‘Grease’: The truth producers didn’t want you to know
Decades later, Grease is still one of the biggest musical films of all time. Is it the greasers’ slicked-back hair? The catchy musical numbers? The nostalgic romance between the John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John? Whatever it was, we’re still obsessed.
Get your hair gel and leather jackets ready, because these behind the scene facts will reignite your love for the 1978 film!
John Travolta brought his religious beliefs to set
We could go on and on about John Travolta’s antics on the set of Grease, but this one stands out from the rest. Travolta is as famous for his religious beliefs as he is for his many films, and he would often bring his personal ideologies onto the set.
When director Randal Kleiser wound up with a foot infection from dirty water in the drag race scene, Travolta called upon some special spiritual forces called “touch assist” to heal him.
Kleiser told Vanity Fair, “I was lying there with this fever, and he’s poking me and poking me and poking me, and I’m like, ‘Yes, I feel it. Thank you.’ Then he left. The next day I was better, and of course, he claimed it was because of the touch assist.”
The actress who played ‘Cha Cha’ had a medical emergency while filming
Annette Charles, who played Charlene “Cha Cha” DiGregorio, was committed to her craft, and she proved that when she put filming a scene before a medical emergency. While filming, she suffered through a distressing ectopic pregnancy, but she didn’t want it to interfere with the production schedule.
Although her doctor had cleared her to film the drag race scene between Danny and Craterface, she can still be seen in the background leaning against cars in pain. As soon as the scene wrapped, she was quickly escorted to the hospital for surgery.
Olivia Newton-John didn’t know if she wanted to take the role
When Olivia Newton-John was approached to play Australian darling, Sandy, she was hesitant to accept the role. Newton-John was wary about stepping back into film after her 1970 musical film, Toomorrow, received harsh reviews from critics.
Newton-John admitted, “I was very anxious about making another film, because my music career was going well.” She agreed to do a screen test with John Travolta to test their chemistry before taking the role. When it was discovered that Newton-John was struggling to perfect her American accent, the character was changed to be Australian.
John Travolta needed to be the star
The song “Greased Lightning” has become a fan favorite, but if you’ve seen the Broadway musical, you’ll notice that Kenickie is actually the frontman of the tune unlike in the movie, where the song is sang by Travolta.
Naturally, it makes sense for Kenickie to be the lead singer in the song, considering it is HIS car they’re singing about. But before Travolta even accepted the role, he made sure that the spotlight would shine on him at all times. He insisted that he be the lead singer on the song, while Jeff Conaway (Kenickie), sang backup.
John Travolta was a colossal diva
John Travolta was adamant about getting his close-up, and director Randal Kleiser recalled one instance where Travolta’s diva side reared its head. While filming the drive-in number where Danny sings his sad-boy ditty “Sandy”, Travolta was asked to sit on a swing while they got a wide shot with the drive-in animation played in the background.
Kleiser explained, “John says, ‘Well, aren’t we gonna do a close-up?’ And I said, ‘No, no, that was great.’ He was a little p***** off, because, at the end of the number, he wanted to have a close-up. But because the bun worked so well…I said no.”
The drive-in scene was improvised
Randal Kleiser told Bustle, “We didn’t know which ones we were gonna use. We had the whole crew sitting around while we ran 10 trailers on the drive-in screen, trying to figure out which one to use for the number.”
“Then I saw the one where the hot dog jumps into the bun, and I said, ‘Hey, do you think we could sync that moment with the playback so it ends the song at that moment?’ These technical guys figured out how to take the playback tape and make it happen, which is pretty complicated to do. Digitally, it would be very easy, but back then, with tape and playback, I don’t know how they did it. But when we saw it, it was perfect.”
Cast and crew members fainted during the school dance scene
Danny and Sandy weren’t the only ones heating up on the dance floor, during the school dance scene. In order for producers to keep the lighting controlled, the gym doors had to be closed during production, meaning the room became uncomfortably hot.
Apparently, it was so humid in the windowless auditorium (by the way, the scene took two whole weeks to film) that many of the cast and crew suffered from heat-related illnesses. Michael Tucci (Sonny LaTierri) had to be escorted to the emergency room for immediate treatment, and many extras had to leave the set.
