The 1978 hit musical and romantic comedy “Grease” is officially over the hill this summer. We’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this timeless classic with lots of fun trivia about the movie. Did you know what famous actor almost played Danny Zuko? Did you know John Travolta’s sister had a role in the movie?
We won’t blame you if you’re inspired to re-watch “Grease” after you read this! Of course, it has all the elements for a perfect summer blockbuster: summer lovin’, drama, great tunes and fun dance moves.
Cast members were much older than the characters they played.
You probably knew the cast members of “Grease” had already graduated high school. But you might be surprised at just how old some of the actors actually were when they were starring as teenagers. The oldest high schooler in “Grease” was Stockard Channing (Rizzo), who was 33. John Travolta (Danny) was 23 and Jeff Conaway (Kenickie) was 26. Olivia Newton-John (Sandy) turned 29 during filming.
Three high schools played the “role” of Rydell High.
A trio of Los Angeles high schools was featured as Rydell High. Venice High School serves as the facade. The athletic field where the carnival takes place is John Marshall High School. And the interior shots for the dance-off are courtesy of Huntington Park High School.
John Travolta nudged Olivia Newton-John to accept her role.
Olivia Newton-John was nervous about playing Sandy for a few reasons, including her Australian accent and the fact that she had more than a decade on high school grads. John Travolta helped changed her mind, however.
“John really wanted me to do it, and that was one of the deciding factors,” Newton-John told The Telegraph in an interview. “He’s a lovely man. We became great friends and he was very helpful to me on set, as I was not an experienced actress.” The script, of course, was adjusted to accommodate her Aussie accent.
John Travolta wasn’t the first pick for Danny’s character.
Originally the studio wanted Henry Winkler to play Danny Zuko. But Winkler, who played greaser Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli on the sitcom “Happy Days,” passed on the role because he didn’t want to be typecast.
Several other actresses were considered for the role of Sandy.
Can you imagine “Star Wars” star Carrie Fisher or country crooner Marie Osmond playing the role of Sandy? The actresses, along with “The Partridge Family” star Susan Dey and Deborah Raffin, were all considered for the role. Osmond explained that she ultimately dropped out because good girl Sandy evolved into a rebel.
John Travolta’s sister has a small role in ‘Grease.’
Ellen Travolta, sister of John Travolta, plays a diner waitress in “Grease.” She has one line in the movie, exclaiming, “Oh, there’s Danny and Sandy” as she’s watching the dance on TV in the diner. (There she is, the brunette in the front. Do you see a resemblance between her and her brother?)
John Travolta was heartbroken during the filming of ‘Grease.’
Just before “Grease” went into production in 1977, John Travolta’s girlfriend Diana Hyland died in his arms of cancer. Understandably, the actor struggled with grief while filming.
“People magazine came out with a story about [Diana] that John didn’t like,” Randal Kleiser, the film’s director, said in an interview. “He was distracted by it. It was hard for him to concentrate.”
Olivia Newton-John’s husband was a latecomer to ‘Grease.’
Olivia Newton-John’s husband John Easterling had never seen “Grease” before marrying the star in 2008.
Newton-John relayed during an interview with “Today” that she and her husband were having dinner at John Travolta’s house and the tidbit came up in conversation. When Travolta found out Easterling hadn’t seen “Grease,” he served dessert and pressed “play” on the movie. Easterling approved, saying, “This is a really good movie. I can see why people like it.”
Olivia Newton-John’s daughter has been a long-time fan.
When Olivia Newton-John’s daughter, Chloe Lattazani, was young, she loved watching “Grease.” In fact, she liked to go to sleep with the tape playing on the VCR, Newton-John told People. Singer and actress Lattanzi remains a big fan of her mom, often referring to her as her best friend on social media.
A Coca-Cola sign was blurred out of one scene.
Pay close attention to the first scene at Frosty Palace and you might notice a blurry sign above the booth where Sandy and her boyfriend Tom Chisum (Lorenzo Lamas) were sitting. It turns out it was a Coke sign, and it went unnoticed until the film had been shot. It got blurred out because — you guessed it! — Pepsi had the marketing rights in the movie.
The song lyric about Elvis felt eerie.
In the song “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” Stockard Channing belts out a lyric about Elvis Presley while looking at a picture of the King of Rock ‘ Roll. The lyric goes: “Elvis, Elvis, let me be, keep that pelvis far from me.” Elvis had died earlier in the day, which made for an eerie day on set, director Randal Kleiser told the New York Post.
“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.’”
The high school experience was very different for Olivia Newton-John.
