40 Little Known Facts About The Movie Grease
Olivia Newton-John was already an established and popular singer when she starred in the movie Grease. This may be the reason why she found her co-star, John Travolta, star-struck when the two finally met. Travolta was not entirely unknown prior to Grease, as he starred in the box office hit Saturday Night Fever a year before. Eventually, the two got over their initial awkwardness and were able to find their on-screen and off-screen spark.
However, Olivia Newton-John was in doubt of her acting ability as she had never done any major acting roles prior to the movie. She expressed her misgivings in a 1981 interview on The Merv Griffin show, where she said she had to see herself in a screen test with Travolta before she could accept the role. Read on to learn 40 more fascinating facts that few people know about the movie Grease.
Homage To The King
Grease was set in the 1950s. Therefore, it would be logical to expect Elvis Presley to appear. The producers thought the same way and considered bringing in The King in a cameo role. Originally, the plan was to have Elvis sing “Beauty School Dropout” to the character Frenchy. But the role ended up with Frankie Avalon as Elvis reportedly had no time to participate in the shoot.
Unfortunately, Elvis turned down the role. Even more tragically, on August 16, 1977, the day when the scene “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee” was filmed, Elvis died. According to Randall Kleiser, the director, it was a coincidence that could only be described as “very eerie.”
John On Top
A lot of the film’s cast members have fond memories of the shoot. They particularly enjoyed the experience of filming with John Travolta. However, there were anecdotes that revealed John Travolta liked himself just a tad too much.
It seems Travolta liked milking as much screen time as he could get. Cast and crew members revealed that he got angry when he learned that the final scene of “Sandy” would be an animation. Travolta fought production and insisted that the song had to end with a close-up of his face. In the end, Travolta won.
Grease is now considered a movie that the whole family can enjoy. However, when it was originally released, a lot of the topics and lines in the movie were thought of as vulgar. The stage musical’s first workshop was considered outrageous compared to the movie. Essentially, the film is a much cleaner version, yet producers were shocked that the subjects presented were not censored.
Many thought that the members of the film board were distracted by the movie’s songs and that they did not mind some of the dirty topics and dialogues seen and heard in the movie.
An Infectious Film
The car race scene in Grease is considered one of its most memorable scenes. A lot of people still feel that Kenickie facing off in a Greased Lightning restored vehicle on Thunder Road is an iconic moment in cinematic history.
The heart-stopping race involved cars flying through a vast stretch of water. Despite the picture-perfect shot, the water they had to ride through was actually contaminated and extremely dirty. Consequently, a lot of the cast members who had contact with the water fell ill. Fortunately, they all fully recovered afterwards.
Looking Good For The Screen
By the end of the movie, Olivia Newton-John’s character Sandy had to go through a dramatic change. This was reflected in the costume she was to wear. The metamorphosis highlighted how Sandy became Danny’s dream girl.
Despite Olivia Newton-John looking gorgeous in tight leather pants, a sexy top, and red lipstick, she revealed that dancing and singing in that costume was a pain – literally. According to the actress, the pants were so tight she had to be sewn into them.
Young At Heart
Those who did not watch Grease when it first came out might find this detail a bit unnerving. Meanwhile, those who did watch Grease when they were young might have realized an odd thing about its characters.
All the actors in the movie are in their late 20s and early 30s, despite the fact that they were all supposed to be playing teenagers. Actress Stockard Channing was the oldest at the time of the movie’s shoot as she was 33. Meanwhile, Dinah Manoff was only 19, making her the only one to literally still be a teenager.
Princess Leia As Sandy
Grease came out in 1978. A year prior, when they were getting set to film Grease, a sci-fi movie was also released, and it became a box office hit. One of the stars of that movie was Carrie Fisher. After her popular role made her a breakout star, she was considered for the role of Sandy.
In the end, the producers of Grease came to the decision that Olivia Newton-John’s vocal strength made her the best fit for the character.
Making Sure The Shoe Fits
When Olivia Newton-John was finally offered the role, she was not sure if she would be the right actor to play Sandy. For the sake of the movie, she had to be able to convince herself she was ideal for the part.
Olivia was primarily worried about how she would look as a high schooler considering she was already 28 years old at the time of the movie’s shoot. She decided to go through a screen test. The result pleased her, the footage revealed she could pass for a high school student, and the rest was history.
Respect To The King
As we just learned, Elvis Presley was considered for a cameo in Grease but was unable to take part. Since they had such respect for him, the movie’s producers decided to include Elvis in some form. The image you see below was their homage to the King of Rock and Roll.
Though Elvis was not physically in the movie, he was there in spirit. The film was able to insert the line, “Elvis, Elvis, let me be!” in the song “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee.” The character Rizzo was also seen with a picture of Elvis on the wall behind her.
