These Surprising Grease Movie Facts Will Have You Saying ‘Tell Me More’
Grease is undeniably one of the most popular movies ever made in Hollywood. Although it was released in 1978, the musical film was riddled with nostalgically campy ‘50s references that made for a swingin’ good time. Who could forget the magnetic performance that Olivia Newton-John and Travolta delivered as Sandy and Danny?
From summer love to greaser getups, whether or not you know the lyrics (and dance moves) to every song in the flick, these behind-the-scenes Grease movie facts are bound to surprise even the most hopelessly devoted fans. Don’t miss out, read on!
The Role of Sandy Almost Went to Another Star
Grease director Randal Kleiser had several actresses in mind for the part of Sandy Olsson before Olivia Newton-John landed the iconic role. Pop singing sensation Marie Osmond was the preferred option until she turned down the role, objecting to its good-girl-gone-bad transformation.
The Partridge Family actress Susan Dey, Star Wars’ Carrie Fisher and actress Deborah Raffin were also all in the running. Dey, however, didn’t want another teen role and Kleiser wasn’t sure Princess Leia actress Fisher was the best fit for the part of Sandy.
The Word ‘Grease’ Isn’t Even in the Script
According to the song, “Grease is the word” but it is actually not even mentioned once in the script. Seriously! The single-world movie title that is so instantly recognizable and associated with mid-century youth subculture is oddly never uttered (in that form, at least) in the movie.
Of course, the word “greased” has a high word count thanks to the fan favorite track “Greased Lightnin’.” The hit peaked at No. 47 on the charts in 1978, but the song has remained a beloved sing (and dance) along until this day.
The Script Was Rewritten So Sandy Could be Australian
Part of the charm of Olivia Newton-John’s film character Sandy Olsson was her sunny Australian attitude thrown into the cliquey mix at Rydell High School. Although in the Broadway version, the character’s name was Sandy Dumbrowski, film producers were hopelessly devoted to Newton-John and rewrote the script to match her background.
For the movie version of Grease, the lead female character’s backstory was adapted from that of the Polish-American new girl to one in which an adorably accented Sandy ended up moving from Down Under to the U.S. with her family.
Elvis Was Offered a Role
The film Grease and its stars instantly became immortalized as iconic musical legends in the canon of pop culture history. As big of celebrities as the central actors in the movie are, just imagine the added star power that would have been if Elvis had been in it.
Well, that almost happened. The King oozed everything ‘50s and was initially offered the role of Teen Angel. The Pompadoured teen idol himself ultimately turned down the part of the character who serenades Frenchy in the Frosty Palace. In the end, Frankie Avalon was cast in the film.
Grease Was Supposed to Have Three sequels
Grease was the biggest box office hit in 1978 and remained the top-grossing musical film in the United States until 2008. As of now, Grease is still the fourth highest grossing live-action musical and it has raked in nearly $400 million internationally.
In light of the great success of the first film, studio execs wanted there to be three Grease sequels. However, when 1982’s Grease 2 (starring Michelle Pfeiffer) flopped at the box office, the plans were dumped like Danny at the drive-in. Still, it probably worked out for the best.
If those fun facts had you saying “tell me more, tell me more” than you won’t want to miss the coming pages!
John Travolta’s Sister Appeared in the Movie
John Travolta’s name has been eternally linked to the legacy of Grease. However, he wasn’t the only member of his family to end up in the Grease cast. His sister, Ellen, also landed a part in the film as one of the soda pop waitresses at the Frosty Palace diner.
From muscle cars and poodle skirts to cat-eye glasses and rolled cuffs, Grease wouldn’t have completed the vintage vibe without the likes of the decade’s most quintessential restaurant symbol. It was there that Ellen Travolta (center) watched the swingin’ dance contest on TV and had one line: “Oh, there’s Danny and Sandy.”
Olivia Newton-John Was Sewn into Those Iconic Black Pants
In the iconic final scenes of the Hollywood smash hit Grease, the character Sandy prepares to steal Danny’s heart by showing off her new-found transformation from wholesome goody-goody to bad girl greaser. It’s those skin-tight black pants that she wore that the world simply cannot forget.
The figure-hugging spandex slacks sure made her the one that everyone wanted, but it seriously took a lot of work to look that good. As it turns out, the outfit was so tight that actress Olivia Newton-John had to be SEWN into them for the electrifyin’ carnival finale shoot.
Only One Grease Song Got an Oscar Nod
The soundtrack to the movie Grease is undoubtedly one of the most beloved in showbiz. The album was the second-best seller in 1978 – the year the film came out – and songs like “You’re the One That I Want,” “Summer Nights” and “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee’” remain sing-along sensations to this day.
