The ‘50s-set movie musical Grease theaters in 1978, and it became a blockbuster and an instant classic. As Rizzo might say, “there are worse things you can do” than read an interesting fact or two…about Grease.
Up for Sandy
Up for the role of Sandy: Carrie Fisher from Star Wars, rock star Linda Ronstadt, Susan Dey from The Partridge Family, and Marie Osmond…who almost got the part, but took herself out of the running because she objected to Sandy’s “transformation” into a leather-clad temptress at the end of the film.
In the original Broadway version, Sandy isn’t Australian. That was a change made to make acting easier for Australian Olivia Newton-John, who got the part based on her singing voice.
A brand new song
Also accommodating Newton-John: a brand new song was written just for her. After filming ended and producers started putting the movie together, they thought they needed a huge solo ballad for their female lead. “Hopelessly Devoted to You” was quickly written, and Newton-John filmed singing it. Good move: It earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song and hit #3 on the pop chart.
The role of Danny Zuko was offered to the TV’s hottest actor of the late ‘70s: Henry Winkler, a.k.a. Fonzie on Happy Days. He turned it down out of a fear of typecasting…as Danny and Fonzie were basically identical characters.
Other casting near-misses: Steven Ford—son of President Gerald Ford—got stage fright after being cast as Sandy’s dim-bulb boyfriend Tom; the studio nixed producer Allan Carr’s ideas to cast artist Andy Warhol and adult film star Harry Reems as Rydell High teachers; and “Greased Lightnin’” was almost performed by the Beach Boys (even though Grease takes place a few years before that group got popular).
The big televised dance sequence was filmed at a real school…with no air-conditioning. Temperature in that gym: about 116 degrees.
Well past the teen years
All of the actors who played teenage characters in Grease were well past their teen years in real life. Their ages at the time of filming: Kelly Ward (Putzie) and Dinah Manoff (Marty) were 21; John Travolta (Danny) was 23; Didi Conn (Frenchie) was 26; Jeff Conway (Kenickie) and Barry Pearl (Doody) were 27; Olivia Newton-John (Sandy) was 29; Jamie Donnelly (Jan) was 30; Michael Tucci (Sonny) was 31; and Stockard Channing (Rizzo) was 33.
The Elvis connection
This is spooky: Elvis Presley turned down the role of fantasy advice giver Teen Angel, but his presence loomed large in the ‘50s, so he merits a mention in the film—during “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” Rizzo sarcastically sings “Elvis, Elvis, let me be, keep that pelvis far from me!” In the stage version, that lyric refers to Sal Mineo, but Grease filmmakers changed it on account of the actor’s murder not long before production began. Still, they wound up shooting this scene on August 16, 1977—the day the King passed away.
There’s an official sequel, Grease 2, but that was producers’ second choice at a continuation. Paramount Pictures briefly toyed with a summer school-set sequel called, well, Summer School.