The way the characters are seen in the movie was designed by the film’s makeup department. They worked long and hard to make the cast appear younger than they were. For a scene that required Stockard Channing’s character Rizzo to be seen in school sporting a hickey, the makeup team came prepared.
However, they were a bit surprised to learn that the job had already been done. Actor Jeff Conaway played Rizzo’s on-again and off-again boyfriend, Kenickie. True to his character, he decided to give Rizzo a real hickey. Fortunately, actress Stockard Channing didn’t mind.
From Oz With Love
The original stage production of Grease featured the character of Sandy as America’s sweetheart. Her last name in the stage production was Dumbrowski. However, when Olivia Newton-John was given the role, the production decided to change the details of her character.
The movie allowed Newton-John to retain her Australian accent. They also changed Sandy’s last name to Olsson to make it sound “international.” Fortunately, audiences were not at all bothered by the change. Sandy was welcomed with open arms by the entire world.
Lucy Didn’t Love Grease
There was another actress with a famous mother who was considered for a role in Grease. The film’s casting director thought that Lucie Arnaz – the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the power couple behind the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy – would be perfect in Grease.
Alas, despite Lucie Arnaz being a great singer and dancer who inherited the talent shared by her parents, Lucille Ball didn’t allow her to participate in the movie. She had to turn down the role.
Who Is The Best Danny?
Most of the world knows there is only one actor who is the perfect Danny Zuko – John Travolta. However, Travolta did not play that role in the Broadway production. Funnily enough, Heff Conaway – who played Kenickie in the film – was an understudy for the Danny role in the Broadway production. Conaway eventually took over as Danny.
Travolta was actually considered as a replacement actor for the Doody role. Other celebrities who appeared in the Broadway production of Grease later became celebrities as well. Some notable names include Richard Gere and Patrick Swayze.
Since Grease was adapted from a stage production, there were a lot of songs that had to be left on the cutting room floor. Fans of the original Broadway show saw a lot of the songs removed and new ones added to fit the dynamic between Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.
The recent revival of Grease on Broadway incorporated songs from the movie while also including songs from the original stage musical. So, if you’ve only ever seen the movie, the stage production will be an all-new experience for you.
One scene in the movie required the characters Kenickie Murdoch and Danny Zuko to hug each other. But the actors playing them, Jeff Conaway and John Travolta, disagreed with the script. They believed such a greeting was not realistic for their characters.
In the film’s final cut, the two ended up having to do an awkward half hug and half handshake. Though bizarre, the actors decided that such behavior fit the personalities of the characters they were portraying.
Eagle-eyed fans of Grease noticed the blurry images in the background of certain scenes. These blurred pictures were actually due to an agreement the producers of the movie had with the Coca-Cola company.
The agreement involved a product placement deal. However, after the scenes with the Coca-Cola brand were filmed, the agreement fell through. Due to the amount of footage already captured, the production had no choice but to blur the images. We wonder why Coca-Cola pulled the plug on the campaign.
Everyone’s Roles Received The Proper Credit
Serious fans of Grease may be aware of the credits at the end of the film. Usually, actors in nameless parts are credited as “man on the bench,” “waiter,” or “cashier.” But Grease decided to do it differently.
If you watch the end credits, you will see characters named Bubba, Moose, Bart, and more. Every character got their own name, no matter how small the role was. We bet that made the actors who played those parts feel respected and appreciated.
The Three Greasers
Danny Zuko’s gang were named Kenickie, Sonny, Doody, and Putzie. This crew called themselves the T-birds. While Danny and Kenickie were rather serious, the other three were always getting involved in silly antics and goofy behavior. If all of this sound familiar, it’s because the production based them on a very popular group.
The movie’s director and writers based them on The Three Stooges. Barry Pearl, Michael Tucci, and Kelly Ward were given creative instructions to pay homage to the slapstick gods of comedy.
A Breezy Finale
The last musical number in Grease is loved by both fans and non-fans alike. The song “You’re The One That I Want” is filled with catchy lyrics and memorably cool dance moves. It is impossible not to think of this scene when talking about Grease.
The choreographed moves and the number of performers involved made this scene appear complicated to set up and shoot. However, filming this scene was actually a breeze. In reality, this part of the movie only took an afternoon to shoot.
James Dean Tribute
A lot of fans remember the start of the movie as an homage to a Hollywood legend. The scene showed Danny Zuko as a love-struck teenager enjoying a sweet romantic time with a girl named Sandy Olsson. Though he is trying hard not to show it, the affection he has for Sandy is real.
