Grease is the movie musical sensation that has been captivating audiences for forty years. Before it was released, however, no one involved in the production could have expected that it would become such a huge hit with a legacy that continues to linger. Grease may have seemed to be the laughing stock of Hollywood while they were filming it, but the actors starring in ithe movie musical were determined to have fun. With an on-set atmosphere that most could only describe as ‘a slumber party’ there are plenty of stories from behind the scenes that are only being revealed in time for the classic film’s 40th birthday.
Struck By Lady Olivia
Grease is a classic film that people from all generations know and love. We all root for Sandy and Danny while singing along to the catchy tunes. But there is plenty that went on behind the scenes of the making of this movie…
When Grease began filming, Olivia Newton-John discovered that her co-star, John Travolta, was completely star-struck in her presence. Luckily he got over it, and the two managed to find a real on screen spark.
Bring In The King
Being that Grease was set in the 1950s, Elvis would have been in his heyday. The producers wanted to bring him in for a cameo as an homage to his early years as the King of Rock.
They had originally planned for Elvis to be the teen angel, who sings “Beauty School Drop Out” to Frenchy. In the end, Elvis couldn’t find the time to get to set and film the song, so the role ended up going to Frankie Avalon.
If you’ve ever watched Grease as an adult, you may notice something a little odd about the ‘high schoolers’ on screen. That’s because most of the actors in the cast were in their late 20s or early 30s at the time of filming.
Stockard Channing was the oldest of the bunch at 33, while only Dinah Manoff was still a teenager at 19. While the actors certainly had aged well, in retrospect, it’s abundantly clear that they’re just a little too old to be sporting lettermans.
Calling For Carrie
Around the same time that casting was in process for Grease, a little sci-fi movie was released that turned out to be a massive hit, featuring the one and only Carrie Fisher.
After her breakout role as Princess Leia, Fisher was one of the leading candidates to play Sandy in the film version of Grease. When push came to shove, however, the producers decided they preferred the vocal stylings of Olivia Newton-John in the leading role. There was only one question, however.
Danny On Top
Though many of his cast members have fond memories of working with John Travolta, some stories from the set suggest he was a little caught up in his own importance.
In one instance of John wanting to milk his screen time, he was allegedly outraged to hear that the end of “Sandy” would be shown in animation. Travolta fought that decision by insisting that the song ended with a close up shot of his face. In the end, Travolta’s vision won.
Squeezing It All In
The end of the film is characterized by Sandy’s dramatic costume change into Danny’s fantasy bad girl. Even forty years later, the tight leather pants, red lipstick, and risqué top are still an iconic look.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the costume designer who sought out the pants, but Olivia who had them languishing in the back of her closet. Even so, Newton-John shared that she was uncomfortable the whole time they filmed the scene, not the least because she was sewn into the pants!
Too Cool For School
When the role of Sandy was offered to Olivia Newton-John, she had few intentions of agreeing to the movie, considering she was already 28 years old.
Newton-John didn’t think anyone would believe that she was a senior in high school, given that she was already ten years removed from her adolescence. Nevertheless, she was convinced to try out a screen test for the role, and in watching back the footage, she decided it wouldn’t be such a stretch after all.
Paying Their Respects
Even though Elvis was originally asked to participate in the movie itself, he passed away while they were still filming. Because of his iconic status during the time period the movie was set, the producers still wanted to include him in some way.
In order to do that, they inserted a line into “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” that went, “Elvis, Elvis, let me be!” At the same time, Rizzo is seen with a picture of Elvis stuck onto the wall behind her.
Leaving His Mark
Most cuts and bruises seen on film are artfully designed by the make up team working on the film. When Rizzo had to show up to school with an unsightly blemish, however, the make up team found their work had already been done for them.
Jeff Conaway, who played Rizzo’s on again, off again boyfriend Kenickie insisted on doing the work himself. Surprisingly, Stockard Channing had no qualms about letting him play the part of a vampire and going to town on her neck.
From America To Oz
In the original stage production of Grease, Sandy was your typical all American girl, complete with the last name Dumbrowski. When they signed Olivia Newton-John on to play the role though, the producers realized they’d have to make some changes.