Jeff Conaway fell in love with Olivia Newton-John during filming
Jeff Conaway, who played Kenickie, grew to have a pretty serious crush on Olivia Newton-John while filming. (Can we blame him, though?)
Although nothing ever happened between the two, Conaway sparked up a romance with her older sister after Newton-John introduced them. Conaway married Rona Newton-John in 1980, but the pair separated in 1985. Conaway and Newton-John remained close friends up until his unfortunate death in 2011.
The cast tortured Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty
Almost everyone you talk to will admit that they’re a fan of the film…Well, everyone except big-time actors Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, who suffered at the hands of Grease‘s musical numbers. The stage where the actors were filming was located right across from offices where Nicholson and Beatty were working.
Director Randal Kleiser admits, “They were yelling at us to shut up, because they were trying to write, and we were making so much noise down here.”
During rehearsal the cast would often hang out in the space to blow off some steam. We wonder how the veteran actors felt after seeing the film’s final product (if they didn’t still harbor resentment for the cast and crew).
The Elvis Presley song quote had a scary twist
In the song “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee,” Rizzo sings “Elvis, Elvis, let me be, keep that pelvis far from me,” while holding a photo of the King. The musical number was filmed on August 16, 1977, which was the day Elvis Presley passed.
Director Randal Kleiser told The New York Post, “It was very eerie. It was all over the news, so everyone knew. We did this number, and everybody kind of looked at each other like, ‘Yeah, this is creepy.'”
It was even said that Presley was asked to play the part of Danny Zuko, but he turned it down.
Carrie Fisher and George Lucas were almost a big part of the film
Randal Kleiser confirmed, “Carrie Fisher was being considered [for Sandy]. George Lucas was my roommate in college. He was mixing the tracks for Star Wars, so I went over to see him and look at some of the footage. I couldn’t tell if she was good for a musical, because all I saw was her hair….”
He continued, “[George and I] arrived at USC at the same time. He had a house in Topanga Canyon and needed a roommate, so I moved in. I had the bottom half of the house, and he had the top. We worked on each other’s first movies. I was an actor on his very first film, and he shot some of my stuff.”
Marie Osmond and Susan Dey turned down the same role
Marie Osmond had a specific reason why she turned down the role of goody two shoes Sandy, telling Larry King that she “didn’t want my teenager some day to say, you know, ‘You have to go bad to get the boy.’ It was just a personal choice as a some day mother.”
Susan Dey, who was also considered, had played the musical teen Laurie, on The Partridge Family. Although she could play the teen stereotype to a “T,” Dey didn’t want the role because she didn’t want to play a role similar to Laurie. In 1998, it was revealed by Travolta that singer Linda Ronstadt, had also been considered for the role of Sandy.
There is a freaky fan theory that caught the attention of the cast
The famous fan theory, which began on Reddit, suggests that Sandy actually drowns at the beginning of the movie while frolicking on the beach with Danny. Fans believe that Sandy’s death is mentioned during the song “Summer Nights,” when Danny sings the lyrics “I saved her life. She nearly drowned.”
The rest of the movie is the dream she has while still in the coma. The ending, which consists of Danny and Sandy romantically flying off towards the clouds in their car is meant to represent Sandy’s journey to the beyond. The theory has even reached some of the cast, with John Travolta admitting, “I love it, imaginations are awesome. These things are bound to happen to something timeless like this. It’s so fun.”
Andy Warhol and an Adult Entertainment star were almost cast
Producer and co-writer, Allan Carr wanted Andy Warhol to play the art teacher, but an anonymous Paramount executive quickly put a stop to that, saying he would not have “that man” in the movie.
Carr also offered the role of Coach Calhoun to adult entertainment star Harry Reems after a screening of Casablanca at Hugh Hefner’s mansion. The studio quickly stepped in and revoked the offer. Reems admitted, “They bounced me out of the cast. They thought they might lose some play dates in the South.” Carr, wracked with guilt, wrote Reems a personal check for $5,000 for his troubles.
The actors were way older than their characters
We bet you already know this but, many times, “high schoolers” in movies and shows aren’t actually played by high schoolers (and by many times, we mean almost every time).