Also, notice the clothes Danny is wearing. He seems to be wearing clothes that are completely uncharacteristic for Danny. The blue shirt he is sporting is actually a tribute to 50s actor James Dean.
Jeff Conaway is the actor who played the role of Kenickie Murdoch. Sadly, he went on to struggle with an addiction to prescription medication. His misuse was caused by an injury he sustained when filming a dance sequence on Grease. According to Conway, the back pain he sustained started his bad prescription pill habits.
It was during the 80s when he realized he had to solve his addiction, so he checked himself into a rehabilitation facility. Tragically, Conaway continued to face a complicated battle until his death in 2011.
Cha Cha’s ER Visit
The actress who played the role of Cha Cha was Annette Charles. In the movie, she portrayed a girl on the other side of the tracks. Cha Cha was also rumored to be the ex of Danny Zuko. In the movie, most of the characters didn’t like Cha Cha, including The Pink Ladies and quite a few of the students from Russell High.
Though Charles played her role perfectly, she was actually dealing with a medical issue. During filming, she had to go to the emergency room. The doctors diagnosed her with an ectopic pregnancy – a condition that can be fatal.
The Fonz As Danny
Actor Henry Winkler was popular for playing The Fonz character for eleven seasons of Happy Days. From the years 1974 to 1984, Henry Winkler was known as Fonzie – everyone’s favorite bad boy. His Fonz character’s similarity with the T-bird members made the producers of Grease consider him for the role of Danny.
Winkler decided to turn down the offer as he didn’t want to be typecast in the same type of roles for the rest of his professional acting career.
Height Is Might
A person’s height can have a surprising impact on how they are perceived. Usually, a tall guy is more favorably perceived compared to someone with a shorter height. This is the reason the Grease producers gave a rather strange instruction to Jeff Conaway.
Conaway was two inches taller than John Travolta. To make it appear that Travolta’s character was the tallest guy around, Conaway was instructed to slouch when he appeared in the same frame as Travolta. Do you think height is really that important?
Hot Dance Scene
It is easy for anyone to see how much chemistry the cast of Grease had with each other. In fact, the scene where everyone was dancing in Rydell High was so hot that the temperature on set literally jumped to 116 degrees.
Apparently, having so many cast members, extras, and crew members in the confined space of the set caused many to experience heat exhaustion as well as dehydration. The heat got so intense that a few members felt physically sick and had to receive immediate medical attention.
Almost Without Hope
The song “Hopelessly Devoted To You” almost didn’t make it into the movie. Now considered a classic, Olivia Newton-John’s rendition was such an emotionally potent song that it was actually nominated for an Oscar.
Fortunately, someone from the production fought to have the song included in the movie. Can you imagine how the film would have played out without this ballad? We don’t know who that hero was who fought for the song to be included, but we’re glad they did!
A Pleasing Distraction
One of the reasons the movie Grease was able to get away with its suggestive song lyrics, vulgar vocabulary, and inappropriate costumes is due to the era the movie came out. The 1970s was a different time that allowed creators a lot of creative freedom.
According to the producers, the audience was so taken by the movie’s music and rhythms that they were able to forgive any inappropriate scenes the movie showed. We’re glad no one tried to interfere with the creative freedom of the Grease producers.
The Hard Hand Jive
A lot of people found it necessary to learn the movie’s famous “Hand Jive.” It may have taken you a mere hour or two to get all the steps right. However, if it took you longer, don’t worry! The steps are not as easy as they look. The cast of Grease took a long time to master the steps.
The stars reportedly took a week to learn the entire dance. Who would have thought? When you watch the scene, it looks like they were having a fun and easy time dancing. However, expert coordination was necessary to make the entire scene picture-perfect.
Real Life Crush
It is inevitable for a group of actors who are spending a few months together to get close during filming. Relationships are bound to be formed behind the scenes. One of the more surprising connections to come out of this film was between Jeff Conaway and Olivia Newton-John.
Though a lot of people thought that Danny Zuko and Sandy were perfect for each other, it was actually Kenickie who wanted to be with the actress playing Sandy – Olivia Newton-John. Conaway had a serious crush on Olivia. However, Newton-John didn’t feel the same way. In fact, she set up Conaway with her sister, Rona. Rona and Conaway eventually got married in 1980. Their relationship lasted for five years.
Bad Hair Dye
One of the issues the movie’s production team had to resolve was making the cast look a lot younger than they really were. Grease was supposed to be about high school teenagers during the 1950s. Considering that John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, and most of the cast were in their 20s and 30s, the makeup team had their work cut out for them.
An additional problem was the cast’s hair. Jamie Donnelly was already in her 30s during production. Her hair was always showing grays, despite being dyed black. The crew had no choice but to dye her hair multiple times throughout the duration of the film.
