Roger Kastel, ‘Jaws’ Movie Poster Artist, Dies at 92

Roger Kastel, the artist whose painting of a shark and a swimmer for the cover of the paperback version of Peter Benchley’s Jaws was used as the iconic movie poster for the 1975 Steven Spielberg classic, has died. He was 92.

Kastel died Nov. 8 of kidney and heart failure at a hospice facility in Worcester, Massachusetts, his wife of 66 years, Grace, told The Hollywood Reporter.

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Kastel also did the Gone With the Wind-inspired poster for the first Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and came up with the posters for such other films as Doctor Faustus (1967), starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and The Great Train Robbery (1978), starring Sean Connery.

Benchley’s Jaws was first published by Doubleday in February 1974, with its hard-cover art by artist Paul Bacon. For his oil painting that would be employed for the Bantam Books paperback edition, Kastel tweaked that image, making the shark more toothy and menacing after visiting the American Museum of Natural History in New York to photograph the fish there.

“I said, ‘Do you have a shark exhibit in the building?’ [The employee] said, ‘Yes we do,’ but they were all down. They were refurbishing, cleaning them,” he recalled in the Jaws making-of documentary The Shark Is Still Working.

“All the sharks were laying on easels. And so I had my camera with me. I knew what position I wanted the shark in, and there was this great white that they had laying on an easel; I guess they were dusting it. And that’s what I worked from.”

For his female swimmer, Kastel asked a model he was photographing at a Good Housekeeping shoot to stick around a bit longer, and he got her to approximate a front crawl while on a stool. (He also removed the bathing suit that the swimmer had worn on the hard-cover version, and that got the book banned in several cities.)

According to a 2012 article in Empire magazine, Bantam chief Oscar Dystel gave the image to Universal Studios for free, “losing out on millions of dollars — and it quickly became iconic, riffed on by cartoonists to represent USSR-USA relations, the presidential elections (Gerard Ford vs. Ronald Reagan), rising inflation and the energy crisis.”

Roger Kastel
A poster for 1980’s ‘The Empire Strikes Back’

Born on June 11, 1931, in White Plains, New York, Kastel lived next door to famed comic book artist Tom Hickey while growing up. He studied at the Art Students League in Manhattan while in high school and again after serving with the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.

Kastel had his first paperback cover published in the 1960s, and by the time the ’70s were in full swing, he had worked for every major publishing house in New York.

In 1975, his illustration was used for the cover of the first issue of the comic book The Man of Bronze: Doc Savage, and his paintings fronted such books as John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (featuring James Dean), H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man and Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Wives.

Kastel was a longtime member of the Society of Illustrators, and his work was recognized in the books 200 Years of American Illustration and The Illustrator in America: 1860-2000.

In addition to his wife, survivors include their children, Beth and Matthew; grandchildren Jessica, Glen, Luke and Grant; and great-grandson Liam. Donations in his memory can be made to The Artists’ Fellowship.

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