They decided to let Newton-John keep her sweet Aussie accent, and for good measure, changed the character’s last name to the more international sounding Olsson instead. Audiences weren’t bothered by the change, as they embraced Newton-John as Sandy with open arms.
No Love From Lucy
Carrie Fisher was not the only actress with a famous mother to be considered for the film. The casting director also had a role in mind for Lucie Arnaz, whose parents were the dynamic duo behind the groundbreaking 50s sitcom, I Love Lucy.
Despite the fact that both Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were song and dance people, Ball didn’t want her daughter involved in the film, and decided to turn down the offer on her daughter’s behalf
Playing Musical Chairs
Most audiences tend to think of John Travolta as the ultimate Danny Zuko, but the truth is, that’s not the role he played in the Broadway iteration of the show.
On Broadway, Jeff Conaway, who played Kenickie in the movie was the first understudy for Danny, and eventually took over the role. Travolta, meanwhile, was a replacement actor for the role of Doody. Several other future celebrities who appeared in the production included Patrick Swayze and Richard Gere.
Making Crucial Cuts
Like many movie musicals, Grease was adapted from a stage musical, which entailed that some things would be left on the cutting room floor.
Anyone who saw the original production on Broadway would know that many songs had been left out of the film, while several new ones were written to better highlight Newton-John and Travolta. The most recent Broadway revival incorporated the hit songs from the film, while also preserving many songs that were cut from the movie.
An Awkward Greeting
At one point in the movie, Kenickie Murdoch and Danny Zuko were supposed to embrace one another with a hug. However, actors Jeff Conaway and John Travolta didn’t agree with the script and insisted that this method of greeting was unrealistic for the times.
He just believed it wasn’t fitting of the greasers’ personalities. After debating with the writers about what the characters should do, the crew ended up filming an awkward half-hug/half-handshake. This bizarre encounter made it to the final cut.
You would have to look closely to catch this one, but it’s there. Did you ever pay attention to the blurry background during certain scenes? Before filming, the producers of Grease made a product placement deal with the Coca-Cola company.
After the crew had filmed countless scenes with various Coca-Cola images in the background, the deal fell through. With so much footage already captured, the only option the crew had was to blur out any imagery with the Coca-Cola logo.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
If you’ve ever taken the time to read the credits at the end of a movie, you would see that there are almost always a handful of nameless parts. For example, you’ll usually see credits for roles such as “cashier,” “man sitting on the bench,” or “basketball player.”
In Grease, however, every single actor, singer, and dancer, no matter how small the role, received a named credit. Next time you watch the iconic musical, keep an eye out for characters like Bart, Bubba, or Moose.
Sonny, Doody, and Putzie were three members of Danny Zuko’s crew, the T-Birds. These three greasers were known for their over-the-top silly antics, clumsy natures, and overall goofy personas.
Does that sound familiar? It probably should, because when the writers and directors of Grease thought up these three hooligans, they had the Three Stooges in mind. Michael Tucci, Barry Pearl, and Kelly Ward were reportedly instructed to honor the iconic slapstick trio with their performances in Grease.
An Easy Finale
We all remember the classic finale musical number, “You’re The One That I Want.” The catchy words, upbeat melody, and groovy dance moves were a big reason why the film was so successful.
Considering how complicated the song and dance was, you would probably think that the cast and crew needed to spend weeks rehearsing and coordinating. In reality, filming the famous scene was a breeze for John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The duo finished the musical part in just one afternoon.
Scouring It Clean
Grease might seem like the ultimate family friendly movie today, but when it was first released, many of the topics and dialogue included were considered to be quite vulgar. However, the very first workshop of the stage musical was even more outrageous than what the movie would become.
Though the movie was a cleaner version of the original, the producers were still surprised that the subjects broached weren’t censored by the film boards. They figured they must have been distracted from the content by the music.
Paying Tribute To James Dean
At the beginning of the film, we meet Danny Zuko, a love-struck teen enjoying a summer romance with Sandy Olsson. While he may be hiding some of his true identity, the love and feelings he shares with Sandy are 100% real.
