20 Facts about 'Saturday Night Fever' Classic Even Fans Might Not Know
John Badham's 1977 musical, "Saturday Night Fever" brought fame to John Travolta and the Bee Gees but it also breathed new life into the disco genre. The blockbuster film has since become a classic that will get the feet moving, even decades after its release.
Even though John Travolta, "Saturday Night Fever," and the genre of disco will always share memorable ties, the following are 20 lesser-known facts about the epic film.
1. SEMI-FICTIONAL BEGINNINGS
Nik Cohn, a British journalist wrote an article about the new generation of urban teenagers in Bay Ridge, which got published in New York Magazine in June 1976.
The journalist focused his writings around "the very best dancer," Vincent, but later confessed that only the styles and attitudes he described were factual while he made up the character Vincent.
John Travolta's character, Tony Manero came from Nik's fictional urban teenager, Vincent, while the name of his article, "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" got adapted to "Saturday Night Fever" for the film.
2. THE BEE GEES BECAME A PART OF THE FILM AT THE END
Producer Robert Stigwood approached the Bee Gees to write songs for the movie after its filming had already taken place.
At the time, the Bee Gees had achieved some music success and worked on producing their next album. Not about to let the opportunity pass them by, the brothers wrote a few songs during a weekend and tweaked songs they already started working on, including "Stayin' Alive."
While John Travolta struts in perfect sync to the film's signature Bee Gees song, the actors practiced their dance scenes during filming to music from Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs.
3. THE RECORD-BREAKING SOUNDTRACK
For fifteen years, the film's soundtrack stayed the top-selling soundtrack of all time, before "The Bodyguard" surpassed its sales of over 15 million copies in the US alone.
The soundtrack also made waves at the Grammy's when it became the only disco record to date, to have won Album of the Year, and one of three soundtracks to have won in that category.
Billboard charts reflected the soundtrack's popularity and stayed at No. 1 for the first 6 months of 1978, after that it lingered on the charts until March 1980.
Cover of the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack album. | Source: Giphy.
4. THE FILM HAS TWO RATED VERSIONS
The film, theoretically speaking, appeals most to teenagers around the same age as the characters, but due to its R rating, it became inaccessible to them.
This led to the film's re-release in a PG version in March 1979, with all the R-rated bits either deleted or downplayed. This version earned the film another $8.9 million in sales and brought the total in the US to $94.2 million.
5. THE 'ROCKY' CONNECTIONS
John G. Avildsen directed the film "Rocky" but replaced by John Badham as director of "Saturday Night Fever" a few weeks before they started filming.
During the film, a "Rocky" poster is seen on Tony's bedroom wall while the musical film's sequel, "Staying Alive" had the real-life "Rocky" star, Sylvester Stallone as its director.
6. JOHN TRAVOLTA'S FAME MADE FILMING DIFFICULT
By the time John Travolta landed the role in the epic musical, he already had a following of squealing teenage girls. His role as a delinquent teenager in the sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter," made John a teen heartthrob, so when they shot scenes for the movie on the streets of Brooklyn, thousands of fans would swarm to their location.
7. THE REAL SHOCK OF WHITE CASTE EMPLOYEES
At one point in the film, Tony, his friends, and Stephanie are eating at White Castle and Joey causes the staff to react in shock when he jumps onto the table before barking.
However, the staff's reaction came in response to another matter entirely. While filming, the actor Paul Pape pulled down his trousers and mooned White Castle staff.
8. THE SERENDIPITOUS CASTING OF STEPHANIE
Producer Robert Stigwood auditioned hundreds of women for the role of Stephanie, but no one fit the part until Karen Lynn Gorney unbeknown shared a cab with Robert's nephew.
The two started discussing the film and the nephew ended up submitting Karen as a candidate, as soon as Robert saw her, he knew he found Stephanie.
9. JOHN TRAVOLTA'S LOSS DURING FILMING
John started dating Diana Hyland six months before "Saturday Night Fever," despite their eighteen-year age difference after they starred together in the television movie "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble."
During filming, Diana passed away from breast cancer, and while John could leave the set to be with before she died, he had to return to complete filming.
10. THE 'TANGO HUSTLE' IS MADE UP
During one of the rehearsal scenes, Stephanie and Tony do the "tango hustle," which the pair actually invented themselves because miscommunication had the choreographer not show up on set that day.
11. TONY'S CHEAP SUIT BECAME EXPENSIVE
John got taken to a cheap men's clothing store in Brooklyn where three identical suits bought off the rack became his famed dancing attire.
After filming, two suits vanished while film critic Gene Siskel bought the third at a charity auction in 1979 and paid about $2000. In 1995, Gene sold the suit through Christie's auction house to an anonymous bidder for $145,500.
12. WHITE IS NOT THE SUIT'S ORIGINAL COLOR
Originally supposed to flash his moves in a black suit, John's suit color got changed to white because the costume designer said it would photograph easier against the darkness of the disco hall and would reflect the character's path to enlightenment.
13. JOHN TRAVOLTA HAD TO GET INTO SHAPE FOR THE FILM
With the role of Tony being physically demanding and having to look the part, John danced and ran every day to get into shape.
14. THE FAMOUS UNSCRIPTED LINE
Tony responded with irritation towards Manero's dad when he got smacked after spending a long time fixing his hair and said, "Watch the hair!" The line wasn't scripted and just came as a reaction, which stayed in the film.
John Travolta getting ready for dance action in "Saturday Night Fever." | Source: Getty Images.
15. DONNA PESCOW AND THE BRIDGE
A specific scene had the guys jumping off the bridge. However, hidden a few feet beneath was a hidden platform. Donna didn't know about the hidden platform, so her look of fear during the scene is just as real as her reaction after finding out.
16. FILMING LOCATIONS
Locations used for the filming of the movie include White Castle restaurant formerly at 4th Avenue and 92nd Street, a Grand Union supermarket on 5th Avenue now occupied by Staples, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
17. NOT ALL THE SONGS ON THE SOUNDTRACK FEATURED IN THE FILM
The Bee Gees song, "Jive Talkin" is the 12th song on the soundtrack and the scene wherein it featured, got cut from the film.
18. DONNA HAD TO DULL IT DOWN
Donna had to tone down her pretty looks to better fit her character. She put on 40 pounds and re-enlisted her Brooklyn accent for the duration of the film and went back to her normal weight and accent afterward.
19. A SONG HAD TO BE REPLACED AT THE LAST MINUTE
During one of Stephanie and Tony's rehearsal scenes, Badham used the song "Lowdown" by Boz Scaggs, however, after shooting the scene, Boz Scaggs decided to use the song for one of their projects and retracted Badham's rights to use it.
John Travolta performing a dance in the film "Saturday Night Fever." Source: Giphy.
Stuck with having to find a song that matches the tempo and fit the choreography on short notice, composer David Shire saved the day and wrote instrumental music that ticked all the boxes.
20. DISCO HAD A LONGER LIFESPAN DUE TO THE FILM
All things disco reached the height of its popularity during the early 1970s. When "Saturday Night Fever" came out at the end of 1977, the trend still lingered, but the film's soundtrack brought it back and into the mainstream with full force.
Relatedly, John Travolta followed up on his success in the film by starring alongside Olivia Newton-John in "Grease" which came out in 1978.
The cult classic may have earned almost $400 million worldwide, but from that also stemmed a priceless friendship between John and Olivia that has lasted for more than four decades.