• A fixture on the Menemsha waterfront since just after World War II.
  • Mark Lovewell

Lynn Murphy, Menemsha Salt Who Inspired Character in Movie Jaws, Dies at 88

  • Thursday, January 12, 2017 - 5:36pm

Lynn Murphy, a longtime Chilmark resident and salty Menemsha waterfront character, died at home Thursday morning. He was 88 and had been a fixture on the Menemsha waterfront since just after the second World War. He also helped inspire the character Quint played by Robert Shaw in the movie Jaws.

Craig Kingsbury, another Island character, worked with Mr. Shaw directly on Quint, the crusty harpooner in Jaws, the blockbuster movie filmed on the Vineyard in the summer of 1974. But in a 2011 Gazette interview about his book Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard, author Matt Taylor said it was Lynn Murphy who provided the pivotal inspiration at a time of need.

“As the story goes, Robert Shaw was having difficulty one day with how to deliver one of his lines,” Mr. Taylor said. “As he was speaking to Spielberg about this, Lynn was in the background hollering at one of the crew members about an anchor line or something, totally losing it, and Steven stopped Robert and said ‘You hear that? That’s how I want you to sound. From now on Lynn is Quint.’

“Interviewing people in Hollywood, almost every single one of them across the board said to me, ‘If it weren’t for Lynn Murphy Jaws probably never would have seen the light of day.’”

Mr. Murphy’s expertise as a marine mechanic was even more prized than his authentic personality that summer, as he helped the Hollywood producers tame Bruce, the mechanical shark that played a major role in the movie. Behind the scenes, Bruce was notoriously fickle.

Lynn C. Murphy could fix anything. — Mark Lovewell

“The sea-sled shark was just another scallop dredger as far as I was concerned,” Mr. Murphy told Mr. Taylor for the book.

He was born on Mount Desert Island in Maine, grew up in Fairhaven and later trained to be an automobile mechanic. He came to Chilmark in the late 1940s following his discharge from the Navy. There he eventually established Menemsha Marine Repair, which he operated for more than half a century.

In a 2004 Gazette interview, he said despite his many years on the Island, he always felt a little like an outsider. “You have to be on the ball here,” he said. “You have to be weird, or tough or stupid to live in Chilmark for 50 years.”

It was vintage Lynn Murphy talk.

He could fix anything and was known to have a temper. In 1969 he threw the Chilmark harbor master Phil Le Vasseur into the harbor, for reasons now lost to history.

“Lynn Murphy, it is clear, will not imitate Chilmark society in order to belong to it,” Peter McGhee wrote in a colorful account of the incident in the Gazette that year.

But Mr. Murphy also told the Gazette: “My temper doesn’t go any farther than the length of a boat. When I yell at you, remember it isn’t that I’m mad at you, I’m yelling so that you hear me.”

For all his colorful language and temper, Lynn Murphy was a friend to anyone in need on the waterfront. In 1954, a boat owner and seasonal resident of Chilmark asked Sen. John F. Kennedy to nominate Mr. Murphy for a Congressional Medal due to his “public spirited and unflagging efforts” during the first of two hurricanes that slammed the Vineyard that year. Senator Kennedy sent the letter to the Gazette with his own note: “I know that you will agree with me that Mr. Murphy’s efforts and great courage . . . should make all citizens of Massachusetts proud.”

He married twice and had nine children, two of whom predeceased him. He encouraged all his children to get an education. “I tell them go to school. Learn what you can. Then if you want to mess with boats you can,” he told the Gazette.

In more recent years he and his wife Susan, the former Chilmark postmistress, planted and tended a small blueberry farm at their Chilmark home.

Susan Murphy said Thursday that the cause of death was complications of old age.

A graveside service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Abel’s Hill cemetery in Chilmark.