While song lyrics are difficult to remember, lines of dialogue can also be tricky. It is easy for actors to get confused and tongue-tied with all the dialogue they have to remember during a scene. Though he was already a seasoned actor at the time, John Travolta still had trouble with some of the dialogue.
He could not get “heat lap trials” correctly and always blurted out “heap lap trails” instead. Though the production corrected him many times, Travolta still messed the lines up. In the end, the crew kept the error in the final cut.
Dina Couldn’t Dance
Fans of the iconic film assume that everyone in the cast could sing and dance well. After all, its popularity stems from having been a much-loved musical with tons of dance and song numbers. As it turns out, one cast member didn’t have a musical bone in her body.
Actress Dina Manoff confessed that she has two left feet and could not bust a move. Fortunately, Grease was able to make movie magic by keeping her character out of scenes where she had to dance. Though she was visible in the dancing contest on prom night in Rydell High, she was sitting and talking to Vince Fontaine.
Andy Warhol Was Almost In The Cast
Grease producer Allen Carr had the idea that artist Andy Warhol would be perfect as an art teacher. But a studio executive who seemed to have an ax to grind with Warhol turned the pitch down. What a ridiculous call to make! Andy Warhol would have been incredible in the film.
Andy Warhol was a popular visual artist, producer, and cultural icon who made the pop art movement famous. He was a leading figure in popular culture during the 1970s.
Grease As An Animation
Would you have watched Grease if it were an animated musical? Grease producers Steve Krantz and Ralph Bakshi held the film’s original rights and wanted to make an animated version of the musical. Fortunately, their plans were thwarted.
When Krantz and Bakshi’s partnership crumbled, it was Robert Stigwood who was able to get a hold of the film rights for Grease. Fortunately, he disagreed with the idea of making the movie an animation. All they kept was the cartoon clip at the start of the movie.
The Movie Title Was Based On 1950s Slang
Many people wonder where the name “Grease” came from. As it turns out, it was based on everything they thought about the 1950s. For them, the decade was about greasy hair, greasy car engines, and greasy food.
The title was their way of paying homage to how things were back then. Despite its greasiness, it was a decade they cherished with nostalgia. They wanted other generations to feel the same way they did about the decade, so they immortalized it in film.
An Adult Film Star Was Almost In The Cast
Producer Allen Carr had a lot of ideas up his sleeve when he was casting actors for the movie Grease. He even considered porn actor Harry Reems to be included in the cast. Carr believed that Reems would make a perfect Coach Calhoun.
However, film executives had to veto the suggestion as they believed it would negatively affect the movie. As a result, the coach role went to Sid Caesar, and the rest was movie history. Rewatch the film, and you’ll realize Caesar was ideal for the role.
All In The Family
John Travolta managed to get his sister, Ellen, a part in the movie. If you pay close attention, you can see her in the diner playing the role of a waitress. She was also given a line in the film. While watching a dance contest on television where the characters of Travolta and Newton-John are dancing, she blurts out, "Oh, there’s Danny and Sandy.”
Ellen is the oldest among the Travolta brood, while John is the baby in the family. It was actually Ellen who first got into acting, but she had to give up her career for 12 years to focus on her family.
Travolta Healed The Director’s Foot
John Travolta has been with the Church of Scientology since the 1970s. He has apparently been using his Scientology doctrine to help heal physical ailments. During filming, Travolta learned that Grease director, Randal Kleiser, was suffering from a foot infection.
Hoping to be able to help, Travolta decided to use Scientology’s ‘touch assist’ to ease the pain. The injury happened while shooting the Thunder Road scene along the Los Angeles River. According to Kleiser, he was better the next day.
The US President’s Son Backed Out Of Grease
Steven, the son of United States president Gerald Ford, was supposed to play Tom Chisum, the jock who briefly dates Sandy. However, he reportedly felt nervous about the part, so he had to back out of the movie.
Fortunately, actor Lorenzo Lamas was available to take on the role. Lamas agreed to lighten his originally dark hair to avoid looking like a T-bird. He was willing to do anything just to be in the movie. According to Lamas, he would even have dyed his hair fuchsia or green.
The Playboy Producer
The producer of Grease – Hollywood big shot Allan Carr – was popular for hosting lavish and flamboyant parties. Known as "Rolodex parties," he’d invite guests with names starting with A-L one night, and M-Z on another night. At times, his parties included champagne and the odd illegal substance.
Carr was a fan of musicals, so when he saw the Tony-nominated Broadway production of Grease, he decided that a movie version would be perfect. Unfortunately, his boss at Paramount dismissed his pitch. Fortunately, Carr managed to get $6 million to make it himself, and the rest is history.