“Grease” is a 1978 American musical film directed by Randal Kleiser (the same director of the cult “The Blue Lagoon”) and produced by Paramount Pictures. It is based on Warren Casey’s and Jim Jacobs’s 1971 musical of the same name about two lovers, Danny and Sandy, in a 1950s high school. The film stars John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway and Kelly Ward. Well, it’s hard to believe but “Grease” turns 35 this week.
The movie was originally released to theaters on June 16, 1978 and was an immediate box office success. Follow some facts about “Grease”:
1. Singer Olivia Newton-John, cast at Travolta’s urging, had done little acting before this film. She appeared in the 1970 film “Toomorrow”, a bizarre science fiction musical that pre-dated her initial chart success with 1971’s “If Not for You”. Cast with Newton-John and three male leads in an attempt by Don Kirshner to create another “Monkees”, the film was never released commercially. This led Newton-John to demand a screen test for “Grease” to avoid another career setback. The screen test was done with the drive-in movie scene. To adapted her australian accent to the movie, the name of her character Sandy Dumbrowski was changed to Sandy Olsson, a foreign-exchange student from Australia.
2. Two actors who were considered for leading roles in the film were Henry Winkler and Marie Osmond. Winkler, who was playing Fonzie on “Happy Days”, was originally chosen to play Danny, but having twice already played similarly leather-clad 1950s hoods in 1974’s “The Lords of Flatbush” as well as “Happy Days”, turned down the role for fear of being typecast. Osmond turned down the role of Sandy because she did not like the fact that Sandy had to “turn bad” to get the boy. Susan Dey and Deborah Raffin were the first choices for the role of Sandy (Dey declined the role after her manager advised against it).
3.Randal Kleiser directed John Travolta (who requested him for “Grease”) and Kelly Ward in “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” two years prior to “Grease”. Additionally, he had previously worked (as an extra) alongside Frankie Avalon in 1966’s “Fireball 500”. Frankie Avalon makes a little appearance in “Grease” as Teen Angel.
4. Scenes inside the Frosty Palace contain obvious blurring of various Coca-Cola signs. Prior to the film’s release, the producer Allan Carr had made a product-placement deal with Coca-Cola’s main competitor Pepsi (for example, a Pepsi logo can be seen in the animated opening sequence). When Carr saw the footage of the scene with Coca-Cola products and signage, he ordered director Randal Kleiser to either reshoot the scene with Pepsi products or remove the Coca-Cola logos from the scene. As reshoots were deemed too expensive and time-consuming, optical mattes were used to cover up or blur out the Coca-Cola references. The ‘blurring’ covered up trademarked menu signage and a large wall poster, but a red cooler with the logo could not be sufficiently altered so was left unchanged. According to Kleiser, “We just had to hope that Pepsi wouldn’t complain. They didn’t.” In the 2010 sing-along version, the blurred Coke poster has been digitally removed. In its place is more of the wavy wall design that surrounded it.
5. Randal Kleiser hated the opening title song, “Grease” (he thought that the cynical lyrics and disco beat were inappropriate for a film set in the 1950s). He also hated the song “You’re The One That I Want” saying it “sounded awful”, but the song is in the final musical scene, took just one afternoon to film and was filmed with the help of a traveling carnival. However, director Randal Kleiser decided the next day that additional scenes were needed for close-ups. Unfortunately the carnival had left town so set decorators were called in to build replica backgrounds, that matched the carnival ride’s construction for the close-ups.
6. Set in high school, most of the principal cast were way past their teenage years. When filming began in June 1977, John Travolta was 23, Olivia Newton-John was 28, Stockard Channing was 33, Jeff Conaway was 26, Barry Pearl was 27, Michael Tucci was 31, Kelly Ward was 20, Didi Conn was 25; Jamie Donnelly was 30, and Annette Charles was 29. Only Dinah Manoff, Lorenzo Lamas, and Eddie Deezen, all 19, were still teenagers.
7. Several musical numbers were not used in the film. They appear, however, as jukebox tunes, or band numbers at the high school dance. Among them “Freddy, My Love”, “Those Magic Changes”, and “It’s Raining on Prom Night” all of which were performed by characters in the stage musical. “Hopelessly Devoted To You” was written and recorded after the movie had wrapped. The producers felt they needed a strong ballad and had Olivia Newton-John come back to film her singing this song. This song ended up receiving an Academy Award nomination.
8. “Greased Lightning” was supposed to be sung by Jeff Conaway’s character, Kenickie, as it is in the stage version. John Travolta used his clout to have his character sing it. The director felt it was only right to ask Conaway if it was okay. At first he refused, but he eventually gave in. Conaway, who once played Danny Zuko on Broadway, stated in an episode of “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” that while filming the scene/song “Greased Lightning” he was dropped by his fellow cast members and injured his back leading to his addiction to prescription painkillers. Conaway (1.87 m) had to walk slightly stooped so that John Travolta (1.88 m) would appear taller.
9. In the stage play, the song “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” had a reference to Sal Mineo, who was murdered in 1976, year before film was shot. So the lyric for movie (shot in summer 1977) was changed to an Elvis Presley reference, who ironically was also dead by the time of the film’s release in 1978. The scene in Frenchy’s bedroom while Rizzo is singing the line about Elvis was actually filmed the same day that Elvis Presley died, 16 August 1977.
10. The original Broadway production opened at the Eden Theater on February 14, 1972 and ran for 3,388 performances, setting a record. Adrienne Barbeau and Barry Bostwick were in the original Broadway cast. John Travolta appeared at some time as a replacement on Broadway in the role of “Doody”. Marilu Henner, an alumna of the original Chicago production, appeared as a replacement in the role of “Marty”. Patrick Swayze and Treat Williams were both replacements as Danny Zuko. Richard Gere is also listed as an understudy to many male roles, including Danny Zuko. Gere played Zuko in the London production in 1973.