Grease was a smash-hit when it was released in theaters in 1978. Fighting against Superman for box office supremacy, the musical starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta came out top! Grossing $188 million, it was the top earner at the box-office by $40 million. Forty-years-old in 2018, the movie is still just as popular as ever. In 2016. FOX paid tribute to it with a live television production. Shortly after, it was revived on stage in Toronto to rave reviews. If you’re as hopelessly devoted to Grease as we are, then you’ll want to know everything that happened behind the scenes!
You won’t believe the torture Olivia-Newton-John went through to fit in her pants!
Henry Winkler Was Offered The Role Of Danny Zuko Before John Travolta
When Grease was beginning to rev its engine, Henry Winkler was offered the lead role of Danny Zuko. Fearing he would be pigeonholed as the “cool rebel” his entire career, he turned it down. Travolta was then offered the career-changing role.
To be fair to Winkler, he had spent the previous four years as the Fonz on Happy Days. Taking on a similar role very well could have made him un-castable in other ones. Or not; John Travolta went on to play every role possible, including the mother in Hairspray!
An Adult Film Star Was Originally Cast As Coach Calhoun
Film producer Allan Carr had some interesting casting ideas he tried to get past Paramount Pictures. One of the more controversial ones was the casting of adult film star Harry Reems as Coach Calhoun. Carr offered Reems the role after a private screening of Casablanca.
When Paramount was made aware of the casting, they immediately had Carr fire Reems, “they thought they might lose some play dates in the South.” Carr was so upset about the decision he ended up writing Reems a $5,000 check to make up for it.
Next, learn what Travolta did to sneak lines into the movie from the original stage play!
Travolta Snuck Lines From The Stage Production Into The Movie
John Travolta had performed in the stage production of Grease hundreds of times before being cast in the film. As a result, when there was a line in the movie that wasn’t working, the actor would suggest a line from the play to replace it.
Most of the time, the director agreed with the line changes Travolta suggested, making the film that much more accurate to the source material. Of course, Travolta never performed in the original 1971 production, which was more profane and vulgar. If he had suggested the “original” lines, the movie just wouldn’t be the same.
The Song That References Elvis Was Filmed On The Same Day He Died
There was a weird feeling in the air on the day the song, “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” was filmed. Sandra Dee sings, “Elvis, Elvis, let me be, keep that pelvis far from me,” while looking at a picture of the music icon. On the same say she sang those words, Elvis Presley died.
Randal Kleiser, the film’s director, said afterward, “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.'”
Coming up, we have the answer to how Olivia Newton-John fit into her form revealing spandex pants!
Olivia Newton-John’s Spandex Pants Had To Be Sewn On Everyday
The finale in Grease is one of the most memorable in film history. The scene sees Sandy come out of her shell and sing a duet in skin-tight black spandex pants. The pants were so tight that Newton-John had to be sewn into them every morning before filming.
The experience was terrible, and probably put the singer/actress off a spandex for life, “I had to be very careful about what I ate and drank. It was excruciating.” Fun fact; it was also 106 degrees on the set during the filming of the scene!
Rizzo’s Hickeys Were 100 Percent Authentic
Jeff Conaway played Rizzo’s boyfriend Kenickie in Greaseand pushed for authenticity in the role. Stockard Channing said after the movie came out, that her famous neck hickeys were real and given to her by Conaway, who insisted on doing them himself.
Perhaps that’s why she threw the milkshake at him in the diner instead of Frenchie like what was written in the script. The scene was shot several times, and each time the milkshake hit Kenickie square in the face, splashing just enough on Frenchie for the line, “sorry, Frenchie” to make sense.
Ahead, do you know which cast member was supposed to sing “Greased Lightning?”
“Greased Lightning” Was Supposed To Be Sung By Jeff Conaway, Not John Travolta
One of John Travolta’s conditions for playing Danny Zuko was that he would get to sing “Greased Lighting” in the movie. The song was supposed to be sung by Jeff Conaway, whose character performs it in the stage production. Travolta refused to do the movie if the song wasn’t given to Zuko.
Oddly enough, Travolta played Kenickie in the stage version, so he was very familiar with the song. We guess he loved it too much to let it go. He also demanded the final shot of the film be a close-up on him. He lost that battle as the movie ends with a shot of a cartoon hot dog diving into a bun.
None Of The Actors Were Young Enough To Be In High School
Greasemight take place at Rydell High School, but that doesn’t mean the producers had to cast teenagers. The youngest featured actor was Lorenzo Lamas, who was 19, and he didn’t have any speaking lines. The next youngest actor was John Travolta, who was 24.
Olivia Newton-John was 29 while Jeff Conaway was 27. The oldest actor portraying a high schooler was Stockard Channing, who was 34 at the time. Because of child labor laws, casting roles above age is common practice in Hollywood, although 34 is stretching it in most cases!
Gerald Ford’s Son Was Supposed To Play Tom Chisum
Producers had high aspirations when they tried to cast President Gerald Ford’s son, Steven, in the role of Tom Chisum. The boyfriend of Sandy, Chisum had zero lines despite being in several scenes. Steven Ford reportedly was too nervous to accept the role, which was then given to Lorenzo Lamas.
The only problem with Lamas was his hair. The character was supposed to have blonde hair, but Lamas had dark hair, which made him look like a T-Bird. Lamas dyed his hair for the role and said, “I would have dyed it green, fuchsia, anything.”
Still ahead, a battle over the opening song got pretty heated. But why?
The Director Hated The Opening Song
Grease opens with an animated number written by Barry Gibb. When Gibb played the song for Randal Kleiser for the first time, he hated it. He thought the song was too dark and didn’t match the tone of the film at all. He even told Gibb to change the lyrics.
Gibb refused to change the song and fired back that Kleiser should shoot a serious scene to match the song. Gibb won the battle and the iconic tune became a number one single in the United States, proving him right.
“Grease” Was Originally Going To Be An Animated Musical
Oh, how things would be different if Greasewas an animated musical like originally intended. When the stage production’s movie rights were bought in 1976, producers planned to have the entire film be animated. When the decision to film it as a live action movie was made, producers still held onto the idea to make a cartoon.
To satisfy themselves, they had the opening sequence, featuring the hit title song, be animated. If you watch the sequence now you can get an idea of what an animated version of Grease might have looked like.
Marie Osmond Turned Down The Role Of Sandy
Before Olivia Newton-John was cast as Sandy a number of actresses turned down the role. One of the biggest actresses at the time to say no was Marie Osmond. Like Henry Winkler she was afraid of how the film would affect her reputation.
Unlike Winkler, the reputation she was trying to protect was the one with her future kids. She, “didn’t want my teenagers 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.”
Sandy Olsson Was Originally Named Sandy Dumbrowski
The character of Sandy Olsson was written as Polish. She originally had the last name Dumbrowski, too. When producers fell in love with Olivia Newton-John, they knew things were going to have to change. Not only was Newton-John Australian, she was a famous Australian.
In order to keep her image in tact, they changed the character to be Australian so Newton-John could keep her accent. They then changed her last name to Olsson, which has since been changed in the stage production to Young; a not-so-subtle reference to the characters initial naivete.
Up next, guess how John Travolta snuck a tribute to James Dean into the film!
John Travolta’s Windbreaker At The Start Of The Film Is A Tribute To James Dean
At the start of the movie, Danny Zuko wears a windbreaker over a white t-shirt. The choice of clothing is a tribute to James Dean, one of Hollywood’s original bad boys. In the film Rebel Without A Cause, Dean wears a red windbreaker over a plain white t-shirt.
More recently, the tribute has been looked at as in poor taste. James Dean, who had a serious need for speed, died in a car accident. Greaseglorifies fast cars and drag racing, even including a three-minute drag race scene between Danny and another character!
The Original Name Of The T-Birds Was The Burger Palace Boys
One major change the film made on its journey to the screen was the that of the Burger Palace Boys. The silly name didn’t really reflect the tough-talking attitudes of the crew, so the writers changed the name to the T-Birds.
After the film became the highest grossing film of 1978, stage productions changed the name of the Burger Palace Boys as well. Of course, we’re not really sure why that was their name in the first place. Maybe it was a profane joke in the 1971 original.
Just ahead, do you know which band was supposed to perform “Greased Lightning?”
The Beach Boys Were The Directors First Choice To Sing “Greased Lightning”
We told you previously that one of John Travolta’s demands for signing onto Grease was that he had to sing “Greased Lightning.” We bet he would have relented if the director’s first choice to sing the song, The Beach Boys, agreed to do it. Sadly, or happily, the band’s cameo didn’t work out and Travolta got his number.
We can’t say for sure if the Beach Boys turned down the cameo or if there was a scheduling conflict. Maybe they just didn’t want to sing another song about a car after the successes of “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “409.”
Elvis Was Almost Cast As Teen Angel
Before he died, Elvis was considered for the cameo of Teen Angel. Who knew he had so many ties to this movie?! Sadly, and for reasons that don’t need to be restated, Elvis wasn’t able to play the part. Instead, producers tapped Frankie Avalon, another music idol.
In 2003, Avalon reprised the role for a series of stage performances. Re-living the past on stage was a thrill for the performer, “I’m there all in white—just like in the movie—and the girls have the same look with their wardrobe and their hair. And the audience just starts to roar. It’s so much fun.”
“Hopelessly Devoted To You” Was Added To The Film After Shooting Wrapped
When the film finished shooting, producers felt there was still one thing missing. That thing, it turned out, was a ballad for Olivia Newton-John. A new song, “Hopelessly Devoted To You” was written and Newton-John was brought back in to perform it.
The last-minute addition paid huge dividends. The song became a hit in the United States, and was nominated for an Academy Award. It has since become one of the defining songs from the movie, which just wouldn’t be the same without it.
Lucie Arnaz Was The First Choice For Rizzo
Lucille Ball’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, was producers’ first choice to play Rizzo in the film. Unfortunately, she was never offered the role. Lucille Ball became outraged when producers wanted Lucie to take a screen test. She was so mad that she refused to let her daughter even be considered for the role.
The one actress who didn’t have to audition was Olivia Newton-John. In a strange turn of events, though, she demanded a screen test before she would accept the role. According to her, she wanted to make sure there was going to be chemistry between John Travolta and herself.
The School Dance Scene Was Anything But Cool
Filming the school dance scene was one of the hardest parts of the shoot. The sequence took weeks to film, and temperatures inside the gym would rise as high as 116 degrees. The working conditions were anything but workable, causing actor Michael Tucci to faint!
Tucci was taken to the emergency room and filming continued. Things didn’t get better, though. Extras constantly had to take breaks because of heat-related illnesses, and God only knows how many shirts Travolta must have sweated through! The hard work paid off after the film debuted and the movie became an instant classic!