You might have noticed that the clothes Danny wears at the beginning of the movie are very much out of character for bad-boy Zuko. The blue shirt that Travolta wears during these scenes is actually meant to pay tribute to James Dean.
Jeff Conaway, the actor who portrayed Kenickie Murdoch, began to struggle with misuse of prescription medication after hurting his back while filming a dancing scene on the set of Grease.
Conaway claimed that his dance-related injury ultimately served as a catalyst for his bad habits. In the late 1980s, Conaway realized that he needed to sort out some of his problems, so he sought help at a rehabilitation facility. Conaway faced an up-and-down battle until his untimely death in 2011.
Cha Cha’s Visit To The ER
Annette Charles portrayed Cha Cha, a girl from the other side of the tracks rumored to be Danny Zuko’s ex. The Pink Ladies, along with the rest of Rydell High, really didn’t like Cha Cha.
While Charles put up a tough front on camera, the actress was dealing with some serious medical problems behind the scenes. At one point, she left filming to pay a visit to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy, a condition which can be fatal!
Down And Dirty
One of the most iconic scenes in Grease is the climactic car race that sees Kenickie facing off in a restored Greased Lightening on Thunder Road. One of the most notable moments of the heart-stopping race is when the cars fly through a stretch of water.
Unfortunately, the water they drove through was dirty and contaminated, which resulted in most of the cast members who were touched by it becoming extremely ill. Luckily, they all made full recoveries afterwards.
The Fonz Said No
For 11 seasons from 1974 until 1984, Henry Winkler portrayed the bad-boy Fonzie on Happy Days.
Due to the character’s obvious similarities to the gentlemen in the T-Birds, producers immediately called up “the Fonz” when it came time to cast Danny Zuko for the big screen rendition of Grease in 1978. Winkler passed up on the opportunity to play Zuko because he didn’t want to be typecast into a single role for the rest of his acting career.
Big Man On Camera
Whether you realize it or not, a person’s height can have a very powerful influence on the way you view them as a person. In films, producers will often do everything they can to make the protagonist or main character appear taller than he or she is in real life.
That’s why the producers of Grease told Jeff Conaway, who was about two inches taller than John Travolta, to slouch in scenes where the two appeared next to one another.
Sick Of Dancing
Anyone who has seen Grease knows that the film’s stars shared some serious chemistry. During the Rydell High dance scene, things heat up in a completely different way. With so many cast members and extras moving around in such a small area, the set reached 116 degrees.
Whether it would be heat exhaustion or dehydration, something bad was bound to happen. Eventually, the high temperatures were so intense that some extras got sick and needed to seek medical attention!
The Only Hope For An Oscar
Even though it was considered one of the most emotional and powerful songs of the film, Olivia Newton-John’s rendition of “Hopelessly Devoted to You” almost didn’t make the final cut. Can you imagine what Grease would have been without Sandy’s touching ballad?
Luckily, someone spoke up, and the movie’s creators realized how much of a masterpiece the song truly was before it was too late. “Hopelessly Devoted to You” was the only song from Grease that was nominated for an Oscar.
Distracted By Music
The 1970s was a completely different era. While you might watch Grease now and think that the language isn’t all that bad, the producers were really pushing the limits back when the movie was released.
The producers were once asked how they got away with such suggestive song lyrics, inappropriate vocabulary, and immodest costumes. They responded by explaining that the audience was so caught up in the catchy rhythms and melodies that they weren’t paying attention to anything else.
The Hand Jive Was An Ordeal
While you might have learned the moves to the infamous “Hand Jive” in just an hour or two thanks to that Youtube tutorial video, it actually took the stars of Grease quite a while to nail the iconic scene.
We know what you’re thinking: they make it look so simple and fun! Wrong. Because the scene required so much coordination among actors and dancers, it reportedly took a full week to get the shot they were looking for.
When a group of young actors spends months together filming an iconic musical like Grease, things are bound to heat up both in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes.
Even though Danny Zuko and Sandy were meant to be together on screen, Jeff Conaway, who played Kenickie, had a real-life crush on Olivia Newton-John. Newton-John didn’t feel the same way, so she set up Conaway with her sister, Rona Newton-John. Conaway and Rona were married from 1980 until 1985.