Stockard Channing (Rizzo) was a spry 34 when the film was released, but that’s only the start.
Olivia Newton-John was 29 at the time, Jeff Conaway was 27, and John Travolta was 24. Jamie Donnelly (Jan) was 30 during filming, dying her graying hair black in the process. Her hair grew so fast that her roots needed to be colored in with a black crayon every day before filming began.
The sequel was going to be different
We know you’ve probably tried to repress the memory of Grease 2, and we apologize for bringing this memory back to the surface. Grease 2 bombed, and a lot of it was due to the 1982 flick basically being a remake of the first movie. Well, the sequel we ALMOST got was very different from the one we actually received (and probably would have preferred).
The first idea was inspired by Coach Calhoun’s line, “see you in summer school!” and it revolved around the original cast’s antics at summer school. The second idea was to remake the entire first film into an animated movie.
There’s a reason why all those posters are blurred out in the diner
During filming, Allan Carr made a promotional deal with Pepsi, which probably would have been helpful for the set decorator to know before he began setting the stage for the fictitious teens. When the producer saw footage from the movie, more specifically the diner scene with the promotional Coca Cola products, he went “ballistic.”
In order to avoid what would be a very expensive reshoot, the Coca-Cola logos were blurred out using an optical printer. Luckily, Pepsi never complained or cared about the blurred images. They eventually unblurred the Coke signs when the Pepsi deal expired before the 20th-anniversary re-release.
Olivia Newton-John loved Sandy’s attitude and outfit change
Over the years, the film has been critiqued for running with the idea that a female lead has to go through a transformation in order to win the heart of a male lead. But, for Olivia Newton-John, it was her favorite scene to film.
She recalls fondly, “Everything about making the film was fun, but if I had to pick a favorite moment, it was the transformation from what I call Sandy 1 to Sandy 2. I got to play a different character and wear different clothes, and when I put on that tight black outfit to sing ‘You’re the One That I Want’, I got a very different reaction from the guys on the set.”
The idea was born from nostalgia
The movie itself is based on the 1971 Broadway musical, Grease, written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Jacobs was an advertising copywriter, and Casey was a high school art teacher. An unlikely friendship spawned between the two through an amateur theatre group in Chicago during the early 1960s.
One day, they were discussing how much they missed doo-wop songs from the 1950s, which quickly birthed many numbers from the musical, along with the storyline. Jacobs had been described as a greaser in high school, while Casey was more interested in his studies.
No one thought the film would do well
When the film was first released in theaters in 1978, critics did not hold back. One wrote, “A grave disappointment to anyone in search of style or substance.” Unfortunately for that guy, this seemingly typical boy meets girl film went on to become the highest-grossing film of 1978.
Along with becoming a box office success, it won multiple awards, including an Oscar for Best Original Song, and five Golden Globes. A few years later, it fell behind films such as Jaws and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. It secured the number one spot as the most successful musical film up until 2010, where it fell behind Disney’s Beauty and the Beast live-action reboot.
John Travolta was mourning his girlfriend’s death
While filming Grease, John Travolta was dealing with the loss of his girlfriend Diana Hyland, who passed due to breast cancer. Travolta and Hyland, who was 18 years his senior, met in 1976 on the set of The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. The pair dated up until her death in 1977.
Travolta told Vanity Fair that doing Grease was “a giant distraction for me. The healthiest thing I could have done was to be in back-to-back movies, because I was very sad.”
She was awarded an Emmy for her performance in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, which Travolta accepted on her behalf.
Lucille Ball had some beef with the film
We almost saw Lucie Arnaz play Betty Rizzo, had her mother, Lucille Ball, not gotten into a tiff with producers. When Paramount insisted that Arnaz do a screen test, Ball was outraged.
“I used to own that studio.” Ball told producers, “My daughter’s not doing a screen test.” So, Arnaz refused to participate in a screen test, and the role went to Stockard Channing instead.
John Travolta wasn’t the only Danny Zuko on set
You may think that John Travolta is the only one who could pull off Danny Zuko, but Jeff Conaway actually played the role before Travolta got his hands on it.
Conaway started out as an understudy in the 1972 Broadway version of Grease, and he eventually took over the role of Danny Zuko. Conaway went on to play his most famous role, Kenickie in the film adaptation and Bobby Wheeler in Taxi.
The script underwent significant changes
Grease was almost a very different film. The main bad-boy, Danny Zuko, was originally supposed to be a busboy and a gas station employee who sang a song called “Gas Pump Jockey.”
The Beach Boys were going to be in the film, and they were going to be the ones to sing “Greased Lightning” in the garage. Some other weird ideas from the original script included Detroit Tigers player Mark “The Bird” Bidrych playing a jock, and Donny Osmond playing the teen angel who sings “Beauty School Dropout.”
Some of the songs were last minute additions
We already mentioned how the movie almost went without its title song sang by Frankie Valli. The songs “Sandy,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and “You’re the One That I Want” were written by Olivia Newton-John’s personal songwriter, John Farrar at the last minute for the film.
Newton-John recalls, “He played it for me and said, ‘What do you think?’ I went, ‘Oh, God, it’s amazing.’ It just had this fantastic energy.”
The soundtrack sold over 38 million copies, and it became one of the best selling albums of the year.
John Travolta and Randal Kleiser worked together before
We have John Travolta to thank for bringing Randal Kleiser on board. Kleiser had directed Travolta’s previous television movie, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, which cemented him a spot on Grease. He told xecutives.net, “John had never had the lead in a movie before The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.”
He continued, “He had been part of an ensemble in a TV comedy, but this was his first time as the star. We got along very well, the movie got a lot of attention and when John was hired to star in Grease, he suggested me as the director. We trusted each other, and had the kind of shorthand that happens when you’ve already worked together.”
Didi Conn auditioned in character
When Didi Conn auditioned for the role of Frenchie, she felt she needed to do her whole audition in character. She told Hellogiggles, “I had lived in L.A. for a couple of years by then, and I was driving a way I hadn’t gone before, and there was Frenchie’s Beauty Parlor.”
She went on, “I went in, and I didn’t tell her what I was doing, but she had a pink hairdo, and I said, ‘Oh I love the way your hair is, can you do mine like that?’ While she was working on it, and teasing away, and spraying, I asked her, ‘How did you get into this?’ It was really helpful.”
Stockard Channing desperately needed the role
Stockard Channing admitted to Broadwayworld.com, “At the time I had no money, and I had a mortgage. When Allan Carr cast me out of the blue, it was because they had seen a movie that I had done called Sweet Revenge.”
She continued, “I played the car thief…I was at the bottom of the barrel, bottom of the drawer maybe, but I decided the only way I could do this was to look at her like she was a real person. I was so much older than she was in life, but I could not think about that, so I sort of threw myself back to what I felt when I was her age, even younger.”
The director hated the opening theme song
“Grease” STILL is the word, but it almost wasn’t. Randal Kleiser loathed the theme song which appears alongside a cute animated short.
Initially, there was a different song that Kleiser wanted to play at the beginning, which had more of a ’50s sound and made pop culture references to the decade. When Kleiser first heard “Grease,” he gave it a big thumbs down. He thought the lyrics were too dark and that it didn’t mirror the fun vibes of the movie.
Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into her pants
One of the most quotable scenes from the musical film features Sandy 2.0 in a very fitted leather ensemble uttering the words, “Tell me about it, stud,” to a very starstruck Danny Zuko.
We see tons of couples recreate this look every Halloween, but you probably didn’t know that those famous pants worn by Newton-John were so tight she had to be sewn into them every day. She even admitted that the “pants changed my life.” At the end of the day, she had to have them ripped off only to have them sewn back on the following day.
Those Hickeys from Kenickie were the real thing
Rizzo is the original bad girl with a good heart, and her character was linked to Danny’s right-hand man, Kenickie. Remember when Rizzo got a “hickey from Kenickie” instead of a Hallmark card?
Well, those hickeys weren’t done using movie magic and makeup. They were the real deal. Stockard Channing (Rizzo), admitted that Jeff Conaway (Kenickie), insisted that he give her actual hickeys to make them look more realistic on camera.