Why we all hate Larry Vaughn: the asshole Mayor of Amity in ‘Jaws’

(or why withholding is never really a kindness to someone else)

Law Turley
5 min readJan 22, 2022
Image: Actor Murray Hamilton as Larry Vaughn the Mayor of Amity in Jaws (1975)

A few months ago I sat myself down on a Saturday evening to rewatch Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic Jaws on Blu-Ray again, just to remind myself what an incredible piece of storytelling it is.

It amazes me that, even after having watched it thirty or forty times during my lifetime, there always seems to be new stuff for me to discover in it, and new facets of even the most minor characters to consider. This is — I imagine — the mark of really great screenwriting, and so I watch movies like ‘Jaws’ with envy and fascination, as well as with huge appreciation.

This last watch had me mostly noticing and appreciating the character of Larry Vaughn, the Mayor of Amity, played so perfectly by Murray Hamilton. And, in the midst of live-tweeting my rewatch, I was amused to hear how many people chimed with my negative feelings towards the Mayor:

Image: screencap of my tweet from my live-tweet of Jaws

“I don’t think I’ve ever loathed a movie character more than I loathe the Mayor when he tells his elderly friend and his wife to take their grandkids into the ocean to encourage other people to go in. What a piece of shit.”

We hate Larry Vaughn because we recognise how utterly self-serving he is right from the get-go. He’s given all the information about the Great White man-eating shark in the water from Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) and Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfus), but then, instead of sharing it with the people it will affect the most — the holiday-makers and swimmers — he keeps it to himself.

His reasons for this appear, on the surface, to be mostly thoughtful and unselfish, he wants to protect the livelihood of the people of Amity:

Vaughn: That's just going by the book. We're really a little anxious that you're, uh, you're rushing into something serious here. It's your first summer you know.
Brody: What does that mean?
Vaughn: I'm only trying to say that Amity is a summer town. We need summer dollars. If the people can't swim here they'll be glad to swim at the beaches of Cape Cod, Hampton, Long Island.

But as we get to know him better, we start to suspect the truth. Vaughn is concerned about tourism and livelihoods because Amity’s financial success is directly tied to his getting another term as Mayor. So, despite knowing that the shark that has been caught is very likely not the man-eater, Vaughn goes on TV in his best 1970s pastel-striped polyester suit, smiles his most reassuring mayoral smile and says:

Vaughn: I'm pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have in fact, caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But as you see it's a beautiful day, the beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time! Amity as you know means friendship.

Vaughn tells himself that withholding the truth from the people of Amity is — ultimately — for their own good. He reassures himself that the white lie (that the shark they’ve caught is ‘a dangerous predator’) isn’t a complete untruth, and gambles the real killer shark won’t reappear and eat someone else.

Unfortunately for him, and most unfortunately for little Alex Kintner and his mother, his gamble does not pay off and his lie costs lives.

When this dangerous misjudgment is finally made clear to him though, does Vaughn feel contrition about his distortion of the truth, is he filled with guilt and sadness about the violent death of a little boy? No, instead he panics at the thought of how this looks for him, and immediately starts to spin his lie into altruism, and make it seem as if it wasn’t a calculated and entirely selfish and political decision:

Brody: What? What? What are you talking about? Larry, the summer is over! You're the mayor of Shark City! These people think you want the beaches open!
Vaughn: I was, I was, I was acting in the, in the town's best interest. I thought I was acting in the town's best interest.

I was reminded of Larry Vaughn again recently when someone I’d come to think of as a close friend told me that they always ‘prioritised being kind over being honest’.

I replied to them that — in my experience — telling ‘kind’ white lies or half-truths are often just a way for me to avoid revealing something that would make me feel uncomfortable, vulnerable or open to judgment, and not actually about protecting the person I’m ‘being kind’ to at all.

If I imagine that telling the whole truth will hurt or upset someone else, I can tell them that. I can share how I scare myself and make myself uncomfortable with sharing what I know or feel, and any stories I have about how they might feel about me afterwards: about how they’ll reject me, hate me, stop loving me or get angry with me.

Then I can go ahead and tell them what is true for me, the emphasis being on ‘for me’ and on separating what actually happened from the story I’ve made up about what that means.

If I choose not to reveal the whole truth, not only am I taking agency from the person I’m withholding from, I am also — whether I want to admit it to myself or not — attempting to control their feelings towards me (the truth teller) for my own benefit.

I don’t want to be thought of as a bad person, any more than Larry Vaughn wanted to be thought of as a bad Mayor, but carefully curating my thoughts and judgments before I share them with you means that you never have a complete picture of who I am, how I feel or what is really happening, and as a consequence we can never fully connect.

On top of which, the truth that I withhold from you becomes an unknown entity that you cannot make a judgement about. In other words it potentially becomes a man-eating shark that you unknowingly swim towards, having been allowed to believe that the warm, balmy waters are completely safe.

In retrospect, my friend’s assertion that kind lies were better than harsh truths, probably should have been a red flag, because — having now had the truth revealed to me about who they really are — I feel as if I’ll be recovering from their withholding for a very long time.

It’s impossible to know how the truths that we choose to hide from people will ultimately affect them, just as it’s impossible to ever fully know the inner workings of anyone else’s mind and heart. But before we choose to withhold, curate or edit the unvarnished truth, it’s a good practice to pause and ask ourselves — honestly — who it is that we’re really trying to protect.


Law Turley is an MBACP-registered Integrative Therapist and certified Radical Honesty® Trainer living and working in the south west of the UK.



Law Turley

UK-Based MBACP Integrative Therapist, Couples Counsellor and Supervisor writing about the benefits of honesty work and vulnerability for mental health.