With the massive success of Grease: Live! earlier this year, a whole new generation of fans are falling in love with the musical movie from the ‘70s. Despite the fact that it has been nearly forty years since Danny, Sandy & Co hit screens, their adventures at Rydell High still seem relevant. From new kids struggling to fit in, drop-outs with big dreams, the battle against a bad reputation, or just figuring out who you really are, Grease deals with issues that just don’t age. (Although admittedly, some feel that Sandy's final transformation may not have been the best way to deal with her particular problem!)
Whether you have loved the film for decades, or are a brand new fan of the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies, some things might still surprise you. Ahead of the anniversary of its release on June 16th, we’ve wrapped up twelve things that you might not have known about the original film – how many were you aware of?
12 The Background Dancers Had Names
Anyone who has browsed IMDB has probably noticed that background characters don’t usually have names. Instead, characters are usually described by their job (Security Guard #1), appearance (Fat Man) or just a general summing up of their role (Second Clerk, Third Dancer, Diner Customer #4, etc).
However, in Grease, all twenty of the principal background dancers were given character names. These were never used in the film itself, and aren’t often credited, but reportedly included such gems as: Sauce, Trix, CeeCee, Woppo, Midge, Moose and Bubba. Although some were undoubtedly a little more conventional, it would have been hilarious to hear Moose and Trix calling to each other in the background!
11 It Was The Highest Grossing Film of 1978
Grease was a massive financial and critical success when it was first released. As well as becoming a huge draw at the box office, it was nominated for multiple awards, including one Oscar (Best Original Song for ‘Hopelessly Devoted’) and five Golden Globes. It also won a Golden Screen award and two People’s Choice Awards in 1979.
With this kind of acclaim, it’s not too surprising that Grease was officially the highest grossing film of 1978. It did so well that it was one of the highest grossing films of all time for several years, behind Jaws and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Grease is still the highest grossing movie musical of all time.
10 Olivia Newton-John Had To Be Sewn Into Her Costume
For the final number, Olivia Newton-John was transformed into the kind of rocker chick that would fit right in with the T-Birds and Pink Ladies. She appears with her hair permed, red lipstick, red heels and a black leather jacket over her tight black outfit.
That famous outfit was so tight, in fact, that the actress had to be sewn into it during filming! The pants zipper broke, so the costume department decided simply to sew them onto her in the morning, and the team cut the stitches so she could take them off at the end of the day. During filming, Newton-John wasn’t even allowed to go to the bathroom, as the pants would have to be cut off and sewn back on if she did.
9 Henry Winkler Was Nearly Cast as Danny
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than John Travolta as male lead Danny Zuko, but he wasn’t the first choice for the part. The role of the T-Birds head honcho was originally offered to Henry Winkler.
Best known for his portrayal of Arthur ‘Fonzie’ Fonzarelli on the hit ‘70s sitcom Happy Days, it’s easy to see why Winkler would be an obvious choice. Fonzie and Danny have a lot in common – especially their trademark greaser look. The hair, the t-shirt under a leather jacket, the attitude… if Danny was a bigger fan of the thumbs up, they could practically be the same guy! However, Winkler turned the role down, as he didn’t want to be typecast.
8 Sandy Was Originally American
In the original Broadway musical, the character of Sandy was an all-American girl, Sandy Dumbrowski. However, because Olivia Newton-John was so popular at the time, when she was cast as Sandy the character’s background was changed to match the actress’. Sandy Dumbrowski became Sandy Olsson.
Instead of an American girl, she was a newcomer from Australia, allowing Newton-John to use her natural accent. This was only one of several changes from the original musical – although the majority of the remaining changes have to do with the musical numbers. Several were left out of the film, although they appear in the stage musical, while others were written specially for the film.
7 The Dance Contest Took A Week To Film
The dance contest scene was one of the longest to film in the movie, taking an entire week to get in the can. To make things worse, the scene was filmed during the summer months in an actual high school gym – with no air conditioning. With the doors shut, the gym became unbearably hot, and more than one extra fainted from the heat.
In contrast, "You’re The One That I Want" only took a single day to film. It was shot at an actual travelling carnival that happened to be nearby, along with the rest of the carnival scenes. However, when it came time to do some reshoots of the scenes, the real carnival had packed up and moved on, and reshoots had to be done with re-created backgrounds made to match the original set.
6 Elvis Was Offered A Role
Elvis makes a brief appearance in the film – in a photo, on the wall of Frenchie’s bedroom. During the song "Look At Me I’m Sandra Dee," Rizzo sings to a couple of celebrity photos, including Troy Donahue and Elvis Presley.
However, the real Elvis could have been involved in the film as well! He was originally offered the role of the Guardian Angel who comes to urge Frenchie to go back to high school. The role eventually went to Frankie Avalon, who crooned "Beauty School Drop Out" in the final film. It would have been a very different scene if the King had taken on the role – Elvis and Avalon had very different styles, and Frenchie’s angel wouldn’t have been quite as pure and innocent…
5 Rizzo’s Hickeys Were Real
Rizzo (Stockard Channing) is the bad girl with a heart of gold, known for her many flirtations and her on-again-off-again relationship with Kenickie. One of the ways that the film alludes to her sexual liaisons (as the squeaky-clean production doesn’t include any actual sex scenes) is by showing her with hickeys. As the line goes, she got “a hickey from Kenickie." Or, more accurately, so many of them that she was worried that people would think she was a leper!
These weren’t applied with makeup, either. According to interviews with Channing, actor Jeff Conaway, who played Kenickie, actually gave her real hickeys to make them seem more realistic. Talk about authenticity!
4 Carrie Fisher Nearly Played Sandy
When director Randal Kleiser was in college, he roomed with another to-be famous director: George Lucas! The two remained in touch, and when Kleiser was in the process of casting the role of Sandy, Lucas was wrapping up Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Lucas suggested his leading lady, Carrie Fisher, for the part of Sandy, and even showed Kleiser some footage from his upcoming film.
However, Kleiser was looking for someone who could sing and dance as well as act, and couldn’t envision Fisher in the musical numbers from her Star Wars scenes. He continued looking, eventually lighting upon Olivia Newton-John. Now, it’s hard to imagine Sandy as anything other than a blonde, but she could have been the brunette leader of the Rebel Alliance!
3 The Director Hated The Theme Song
The theme song for the film, "Grease Is The Word" appears alongside an animation for the opening credits – but director Kleiser wanted it cut entirely.
Originally, a different song was used – one with a much more ‘50s sound, and with lots of references to that particular decade. When "Grease Is The Word" replaced it, Kleiser wasn’t happy. He believed that the lyrics didn’t suit the movie, and that they were too dark for the feel of the film. There was talk of shooting a more serious scene to bring the two together, but in the end, they just included the new song – and nobody seemed to mind, or even notice the “dark” lyrics.
2 A Different Sort Of Sequel Was Planned
Grease was eventually followed by the unimaginatively named Grease 2, in 1982. The follow up featured an almost entirely new cast (Coach Calhoun appears in both movies), as a new set of T-Birds and Pink Ladies made their way through adolescence at Rydell High. The sequel bombed, and was called out for being an half-hearted remake of the original.
A different follow-up was originally planned, however. The first idea for a sequel would have involved the continuing adventures of the original cast at summer school – inspired by Coach Calhoun’s line “see you in summer school!” This sequel, while potentially entertaining, never came to be. Another possibility for Grease that never made it out of development was to make the entire original film an animated movie, rather than live action.
1 Coach Was Nearly Played By A Porn Star
Lovable teacher-type Coach Calhoun appears in Grease after Danny decided that he would have to become a jock to impress Sandy. His ill-fated plan is a hilarious scene, as he not only fails miserably at track, but attempts to keep his coif perfect and his cigarettes on the field! Calhoun later appears at the fairground in the final scenes.
This comedic character was portrayed perfectly by comedian Sid Caesar, but Caesar was not the first choice for the part. Harry Reems was originally considered for the role, largely due to his theater background. However, Reems had long left the stage for the world of adult entertainment, and by the time Grease was filmed, he was famous as one of the stars of the famous porn flick Deep Throat. His history in porn was considered too controversial for the clean-cut movie, leading to him being replaced by Caesar.
Any other fun trivia bits the fans need to know? Let us know in the comments.