Go Grease Lightning! The Best Facts About The Film
Grease is one of the most famous musicals of the 20th century and literally every person can’t help but belt out the tunes from the iconic movie. From Grease Lightening to Summer Lovin’, Danny and Sandy provided us with a feel good movie that made John Travolta an international superstar and also launched Olivia Newton John’s whole career.
For some 70s nostalgia, you don’t want to miss out on these Grease facts, and when you start reading on, you’ll be screaming tell me more, tell me more!
A smash hit
When Grease was released in 1978, it became the biggest hit at the box office and took the number one spot immediately. Word caught on about the movie, the songs and the feel good factor and people began flocking in their millions to see it.
With just a $6 million budget, it brought in an unprecedented $396 million worldwide, and it’s not surprising to understand why. The film also beat Superman at the box office in 1978, that’s when you know the success was crazy.
The dirty drag race
The drag race scene in the movie between Danny Zuko and Leo is one of the most thrilling scenes in the movie. When Danny takes over as driver from Kenickie, everyone was rooting for the man in the Grease lightning car.
However, it turns out that the water in the old dam was actually contaminated and many of the actors who were soaked from the scene got extremely sick from the exposure. That would never happen today, it’s a huge health and safety lawsuit waiting to happen.
Not so All-American girl
When the role of Sandy was being cast, producers had envisioned her as an all-American girl with the surname Dumbrowski. However, this all changed when casting directors fell in love with Olivia Newton-John and changed her to being an Australian import at Rydell High School in order to accommodate her native Aussie accent.
They also changed her surname to Olsson, but it changed once again for Broadway shows who called her Sandy Young. In the end, she would probably become Sandy Zuko anyway!
Kenickie changed roles
Due to Grease being a Broadway production before it was turned into a film adaptation, Jeff Conaway was cast as the role of Danny Zuko in the musical before he was even considered to star in the film.
However, when it came to the casting call, everyone decided that he was better off playing the role of Zuko’s best friend Kenickie, rather than playing the leading man. We can’t imagine anyone but John Travolta playing Danny Zuko in the end, so it was probably for the best.
Zuko loved James Dean
You may not have noticed that at the beginning of the movie, Danny Zuko is wearing a windbreaker over his classic white t-shirt. This is no coincidence and the outfit was actually paying homage to the late actor James Dean.
In his famous movie Rebel Without A Cause, Dean is seen wearing a windbreaker, so this is where the tribute came from in Grease. Ironically, Grease also contains a drag race and tragically, James Dean ended up dying from his love of fast driving.
Theater to movie
When it came to transforming the stage musical into a movie, producers knew they had to change a few things to make it special and have millions flocking to the movies to watch it.
While plenty of the original musical remained, the songs Grease, You’re The One That I Want, Sandy and Hopelessly Devoted To You were all added into the song line up. The addition made the movie so much better and let the theater to follow suit in adding the songs into the stage production.
Almost not the T-birds
When producers were thinking of names to call Danny Zuko’s group of friends, it took a while to come up with the name as we know them today, the T-birds. Not only was the name emblazed on their matching leather jackets, but it was what Rydell High knew them as. One of the names that were suggested prior to this was The Burger Palace Boys.
The name was paying homage to the place they hung out at the most. However, it sounds a bit silly when you think about it and T-birds has a much better ring to it.
Gum for everyone
You may not have noticed it before, but in every scene of the movie, someone is always chewing gum. Mostly, it was the Pink Ladies chewing, but at some point in the film, everyone is seen doing it.
From this, it was claimed that over 100,000 pieces of chewing gum were chewed during production. That seems like a huge amount and they needed the demand in gum to keep up with it. If the cast weren’t addicted to chewing gum before the shoot, they sure were after.
The critics hated it
Grease has become an iconic movie that people of all ages and born in all decades seem to really enjoy. However, when the film came out in the 70s, the critics initially panned it.
The New Yorker referred to the film as a “Klutzburger” followed by The Today Show deeming it “visual junk food”. Well, it seems that everyone else had the last laugh as it became one of the greatest musicals to film adaptations of all time.
Travolta had his struggles
Actors have to start somewhere and breaking into the movie business is something that a very small percentage of people manage to do. Before Travolta saw international fame through Grease, he had released a few songs in the 60’s and 70’s including the hit “Let Her In” in 1976.
However, prior to this, Travolta was just like any other struggling star and actress Didi Conn who played Frenchy admitted they first met at the unemployment office in LA. John apparently used to flirt with other women in line.
Grease was such an overriding success that beat out all its competition, but that’s not all. It was actually the highest grossing movie of the 20th century and stayed at the top spot for almost 30 years had it not been for Mamma Mia.
When the musical came out in 2008, it knocked Grease out of that spot, but if it hadn’t, Grease would still be the highest grossing musical movie of all time. Nonetheless, it still had an incredibly impressive run.
Just like Rydell High
When Grease was being filmed, Didi Conn admitted that the cast became family and their relationships with each other were not so different than they were on-screen.
This was even true with Susan Buckner who played Patty Simcox. Just like her character in the movie, Susan was excluded from many of the casts activities and they would often wind her up, just like they did on screen. Hopefully they eventually felt bad about the situation and apologized to her.
You’re the one I don’t want
There is no denying that one of the best and most-loved songs of the entire musical is You’re The One That I Want. It is the perfect finale song, brings the whole movie and all of the cast together, but one person who was not on board with it was the director, Randal Kleiser.
Randal thought that the song sounded awful and hated it in the movie. If he had his say, he would have left it out altogether. We can’t even imagine what the movie would be like without that iconic single.
There is a scene in Grease where Rizzo is furious with Kenickie and her anger makes her throw a milkshake in his face. However, the run up to that fiery moment wasn’t exactly explained and there is a reason for this.
Initially, they shot an argument between the two, but when it came to editing, it was decided that it was too violent and dark for the light-hearted nature of the film and they decided to cut it out.
Not far from the truth
In the scene where Rizzo throws the milkshake at Kenickie, it was supposed to accidentally hit Frenchy, hence the line “sorry French”, but Rizzo was actually furious with Kenickie in real life so decided to drench him in the shake.
It turns out that Rizzo’s hickeys were actually real and they did in fact come from Kenickie during the shoot. Stockard Channing couldn’t help herself but drench him with the strawberry milkshake and they had to go with it.
Zuko wasn’t supposed to sing Grease Lightning
The scene where Kenickie and the boys are pimping out their car while singing Grease Lightening were not supposed to include Danny Zuko. The song is about cruising in the car and picking up chicks, which wasn’t exactly relevant for Danny who pining for Sandy at the time.
However, producers felt they couldn’t not include John Travolta in the scene and his status was too great to be left out. It became one of his most iconic career moments.
Bringing in The Beach Boys
Danny Zuko got to sing lead vocals on Grease Lightening, beating out Kenickie and the other boys, but initially, the director didn’t want any of them to sing it and wanted to bring in some professionals externally. Randal had envisioned The Beach Boys to sing Grease Lightening, but they weren’t available to take the gig.
The outcome was great for everyone in the end, except for maybe The Beach Boys, who could have got a number one smash hit single for this memorable song.
The filming of Grease had wrapped and it was going into editing when producers decided that something was missing. They realized that the movie needed a heartfelt ballad that came from leading lady Sandy, so they called back Olivia Newton-John to belt out Hopelessly Devoted To You.
The last minute decision paid off and it ended up getting Grease an Oscar nomination. The song also became one of Olivia’s classics and the movie simply would not have been complete without it.
Kenickie and Sandy
In Grease, Kenickie and Rizzo had a rocky relationship but in the end, they ended up together. However, in real life, it turned out at Jeff Conaway was crushing big time on leading lady Olivia Newton-John.
It was even reported that on set, Jeff couldn’t speak in Olivia’s presence because he was so infatuated by her. Even though Jeff didn’t get his chance with Olivia, he went onto marry her sister Rona, so it all came full circle in the end and he married one of the Newton-Johns!
When Grease was being adapted into a movie, none other than the king, Elvis Presley was offered a role in the film but he ended up turning it down. And what a mistake that turned out to be!
But that didn’t stop production from still including Elvis in the movie and in the song “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” Rizzo sings to an image of Elvis while singing the lyrics “Elvis, Elvis, let me be, keep that pelvis far from me.” In an unbelievable coincidence, Elvis passed away on the day that scene was shot.
One of the biggest scenes of the whole movie was the school dance at Rydell High. Despite it being one of the best scenes in the film, it was one of the hardest to shoot for both the cast and crew.
This one scene took weeks to film and was shot in a gym with no windows and the temperatures rose to around 100 degrees. It was so hot that actor Michael Tucci fainted and had to be taken to hospital. Many of the extras had to stop shooting due to overheating and dehydration. This would never be allowed in a movie shot today.
Danny convinced Sandy
Despite Grease being one of the most successful musical films, it took quite a lot of convincing to get Olivia Newton-John to take on the role of Sandy. In fact, John Travolta turned up at her house to try and get her to take the role.
When he turned up, he was unexpectedly starstruck by the Australian actress and to make him sound even less cool, he was fascinated by the fact that she had a swimming pool in her backyard. Looking back, Travolta must laugh at the thought considering he has a personal airport and private planes in his backyard!
Marty can’t dance
The dance scene was the biggest in the whole Grease movie, but it turned out that the whole cast couldn’t bust a move. Dinah Manoff played the role of Marty who was in the Pink Ladies, but she took a backseat in the dance numbers as she really could not dance.
In these scenes, she is seen sitting down or flirting up a storm with Vince Fontaine at the Rydell Prom and just looking pretty in the background.
Time crunch carnival
Instead of hiring all of the rides in the ‘You’re The One That I Wan’t’ scenes, they were actually part of a traveling carnival. However, the carnival was only in town for one day and production took a huge risk and filming there as they had to get all of the scenes just right with very little room for mistakes.
When the scenes at the carnival were wrapped, they didn’t have access to it again so anything that needed to be re-shot in post-production was re-created to do the close up shots.
John Travolta vs Hotdog
In John Travolta’s solo number “Sandy” the actor was said to be unhappy with the decision to finish it with a cartoon hotdog jumping into a bun. The director Robert Kleiser divulged that Travota wanted the scene to end with a close up on him, adding ““But that hot dog was fantastic.
I didn’t want to shoot the close-up because I loved the hot dog. That was a battle, but I won.” We can only imagine John Travolta was furious that a hot dog won the close up over him.
Cha Cha’s commitment
John Travolta’s dance partner at the Rydell Prom, Cha Cha, is played by actress Annette Charles. When she was due to film the drag race scene, she was in the hospital undergoing tests for unexplained pains in her stomach.
Charles ended up checking herself out of hospital to go and film the scene but that night she was rushed back into the emergency room. It turns out that she was having an ectopic pregnancy and she had to be operated on! Talk about a commitment to the film.
Eugene was vomiting
Eddie Deezen played Eugene who was constantly made fun of by The T Birds. In the final carnival scene, Eugene was seen enjoying himself riding on the carnival rides and even throwing a pie at Coach Calhoun’s face, something Danny Zuko couldn’t do.
However, when the scenes were finished, Eugene had ridden on the spinning ride for so long that he got sick straight after the shoot and threw up in the middle of the carnival. At least it wasn’t on camera!
Blurring out coke
When Grease was being filmed, producers were banking on a product placement deal with Coca Cola coming through. However, negotiations failed and the deal never came to fruition and this proved a big problem in post-production. There were several scenes shot with Coca-Cola products in the background, on signs and in cans at the Frosty Palace.
All of these images had to be digitally removed or blurred out on-screen as Coca-Cola didn’t pay for anything to be shown. Looking back, they probably wished they signed a deal with one of the biggest musicals of all time.
Sandy’s tight pants
Sandy’s lycra pants in the “You’re The One That I Want” scene actually belonged to Olivia Newton-John. The pants were 25 years old and Olivia dug them out of her closet but when it came to putting them on, the zipper broke and she had to be tightly sewn into them last minute.
This outfit became one of the most famous of the whole movie and has been used as Halloween costumes decades after the film came out.
Banking on success
The unprecedented success of Grease had every studio jealous of the massive revenue numbers that came rolling in. As a result, Paramount wanted to capitalize upon the success so they immediately commissioned Grease 2 and then had ideas for a Grease franchise.
However, all plans were put on hold when Grease 2 was a flop and they realized they couldn’t recreate the magic that the original Grease had. Grease made a total of $396 million and their budget was a mere $6 million so it was a huge success that couldn’t be replicated.
People can find inspiration in the strangest of places and this is exactly what happened when the writers of Grease came up with the song “Beauty School Dropout”. One of the writers had seen a news story about a teenage murderer who had recently dropped out of beauty school and their life took a completely different turn.
While a murder story doesn’t exactly fit in with the light-hearted and fun story line of Grease, the song became a hit and one of the favorites on the official soundtrack.
Acting like real high schoolers
When it comes to shooting movies, there is a timing schedule that needs to be stuck to as going overtime can incur major costs in production. But the cast did not take call times seriously and Susan Buckner, who played Patty Simcox, revealed that “”We were so bad, almost everybody would come in two, three hours late.
They had to bring us all in and give us a lecture.” The cast must have thought they were really back in high school when filming scenes at Rydell High!
The real Rydell
Much of Grease was set in Rydell High, but it turns out that there were multiple locations that were used to depict Rydell High School. It was shot at three different high schools in Los Angeles and the exterior was shot at Venice High School while the interior was shot at Huntington Park High School.
Finally, the track and field scenes were shot at John Marshall High School. In reality, a place called Rydell High School doesn’t exist and it was purely made up for the movie.
Sandy wasn’t supposed to dance
The Rydell High dance was one of the biggest scenes of the whole movie and was by far the longest and most tiring to shoot. It was the first time in the movie that we saw Danny and Sandy together in front of his friends, but initially, Sandy wasn’t even supposed to dance with Danny in these scenes.
It was originally written that Sandy would be devastated on the sidelines while Danny took center stage with ex-girlfriend Cha Cha. Eventually, writers decided to have Danny and Sandy dance together.
It was supposed to be an animation
We can’t even imagine what Grease would be like without John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, but it turns out that the film was intended to be an animated movie.
In order to pay homage to some of the original concept, the opening credits were kept as an animation and then it transformed into a live movie with real actors. Lucky they changed it as it probably wouldn’t have seen a fraction of the success as the movie we know it to be today.
It could’ve been Carrie
There is no denying that Olivia Newton-John was the perfect actress to play Sandy, but it turns out that she wasn’t the first choice for the role. Grease’s director Randal Kleiser had his eye on none other than Star Wars’ Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher.
Randal actually shared a room at college with George Lucas and after he saw Carrie film a battle scene in the hugely successful franchise, he wanted to cast her as Sandy. In the end, the role went to Olivia and it proved to be a match made in heaven.
An alternative story line
With everything that is popular, there are always conspiracy theorists who claim there is a completely different story from what appears and Grease was no exception to this.
Decades after the movie came out, theorists claimed that Sandy had actually drowned at the beach over the summer and the rest of the film was a near-death hallucination. They went on to claim that in the end scene of the car flying away with Danny was actually Sandy’s ascent to heaven and the end of her life.
The ending was a spoof
In the end of Grease, Sandy gives up her good girl images and transforms into a bad girl to conform to that of the T-birds and Pink Ladies. Grease creator, Jim Casey claimed that this premise was actually supposed to be spoofing other movies.
In many other films, the rebel character usually ends up giving up their bad boy or girl phase and turns good. However, Grease creators thought it would be fun to turn this around and have good girl Sandy turn bad.
Turning back time
Grease was about a bunch of highschool seniors, and even though it was very obvious that Danny and Sandy and the rest of their friends were well past 18-years-old, they managed to pull it off, but that wasn’t the case for everyone.
Jamie Donnelly played the role of Jan and she was way past 18 to the point her gray hair had to be dyed black for production. This also meant that she needed constant top ups throughout the film shoot to make it look authentic.
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