However, only one of the film’s tracks ever received an Academy Award nomination. Performed by Olivia Newton-John, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” was up for Best Music – Original Song in 1979. Yet, it fell short to the Donna Summer tune “Last Dance” from the disco flick Thank God It’s Friday.
Some of the Most Popular Songs Were Movie Originals
The soundtrack from the motion picture Grease is undeniably one of the most epic movie albums EVER! Timeless hit favorites like “Grease,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “You’re the One That I Want” and “Summer Night” all made us want to get out our dancing shoes and made the Billboard top-10.
Of them, only “Summer Nights” was taken from the original Broadway show. The other three songs were originally composed for the motion picture and “Hopelessly Devoted to You” was only written about halfway through the production.
John Travolta Wasn’t Initially Going to Sing “Greased Lightning”
John Travolta had us all going “Grease Lightnin’’ with his iconic performance of the number in the film adaptation of Grease. However, Tavolta’s character Danny Zuko wasn’t initially supposed to sing the legendary track. The male lead’s sidekick, Kenickie (Jeff Conaway), sand it in the original Broadway show.
Travolta had two conditions for playing Danny in the movie: that he could sing “Greased Lightnin’” and that he would have iconically ‘50s “blue-black hair like Elvis Presley and Rock Hudson the movies.” Well, he got his wish, and had us all thinking: “That’s the way it should be, wah-oooh, yeah!”
You might know every lyric to the Grease songs, but keep reading for more surprising behind-the-scene facts!
There Was Casting Crossover between the Stage and Film Versions
Although they didn’t all reprise their stage roles, there were four actors in the film adaptation of Grease who had previously been in the Broadway production of the musical. John Travolta famously played the leader of the T-Birds greaser gang, Danny Zuko, in the movie but he had been the supporting character, Doody, on Broadway.
Actor Jeff Conaway, who was cast as Danny’s BFF Kenickie in the film, had actually played Danny on Broadway. Barry Pearl landed the film part of Doody after having played T-Birds troublemaker, Sonny, on Broadway and Jamie Donnelly played Pink Lady member, Jan, both on Broadway and in the motion picture.
Lucille Ball’s Daughter Was Originally Considered for Rizzo
Apparently, the producers of Grease were not enthralled by Lucille Ball’s approach when it came to her views on how to do things. The iconic sitcom star’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, was the studio’s original pick for the character Betty Rizzo.
However, Arnaz was dropped from the running after her mother refused to let movie execs give her daughter a screen test. The part of the feisty Pink Lady with a “reputation” ultimately went to the talented Stockard Channing.
Henry Winkler Turned Down a Lead Role
Here’s one that will make you say “Yowsah!” Henry Winkler was already an icon of ‘50s-style coolness with his portrayal of Arthur Fonzarelli (better known as Fonzie) on the sitcom Happy Days when he was originally offered the lead male role of Danny Zuko in the film Grease.
Worried about being typecast as a tough guy with a heart of gold, The Fonz star turned down the potential to play another leather jacket-clad rebel heartthrob in Grease. “Aaaaaay,” so the role was an “exactamundo” fit for him… but things seem to have worked out pretty “peachy keen, jelly bean.”
Grease Started As a Musical
As you might well know by now, the film version of Grease was adapted from an original Broadway musical of the same name. The theatrical feature film sensation was written by Bronte Woodard and directed by Randal Kleiser.
Originally, one concept for adapting the stage production was to make Grease an animated film. Ultimately, a live-action movie seemed like the best idea. However, the opening sequence had already been animated by John Wilson and it stuck.
Olivia Newton-John Almost Didn’t Take the Part
Seeing that her musical career was on the “go, go, go, go” and that her last film Toomorrow had flopped, Olivia Newton-John was initially quite hesitant to accept the part of Sandy in Grease. Although producer and co-writer Allan Carr had begged her to sign on, she wasn’t exactly revved up by the prospect.
An impressed John Travolta also personally encouraged her to take the part. Still not convinced, Newton-John request a screen test with Travolta, which apparently did the trick and produced an on-screen chemistry that simply went together “like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.”
Don’t miss the next rockin’ revelations about Grease!
The Dance Contest Scene Took a Week to Film
The spunky dance contest sequence during the Rydell prom scene proved to us that the Grease cast really was “Born to Hand Jive.” The energetic bunch appeared perfectly cool and collected during the spirited display, but behind the scenes, it wasn’t really chills that were multiplyin’.
The shot filmed at Huntington Park High School in Los Angeles took a whole week to film. Summer Loving’ might have had Sandy and Danny a blast, but temperatures on-set soared to a blistering 116 degrees, causing several extras to fall ill from heat stroke.