While many of the cast members may have felt like they were going back to high school at the Los Angeles schools where “Grease ” was filmed, the experience was much different for Olivia Newton-John. She told The Telegraph she went to a strict school in Australia. Boys and girls had separate stairs and she wore a school uniform far more conservative than those famous skintight black pants she flaunts in “Grease.”
Olivia Newton-John still has her famous pants.
In one of the most iconic scenes in “Grease,” Sandy breaks from her good girl image and dons sexy, skin-tight black satin pants and a leather jacket to sing “You’re the One I Want.” And they could soon be yours! Newton-John has said she plans to auction the iconic pants off for charity.
Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into those tight pants.
Speaking of those iconic black pants, did you know that Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into them? “Grease” filmed during the 1970s and the pants were from the 1950s, which is the time period the movie was set. The pants were already old, and the zipper was gone, so Newton-John had to be sewn into the pants and then unstitched when she needed a bathroom break.
Stockard Channing’s hickeys were real.
Remember the hickeys on Rizzo’s neck? No makeup was needed as they were real hickeys that came courtesy of the late Jeff Conaway (Kenickie). According to Stockard Channing, Conaway gave the hickeys to her off-set. Ooh la la!
Olivia Newton-John played matchmaker off-set.
Olivia Newton-John introduced Jeff Conaway to her sister, Rona. Conaway and Rona married in 1980, a couple years after “Grease” came out. Their marriage lasted five years. When Conaway died at age 60 in 2011, Newton-John said in an interview: “Jeff had a good heart and was so very talented. He was a big part of our family for many years and he will be missed.”
Rizzo’s solo was almost cut.
Stockard Channing convinced producer Alan Carr not to cut her character Rizzo’s solo, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” in which she sings about what she thinks is an unplanned pregnancy. The song was imperative for Rizzo’s character development, she argued.
“That’s how you know what’s inside this little person,” she said she told Carr, according to ABC News. “Otherwise she’s just all that surface stuff.”
Thanks to a dream, Frankie Avalon agreed to a role in ‘Grease.’
Avalon’s gut reaction was to turn down the role of Teen Angel because he didn’t want to be typecast. But he told People that the scene in which an angel in white sings “Beauty School Dropout” to teenage girls was eerily reminiscent of a recurring dream his cousin told him about years ago.
Michael Tucci traded law for acting.
Michael Tucci gave up a career in law to try his hand in acting and landed the role as T-birds member Sonny. When he made the career change, his mother asked, “Who do you think you are? Sinatra?”
After “Grease,” he landed several other roles in television shows like “The Paper Chase,” “Diagnosis Murder” and “The Love Boat.”
Gerald Ford’s son turned down a role in the film.
Steven Ford (pictured to the right of his mother, below), the son of former President Gerald Ford, was too nervous to play the role of Tom, Sandy’s jock boyfriend. People points out the part had no dialogue! Lorenzo Lamas swooped in and was glad to land the role.
Lorenzo Lamas’ hair was dyed, and he definitely didn’t care.
Lorenzo Lamas looked too much like a T-Bird to play Sandy’s boyfriend Tom, according to producer Allan Carr. So Lamas’ hair was dyed lighter for the movie. According to an interview with People, he didn’t care one bit.
“I would have dyed it green, fuchsia, anything,” he told the magazine.
The actress playing Cha Cha went by a stage name.
You’ll remember Cha Cha as the “best dancer at St. Bernadette’s,” and she had a famous dancing scene with Danny Zuko. Cha Cha was played by Annette Cardona, but you’ll notice her name is listed as Annette Charles in the credits. Her manager suggested she go by that screen name, because, Cardona told People, “He thought an ethnic name would go against me.”
The word “grease” is missing from the script.
Can you believe it? The word “grease” isn’t actually ever said in the movie! Biography points out that only the word “greased” — with a “d” — is sung in the song “Greased Lightnin’.” So is grease actually the word, then?!
Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta recorded a Christmas album together.
The “Grease” co-stars have remained close friends over the years. In 2012, they made a Christmas album together called “This Christmas” and crooned a duet titled “I Think You Might Like It.” They considered it a sequel to “You’re the One I Want,” as it had the same writer, John Farrar.
“We made a video with a 1950s Thunderbird, and wore similar outfits to ‘Grease’ as a homage to a wonderful time in our lives,” Newton-John told The Telegraph.
The cast chewed a lot of bubblegum.
Bubble gum made frequent cameos in “Grease.” According to the Hartford Courant, the cast chewed about 100,000 pieces of bubble gum while the movie was being filmed. And, apparently, old habits die hard! Didi Conn, who played Frenchie, and Dinah Manhoff, who starred as Marty Maraschino, were both chewing gum while on the red carpet at a “Grease” re-release in 1998 as a fun nod to the musical.