'Grease' Movie Facts That Fans Might Not Know Including How Old the Cast Really Was as They Played High Schoolers
More than 40 years since the movie musical proved that the genre was more than alive, there are many things about the making of this Hollywood classic that not many people know about.
In 1978, the film adaptation of the popular Broadway musical “Grease” created a revolution in the history of movie musicals and took the era’s obsession with the 50s to an entirely new level, growing into a contemporary legend.
If you thought you knew all there is to know about one of the most influential movie musicals of all time, take a look at these little-known facts about the fan-favorite film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
AN ANIMATED FILM
Even though the stage production of “Grease” was a hit on Broadway from the start, Hollywood studios weren’t sure about turning in into a movie musical, a genre that was considered to be outdated at the time.
In order to be able to sell the musical for a film adaptation, the creators of the show used all their creativity to bring about a concept interesting enough for a production company to pick up the project, eventually coming up with the idea of making an animated feature.
There were even talks with famed animation director Ralph Bakshi to sell the film rights to him, but it didn’t materialize in the end. Nevertheless, something of the original idea survived in the form of the film’s animated intro, created by John D. Wilson.
A HIT SONG PAVED THE WAY FOR THE FILM
The track “You’re the One That I Want” was one of the most iconic songs to come out of the big-screen adaptation of “Grease,” and like many of the songs from the movie, it wasn’t part of the stage play.
The film’s production thought about introducing new songs to the movie early in the development of the project, as a way to bring something fresh to the table to keep things interesting for the big public.
“You’re the One That I Want” was in fact released prior to the film’s premiere, and by the time the theatrical feature of “Grease” premiered, it was already a huge hit on its own, paving the way to the film’s success.
MOST ACTORS WERE SIGNIFICANTLY OLDER THAT THEIR ROLES
Even when most of the characters in “Grease” are in their late teens, the actors and actresses that made up the cast of the film were considerably older than their onscreen roles, starting a trend that was later followed by the likes of “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Dawson’s Creek.”
Actor Stockard Channing, who played Rizzo, was actually 33 years old when the film was shot, recalls how producer Allan Carr painted freckles on his face to make him look younger, something that Channing didn’t believe to be convincing.
The two half of the film’s main couple, played by Travolta and Newton-John, were respectively 23 and 29 when they were cast, but thanks to the suspension of disbelief, nobody seems to be troubled by this fact when watching the classic movie.
Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. I Image: Getty Images.
TRAVOLTA HAD A MINOR ROLE IN THE STAGE PRODUCTION
Given the great success of “Saturday Night Fever” the year before “Grease” was brought to the big screen, Travolta was an obvious option when they film creators had to think about its leading male star.
But in fact, Travolta had been familiar with the story for a long time when he landed the role of Danny in the film adaptation, for he was a member of the cast of the stage musical before he found success in Hollywood.
The actor played the part of Doody on Broadway several times, starting in 1972, when he was 18 and was starting to make himself a name in the industry with small guest-starring appearances on TV, and he knew the original dialogues by heart.
John Travolta. I Image: Getty Images.
SEWN INTO HER PANTS
Australian actress Olivia Newton-John (Sandy, in the film) wore a famous pair of skin-tight black leather pants in the ending scene of the movie, after undergoing one of the most outrageous makeovers.
The star who wore them revealed years later that she had to actually be sewn into the pants on set, since they were and old garment from the 1950s that had lost its zipper, something that made shooting the scene a nuisance for the actress.
In 2018, Newton-John announced that she was going to auction the piece of clothing that she had kept in her closet for 40 years, to raise funds for charity. Sarah Blakely, founder of the underwear brand “Spanx” took the pants home in November 2019 for $162,000.
HENRY WINKLER TURNED DOWN THE MAIN ROLE
74-year-old actor Henry Winkler became a pop culture icon in the mid-seventies when he starred as Arthur Fonzarelli, also known as “The Fonz” in one of America’s favorite family series, “Happy Days.”
The Fonz was the stereotypical rebellious biker from the 50s, a subculture whose members are identified as “greasers” for keeping their hair greased back. It is not a surprise, then, than the film producers wanted him to play the lead male.
“Now I can dance ‘Grease,’ but I can’t sing ‘Grease.’ So I thought, ‘you know what, I just played The Fonz for 10 years, I’m going to say no,” Wrinkler told the Rachael Ray Show in 2017, calling it one of his “greatest decisions.”
“BEAUTY SCHOOL DROPOUT”
The sequence in which the Teen Angel sings “Beauty School Dropout” is one of the most visually appealing of the entire film version of “Grease,” and its behind the scenes makes it all more interesting.
Teen Angel was played by pop singer Frankie Avalon, who had to descend down a three-story staircase surrounded by dancers for the shot, and was frozen by his fear of heights, to the point of nearly frustrating the director’s vision.
Eventually, Avalon managed to fear more confident about walking those steps and the crew helped by hiding mattresses on both sides of the staircase to give him security in the event of a fall.
THE RECORD OF A CENTURY
Just when Hollywood thought it was done with movie musicals, “Grease” appeared to establish a new record when it became the highest-grossing movie musical of the 20th century.
For 40 years, the film sat at the top of all the most successful movie musicals since the introduction of the genre, and it was only eight years into the 21st century when “Mamma Mia” claimed the spot as the highest-grossing musical movie of all time.
In 2017, “Mamma Mia” also had to give up its reign in favor of the live-action adaptation of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” starring Emma Watson, which is yet to be beaten as the most successful movie musical ever released.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. I Image: Getty Images.
IT WAS RANDAL KLEISER FIRST FEATURE FILM
The “Grease” film’s director Randal Kleiser really knew how to make an entrance in the movie-making business, since the record-breaking film was the big-screen debut of this prolific filmmaker.
Kleiser was 30 years old when he directed the film, after having graduated from film school at the University of Southern California, where he shared a room with George Lucas, who even offered him advice about the film’s development.
Far from being a one-hit director, Kleiser went on to make “The Blue Lagoon” (1980), “White Fang” (1991), and “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid” (1992), and is still active as a filmmaker.
OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN WAS HESITANT TO STAR IN THE FILM
Newton-John had many doubts about being the right person for the role of Sandy in the film, including her age (she had to play a character that was more than ten years younger than she was).
She was also worried that venturing into the film industry was going to harm her rising singing career, even though she sang in “Grease” after all. But nothing worried Newton-John more than her difficulty to speak with an American accent.
In the end, the nationality of the character she played was rewritten as Australian in order for the actress’ native accent not to be a problem anymore.