Olivia Newton-John (Sandy) After Grease
The talented Olivia Newton-John had already made a name for herself as a solo artist before she landed the role of Sandy in the film Grease. The movie sent her career skyrocketing and made her a larger-than-life household name.
After Grease, she went on to release several successful album, including the 1981 hit “Physical.” Her other post-Grease achievement included giving birth to her daughter, Chloe Rose, continuing acting and TV appearances and staying active with a 2014 residency in Las Vegas.
Andy Warhol Could Have Been in Grease
Grease co-producer Allan Carr originally had his eye on legendary artist Andy Warhol for the part of an art teacher at Rydell High School in the film musical Grease. “Was it love at first sight?” you ask… Well, not for one unnamed studio exec who reportedly said he wouldn’t have “that man” in the film.
The quirky artist may be known for his Campbell’s soup canvases, but it turned out that his legacy wouldn’t include 15 minutes of fame among the Grease characters. Continual misunderstandings meant that the role never materialized.
Jeff Conaway Ended Up Marrying Olivia Newton-John’s Sister
Olivia Newton-John and Jeff Conaway shared the screen together in Grease as Sandy and Kenickie, but the two entertainers were also connected off-screen. Despite his bad boy character, Conaway apparently had a big crush on Newton-John and was nervous around during filming.
Incidentally, the co-stars later became in-laws. Conaway and Olivia Newton-John’s sister, Rona, decided that “We go Together” in 1980. The couple married and together raised Rona’s son, Emerson, who eventually became a race car driver.
John Travolta (Danny) After Grease
John Travolta has been a steady fixture in Hollywood for four-decade since his explosive film breakout in the ‘70s with the musical blockbusters Saturday Night Fever and Grease. His career got a reboot with the 1994 cult classic Pulp Fiction.
With dozens of credits to his name, Travolta remained busy throughout the rest of the ‘90s and 2000s starring in hits like Face/Off, Swordfish, Ladder 49 and Hairspray. In 2016, he played defense attorney Robert Shapiro in the acclaimed miniseries, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.
The next couple of pages are bound to surprise you, keep scrolling!
Coca-Cola References Were Removed from the Film
Perhaps no two things seem more timelessly American and the movie Grease and the beverage Coca-Cola. Well, that’s probably what they were thinking when the two sides decided to go together in a promotional deal. Things eventually got less bubbly, however.
It’s known that Coca-Cola can be used to get grease stains out, but this time the studio had to get Coke out of Grease. The Coke collab went south and all logos referring to the product had to be blurred or altered. That meant no Coke in the diner for Sandy and Danny.
A President’s Son Backed Out of Grease
Former U.S. President Gerald Ford’s son, Steven, was originally cast in the supporting role of star athlete Tom Chisum, who is captain of Rydell’s football team and briefly goes steady with Sandy. The part had no lines, but the aspiring actor decided he was too nervous to take it on.
The role of the jock boyfriend then went to Lorenzo Lamas, who was thrilled to take over. “I was going to have some scenes with Olivia – the goddess” he exclaimed. Even though Lamas was asked to lighten his dark hair, the excited actor said: “I would have dyed it green, fuchsia, anything.” We can definitely see why!
The Cast Was Predominantly Much Older Than Their Characters
Although the plot centered around the lives of teenage high school students, the actors that made up the cast of Grease were, for the most part, much too old to have attended Rydell. Olivia Newton-John (Sandy) was 28 at the time of filming and John Travolta (Danny) was 23.
Stockard Channing (Rizzo) was 33, Michael Tucci (Sonny) was 31, Jamie Donnelly (Jan) was 30, Barry Pearl (Doody) was 27, Jeff Conaway (Kenickie) was 26, Didi Conn (Frenchy) was 25 and Kelly Ward (Putzie) was 20. The youngest cast member was Dina Manoff (Marty), who was 19.
Grease Won Every People’s Choice Award Nomination
Grease might not have taken home the Oscar, but it sure fared well in a different award contest. The film made waves at the People’s Choice Award and won every category in which it was nominated.
The public seriously ate their hearts out when it came to the film and the production. Olivia Newton-John won Favorite Motion Picture Actress, Stockard Channing took home the Favorite Motion Picture Supporting Actress and the overall the movie won Favorite Musical Motion Picture and Favorite Overall Motion Picture.
Jamie Donnelly (Jan) After Grease
Actress Jamie Donnelly is best known for her portrayal of Jan, a member of the Pink Ladies clique in the movie. Following Grease, she took a 20-year break from acting, but eventually returned to the scene in 1998.
Since then, some of her most prominent projects have been on the TV shows Monk and Ray Donovan and in the films Cyrus and Black Mass. Since 2015, the now-70-year-old’s filmography credits have seemingly paused but we wouldn’t be surprised to see another career resurgence.
Don’t miss the next couple of rare Grease movie facts!
