John Travolta, “Grease,” 1978
Image by classic_film
The 1978 blockbuster musical "Grease" is the highest grossing film musical of all time, with the 2002 "Chicago" in second place. It was nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar and five Golden Globes. Directed by Randal Kleiser, the film’s cast members included John Travolta (b. February 18, 1954), Olivia Newton-John (b. September 26, 1948), Stockard Channing (February 13, 1944), Jeff Conaway (October 5, 1950 – May 27, 2011), Didi Conn (b. July 13, 1951), Dinah Manoff (b. January 25, 1958), Jamie Donnelly (b. 1947), Barry Pearl (b. March 29, 1950), Michael Tucci (b. April 15, 1946), and Kelly Ward (b. November 17, 1956). Also in the cast, in smaller roles, were older actors who had had major or character TV or film roles predominantly during the 1950s and 1960s: Eve Arden (April 30, 1908 – November 12, 1990), Edd Byrnes (b. July 30, 1933), Sid Caeser (September 8, 1922 – February 12, 2014), Joan Blondell (August 30, 1906 – December 25, 1979), Dody Goodman (October 28, 1914 – June 22, 2008), Fannie Flagg (b. September 21, 1944), Alice Ghostley (August 14, 1923 – September 21, 2007), and singer-actor Frankie Avalon (b. September 18, 1939) as Teen Angel. The film’s opening song was sung by Four Seasons’ lead singer Frankie Valli and was written by Barry Gibb.
Synopsis, via IMDb:
A musical about teens in love in the 50’s! It’s California 1959 and greaser Danny Zuko and Australian Sandy Olsson are in love. They spend time at the beach, and when they go back to school, what neither of them knows is that they both now attend Rydell High. Danny’s the leader of the T-Birds, a group of black leather jacket-wearing greasers, while Sandy hangs with the Pink Ladies, a group of pink-wearing girls led by Rizzo. When they clash at Rydell’s first pep rally, Danny isn’t the same Danny from the beach. They try to be like each other so they can be together.
Some film trivia, via IMDb:
In the stage play, the song "Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee" had a reference to Sal Mineo, who was murdered in 1976. For the movie, the lyric was changed to reference Elvis Presley, who died the same day the scene was filmed.
"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.
The song "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.
The high school is filmed at Venice High School in Venice, CA. The dance contest scene was filmed during the summer when the school was closed. The gym had no air conditioning and the doors had to be kept closed to control lighting, so the building became stifling hot. On more than one occasion, an extra had to be taken out due to heat-related illness. The high school was right next to a pork plant, so everything smelled like bacon.
John Travolta insisted that he have "blue black hair like Elvis Presley and Rock Hudson in the movies" because "it’s surreal and it’s very 1950s."
Most of the extras won a nationwide contest to be in the film.
Due to a zipper breaking, Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into the spandex pants she wears in the last sequence (the carnival at Rydell). "They sewed me into those pants every morning for a week," Newton-John claimed. "Believe me, I had to be very careful about what I ate and drank. It was excruciating." It was 106 degrees on the set for the carnival finale.
Set in high school, most of the principal cast were way past their high school 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, Eddie Deezen was 20, and Annette Charles was 29; Dinah Manoff and Lorenzo Lamas were both 19.
Scenes inside the Frosty Palace contain obvious blurring of various Coca-Cola signs. Prior to the film’s release, 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 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."
This was the film in which Jeff Conaway became addicted to drugs. While he was shooting the "Greased Lightning" musical number, he was accidentally dropped, hurting his back. He started taking pain killers, eventually then abusing prescription drugs, starting Conaway on the downward spiral into drug addiction, until he died in 2011 at age 60.
Randal Kleiser shot a scene of Kenickie and Rizzo getting into a heated argument, which explained their attitude towards each other in the diner scene (where Rizzo threw the malt at Kenickie). The fight scene was cut because it didn’t match the tone of the rest of the film; it was much grittier, described by one crew member as "looking like something Martin Scorsese might have directed."
Stockard Channing was not the first choice for the role of Rizzo; Lucie Arnaz was allegedly dropped from consideration when her mother, Lucille Ball, called Paramount and said, "I used to own that studio; my daughter’s not doing a screen test!" (Ball actually owned the studio Desilu, which was bought by Paramount). The part went to Channing when the casting director remembered seeing her with Lucie in the play "Vanities" at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles (the third member of the cast was Sandy Duncan).
John Travolta started rehearsals just four days after completing filming for "Saturday Night Fever" (1977). Having two mega-hit movies in a row made it difficult to return to honor his contract for "Welcome Back, Kotter" (1975), but he fulfilled his contract, albeit with a reduced presence, and eventually left the show to pursue a movie career full-time.
The film was released in Spain and Latin America as "Brillantina" (Brilliantine) – because its English title translated as "Grasa" or "fat" in Spanish. Released as "Vaselina" in Mexico.
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