FORT WALTON BEACH — Anita Kroha's Hollywood career began and ended with "Jaws 2."
As the CEO of the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce at the time, Kroha became a local liaison for the filmmakers who were looking to finish filming the movie in the warmer Florida climate. And after 40 years since the film's release, she looks back on the time fondly.
"They filmed the first part of the movie in New England," said 75-year-old Kroha. "There were some problems and the director (John D. Hancock) was fired and all of his footage had to be re-shot. By that time, it was winter so they were looking for a warmer location and chose the Florida panhandle coast."
At that time, Destin was an unincorporated fishing village. It easily fit the look of a New England beach. When the Gulf was too rough, the crew filmed at locations on Choctawhatchee Bay.
Kroha's involvement in the film was a result of "being at the right place at the right time." There was no mayor and the Okaloosa County Commissioners only had offices in Crestview. When she got to the call to help, she jumped at the chance.
Kroha met with Bill Badalato, the unit production manager, and became his guide to the Emerald Coast helping him scout locations while scenes were filmed over the course of three months. When the set designers were building temporary facades at Capt. Dave's and the Sea View Cottages Kroha said she remembers persuading the film crew to make them permanent so that it could one day be a tourist attraction, but the changes faded away over time.
"I also tried to persuade them to donate to our newly opened Destin Fishing Museum, but their generosity ended and they took the shark to Hollywood to spend his days in the Universal Studio's Museum," Kroha recalled. "There was also a lighthouse facade built on Holiday Isle."
Kroha was one of the lucky locals to get a peek at the dailies (the raw, unedited footage shot earlier in the day) each evening at the Holiday Inn in Navarre.
"I was amazed by how much the film editor has to do, going through all of the film footage and picking the most interesting shots," she added.
She even had a "blink-and-you-miss-it" scene in the movie.
"We filmed it over the course of three days just for that one crowd shot," she said. "I had to go home and change my clothes because I was wearing all white."
As for celebrities, there were plenty. And not just stars of the movie. Kroha remembers actor Roy Schneider spending many evenings at "Victors," which is now known as The Block.
President Gerald Ford's daughter, Susan, was hired as a still photographer and was dating a cameraman on the set. Another well-known visitor was Dee Presley (Elvis's stepmother) who was flirting with a local motel owner and came to the filming, too. Kroha said it's hard to prove either piece of gossip about the relationships true.
Drama on the set was just an intense as one of the animal trainers was barred from training animals again when several seagulls died.
"Apparently, the animal trainer was over-medicating the birds," Kroha said. "Destin veterinarian Dr. Brechin was able to save some."
As co-owner of The Destin Log at the time, Kroha featured photos and stories about the shoot in the paper. It was the big news item around the Emerald Coast. The newspaper staff was also invited to the film's wrap party at Seville Quarter in Pensacola.
Kroha said she went to the local screening to watch the movie and enjoyed it, but doesn't revisit the film as much as die-hard fans do. Once the film wrapped, she had her taste of Hollywood, she said.
"No one at the time realized what a classic this movie would become. Some consider it the best out of the four sequels. What a fantastic time it was ... a once in a lifetime experience."