Barry Pearl (Doody) After Grease
Barry Pearl is best known for portraying Doody – one of the three supporting greasers from the T-Birds gang in the 1978 film. His acting careering didn’t end there, though. Pearl went on to gain some fame in children’s TV and theater.
In recent years he starred in the Broadway musical Baby It’s You and in 2012 he appeared in the feature film The Newest Pledge. His other works include cameos on several popular TV shows like House, Baywatch and ER.
Rizzo’s Hickeys Weren’t Makeup
Remember the diner scene where Rizzo (Stockard Channing) states that she has so many hickies she looks like a leper? Well, those marks weren’t makeup! That’s right, they were the real! Jeff Conaway, who played Rizzo’s on-screen boyfriend Kenickie, insisted they be authentic.
So he did what any dedicated actor would do, and gave them to her himself. Seems like he really lived up the line that, “A hickey from Kenickie is a like a Hallmark card.”
Didi Conn (Frenchy) After Grease
Actress Didi Conn is best known for her role in Grease as the character Frenchy – an aspiring beautician and Sandy’s closest pal in the Pink Ladies. From there she racked up a significant number of TV credits in shows including The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, Benson and Shining Time Station.
In 1982, she reprised her iconic part of the bubbly “Beauty School Dropout” in the less popular sequel Grease 2. Apart from acting, Didi Conn has kept busy in recent years as a celebrity spokesperson for autism awareness initiatives.
Rydell High Was Filmed at Three Different School
The fictional Rydell High School where the characters of Grease went to school was named in homage to ‘60s teen rock icon Bobby Rydell. Filming of scenes that took place at the school were actually conducted at three different schools in the Los Angeles area.
The exterior shots (including the Summer Lovin’ number) were filmed at Venice High School while the interior scenes were done at Huntington Park High School. John Marshall High School was used for filming the outdoor sporting field takes.
Dina Manoff (Marty) After Grease
Although Dina Manoff’s forte wasn’t dancing – and she was ultimately excluded from the dance numbers in Grease – the actress who played Pink Lady Marty Maraschino went on to have a long career in showbiz and still works in the industry to this day.
After the film, Manoff landed prominent roles on the TV shows Soap and Empty Nest and continued to be a regular TV fixture in ‘90s. She won a Tony award for her performance in I Ought to Be in Pictures and more recently in the early 2000s co-starred in the show State of Grace.
A Real Travelling Circus Provided the Set for the Final Scene
The final scene of Grease has gone down as one of the most epic references in pop culture history. Olivia Newton-John’s character Sandy transforms from fresh-faced ingenue to black-clad biker babe for the memorable finale sequence.
Sandy, Danny and crew give an innuendo-laden performance of the legendary “You’re the One That I Want” number amid circus games and rides. As it turns out, there really was a traveling circus that came to town during filming. How lucky!
Jeff Conaway (Kenickie) After Grease
Apart from playing the T-Birds’ notorious No. 2, the bad boy Kenickie, in Grease, Jeff Conaway appeared in some of the era’s iconic television programs. He made his debut on Happy Days in 1975 and then landed the part of Bobby Wheeler in the series Taxi, which came out the seam year as Grease – 1978.
Conaway made appearances in other popular productions like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bold and the Beautiful and Babylon 5. In addition to his acting career, Conaway was also a recording artist and released several tracks with the band 3 ½ along with two solo albums.
Michael Tucci (Sonny) After Grease
One of Michael Tucci’s first on-screen roles was that of T-Birds member Sonny in Grease. From there, he had a significant amount of screen time in the ‘80s and ‘90s with starring roles in TV shows like Flying Blind and Diagnosis: Murder.
Tucci took a hiatus from television and movies from 2001 to 2013, when he reemerged with a role in the Melissa McCarthy-Sandra Bullock comedy The Heat. Tucci has also recently taken up teaching and coaching acting at a high school in Los Angeles County, California.
Kelly Ward (Putzie) After Grease
Actor Kelly Ward is best-known for his role as the T-Bird member Putzie in the 1978 film Grease. He got his start in the TV film The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, which also starred John Travolta in the lead role.
Ward made some cameo appearances on popular series like M*A*S*H, Into the Murdering Mind and Magnum, P.I. Since 1983, he has mostly disappeared from the screen. However, he continues to work in the industry predominantly in voice work.
The on-screen sparks that flew like “Greased Lightnin’” between Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in Grease were so electrifyin’ that fans were raving to see the actors behind the larger-than-life Sandy Olsson and Danny Zuko work together again.
The two reunited in 1983 for the rom-com Two of a Kind, which didn’t exactly garner the same kind of hype that Grease did. Newton-John and Travolta again joined forces in 2012 for the studio album, This Christmas.
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