From the April 26, 1974 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

For a nerve-tattering 24 hours this week, Universal Studios’ production on Martha’s Vineyard of the smash-to-be film Jaws was a suspense story that no audience will ever see.

The $3 1/2-million project had run afoul of the law — the production crew had not gotten permission to do a batch of things it was doing. And permission-getting, which involves formal public notice, hearings, and mature deliberation, can be agonizingly long.

By 9 o’clock Tuesday night Louis James Fargo, Universal’s urbane, bearded production manager, was deeply impressed enough by the trouble Jaws was in to tell the Edgartown board of selectmen: “If I have to wait three weeks, I might as well just pack up and go home.”

But by nightfall Wednesday the legal underbrush had been hacked away. The show would go on.

Universal would apply, and duly did, for permission to continue building stage-set cabanas and a gazebo and indeed a false-front hot dog stand on the grounds of the Norton & Easterbrooks boatyard on Fuller street. Inside, work would go forward gussying up the fishing boat on which half the action of the film will take place — and on fabricating the mechanical 24-foot stand-in for the shark that is to Peter Benchley’s novel as Moby Dick is to Melville’s.

Yesterday morning Mr. Fargo exchanged with the town conservation commission letters clearing the way for the production’s occupation through most of May of the South Beach front at the end of Katama Road. The commission agreed the eight 150-pound cabanas and the prop gazebo and refreshment stand don’t threaten the environment, and for its part Universal guaranteed to repair, good as old, any damage that is done to the sands and grasses.

Meanwhile, the Chilmark selectmen have granted Universal its permit to build an art director’s apotheosis of a fishing shack on the Packer property hard by Seward’s Seagoing Grocery on the Menemsha waterfront.

The conservation commission’s resolution of its fraction of the problem was a little melodramatic.

At Tuesday night’s meeting of the selectmen — we’ll get to that in a moment — the commissioners had asked Jim Fargo to meet them at the opening to the Katama beach at 4:30 p.m. next day. With him when he arrived in a chauffeur-driven station wagon was Joe Alves, the art director, carrying two big sketches in color of the setting as it will look. These he laid on the hood of a car, hissing and flapping in a wild north wind, and the commissioners crowded around and asked questions, slowly turning blue.

In response Mr. Fargo and Mr. Alves led them out onto the beach, along which the sand was streaming in the wind and biggish waves were thundering, and, in turn to the tops of the two steep dunes that flank the entrance from road to beach. Alongside walked Michael Wild of the Conservation Society staff, presenting to the Universal people copies of the society’s Wetlands Guide and How to Build and Save Beaches and Dunes.

Starting Monday, the cabanas and the two bigger props will be settled on the flat sands between the two dunes. Shooting is scheduled to start May 2. The properties will remain on the beach under 24-hour security guard until May 28, if all goes according to timetable. During the week closest to Memorial Day, when it is trusted the water will have warmed enough to let a couple of hundred extras (most of them Vineyarders) appear to be enjoying themselves in the surf, the last beach scenes will be shot, to be edited into their chronological place in the film.

By 5 o’clock the commissioners — even such veteran outdoorsmen as chairman Edwin G. Tyra and Alfred Doyle — had had it. The commissioners went back to the road and clambered into Richard I. Colter’s green Jeep station wagon and had their meeting. There and in a later conference at Universal’s quarters in the Christine Pease house on North Summer street the agreements were worked out.

Mr. Fargo had dropped in on the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday to acknowledge that the sign identifying Universal’s diggings in the old Pease house was in violation of the zoning for that residential block and to say he’d apply for a variance to permit it. While he had the floor he thought the selectmen should know he’d be asking for permission in the middle of May to decorate the town as for Fourth of July.

The roof began falling in, slowly.

Fred B. Morgan Jr., chairman of the board, asked whether the use of a boat storage shed for the construction of sets and a boat constituted a change of use that could be authorized only by the zoning board of appeals after due application for a special permit.

It was pretty glum, but next morning carpenters were back in the boathouse yard hammering cabanas together, and by yesterday the only question left unsettled was how a nonconforming use like that could have gone so long unexamined. One star role has been cast, Mr. Fargo said: Roy Scheider as the chief of police.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox