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

Roger Kastel, an artist whose painting for the “Jaws” poster — of a menacing shark with bared teeth looming below an insouciant skinny dipper — became one of the most enduring images in modern pop culture, died on Nov. 8 in Worcester County, Mass. He was 92.

His death was confirmed in a statement on his website, which did not give a cause.

Mr. Kastel painted the image for the cover of the paperback edition of the 1974 Peter Benchley novel on which the 1975 blockbuster film, directed by Steven Spielberg, was based. The painting shows a scene from the book in which a tourist, Chrissie Watkins, becomes prey for the great white shark while skinny dipping.

Roger Kastel’s painting for the paperback edition of the 1974 novel “Jaws” was used in the poster for the 1975 Steven Spielberg film.

The cover of the hardback edition of the novel featured a stark black cover designed by the influential book jacket designer Paul Bacon. It shows a stylized shark, its teeth barely visible, rising from the bottom and a female swimmer floating above.

According to an account of the evolution of the cover in Print magazine, Oscar Dystel, the president of Bantam Books, which published the paperback edition of “Jaws,” wasn’t satisfied with the cover even after the novel became a best seller. For the paperback, he commissioned Mr. Kastel to improve it.

“I did a very rough sketch for Len Leone while we were talking,” Mr. Kastel told the New York Post in 2015, referring to the art director for Bantam Books, “and he OK’d it. He told me to make the shark larger and more realistic.”

For inspiration, Mr. Kastel went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and photographed stuffed sharks. Mr. Benchley’s novel sold millions of copies, and the film, which featured Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, became a cultural sensation.

Mr. Kastel said that Bantam had credited him with helping with book sales. But Universal Studios, which produced the “Jaws” film? Not so much, Mr. Kastel said.

“I’ve never heard from anyone in the movies,” he told The Post. “What really bothered me was that they used the image for merchandising. You see that poster on everything.”

Mr. Kastel’s poster for the “Star Wars” sequel “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) shows Harrison Ford embracing Carrie Fisher in a nod to the famous poster for “Gone With the Wind” (1939).

The success of “Jaws” led to more commissions for Mr. Kastel, including one from Lucasfilm Ltd. to design what would become another famous film poster, for the first “Star Wars” sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980). It shows Harrison Ford’s Han Solo embracing Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia in a manner that recalls the famous poster for the classic 1939 film “Gone With the Wind.”

“I had never done sci-fi before, so I don’t know why they contacted me,” Mr. Kastel told Connecticut Insider in 2010. “The director loved the film ‘Gone With the Wind,’ and since there was a romance in ‘Empire,’ he wanted some romance in the poster.”

Roger Karl Kastel was born on June 11, 1931, in White Plains, N.Y., to Karl Kastel, a jewelry designer, and Anna Kastel. Both of his parents painted as a hobby, and he developed an interest in drawing at a young age. One of his earliest influences was Tom Hickey, a cartoonist, comic book artist and illustrator of pulp magazine covers who was a neighbor in White Plains.

When Mr. Kastel was a teenager, he attended the Art Students League, a nonprofit school in Manhattan that counts the Georgia O’Keeffe and Winslow Homer among its alumni. His first published work was a pamphlet he designed at Mr. Hickey’s request “showing employees how to use equipment properly,” Mr. Kastel later recalled to Connecticut Insider.

“I was always drawing whatever I could,” He said.

He joined the Navy during the Korean War and served in Hawaii and California, where he met Grace Trowbridge, whom he married after he left the Navy, and the couple returned to New York. She survives him, as do their children, Beth Kastel Krebs and Matthew Kastel; four grandchildren and a great-grandson.

Mr. Kastel sold his first illustration in the early 1960s and embarked on a prolific freelance career, illustrating paperback covers for several publishing companies, including Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins and Harlequin Books.

He estimated that he had completed about 1,000 illustrations, among them the poster for “The First Great Train Robbery,” from 1978, starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland. He had a particular affinity for book covers, including several that he painted for the novelist Jackie Collins, and paperback versions of books by Ernest Hemingway and Judy Blume.

Mr. Kastel’s original “Jaws” painting disappeared in 1976 after it was shown at the New-York Historical Society. It was never recovered. But the painting has been endlessly reproduced, and it continues to inspire memes and parodies nearly a half-century after Mr. Kastel created it.

“The cover for ‘Jaws’ was just another job for me at the time,” Mr. Kastel told Connecticut Insider. “I never expected it to become such a phenomenon.”

Back to top button