deep' wrapped up production in Bermuda. It became the second highest grossing film in 1977, topped only by Star Wars. The thriller about the hunt for sunken treasure and lost ampoules of drugs is a fictional blanket wrapped around the real life discoveries of Teddy Tucker on the wreck of the Constellation. In the film Teddy is played by Robert Shaw (Romer Treece) a gruff sea dog and expert on shipwrecks and antiquities.
This all came about after Teddy met journalist, Peter Benchley in 1970, an encounter that would have a lasting impact on both men. Peter later wrote:
‘National Geographic offered me a choice of two stories: poisonous sea snakes in the Coral Sea or the history of Bermuda as told by the shipwrecks around it. Thank heavens, I chose the latter. The magazine sent the late Ken MacLeish, an old friend of Teddy and Edna’s, down with me to make introductions, for Teddy was known to be prickly about the people he worked with. I spent six weeks diving with him, and we’ve been fast friends ever since. ‘
In 1974, Peter Benchley’s classic novel Jaws was published. Partly written on board Teddy's boat The Brigadier while cruising over the reef, fishing and exchanging stories with Teddy and his friend Adrian Hooper, who would lend his name to one of the main characters, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss). According to Peter, the gnarled, shark hunter character, Quint (Robert Shaw) was based on Teddy, no doubt partly due to his penchant for fresh shark livers. As for Peter's lead character, police chief Martin Brody (Roy Schneider), was he based on himself? The crew of The Brigadier mirroring that of the Orca in the novel. An instant bestseller, it continues to influence popular culture, helped by the release in 1975 of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster movie.
Teddy and Peter were kindred spirits; story tellers at heart who shared a fascination with the ocean. ‘Teddy and Peter would disappear to sea for days in search of the unknown and the incredible.’ David Doubilet.
Peter stayed with Teddy and Edna – his time in Bermuda, on and under the water, feeding his imagination for his follow-up novel, The Deep.
The Deep (1976) is a story of a young couple honeymooning in Bermuda who stumble upon a long lost cache of drugs while diving on ‘the Goliath’, a ship that had sunk in 1943. The fictional ‘Goliath’ is based on the wreck of the ‘Constellation’ that also sank in 1943 and where Teddy recovered cases containing thousands of ampoules of morphine. There is even room in the novel for a second underwater discovery of a Spanish Treasure including a bejeweled cross – sound familiar?
Later that year the full Hollywood circus rolled in to town to shoot the movie, staring Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Shaw. They built a lighthouse, full interior sets, and a huge, two million gallon tank on Boaz island into which modeled reef and shipwrecks interiors were lowered. A tank the crew nicknamed the B.U.S. – Biggest Underwater Set.
Once again, Robert Shaw was playing a character inspired by Teddy. This time as Benchley’s antihero, Bermudian treasure expert ‘Romer Treece'. Shaw was, in effect playing Teddy Tucker and the two met in order to help the actor refine his character.
‘Romer Treece is not total fabrication, he’s inspired by a good friend of Benchley’s who’s a fascinating character in his own right. His exploits as a diver and shipwreck expert easily rival Romer Treece’s. They’re the stuff of real life legend. On our first location trip, we had met the legendary man who had inspired the story and we managed to lure him back to ‘The Deep’ as a consultant on the film.’ Peter Gruber, Producer, The Deep.
Teddy worked closely on the movie. ‘His was the workboat, the mother ship, the camera platform and home base whenever the crew was at sea. His were the decisions about whether or not to go to sea, where to go to accommodate the wind and the weather, and whence and how to stock the two million gallon underwater set. He was even in the movie, as the dockmaster who barks at Coffin.’ Peter Benchley.
After completing 10,000 dives and spending 11,000 man hours submerged, the production team wrapped filming on The Deep in November 1976. Beside the production injecting $5 million into the local economy, The Bermuda Tourism Department described the film as a two hour commercial for the island.
Slammed by critics and loved by moviegoers. The Deep helped turn both Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset into major movie stars, with both actors' careers taking off soon after its release. And Teddy's thoughts? When asked if Teddy liked his reincarnation as Romer Treece, Peter Benchley answered that ' He never said so directly, but I believe so.'