Monday, 30 November -0001

Grease is STILL the word

Nearly four decades after its release, iconic musical Grease is still the one that we want, says Melonie Clarke

Written by Melonie Clarke
Dust off your leather jacket and poodle skirt this Valentine’s Day as one of the great musicals, Grease, returns to the big screen (in sing-along form, just in case you’ve forgotten the words) at cinemas across the UK.

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When the motion picture – set at Rydell High in 1958 and starring John Travolta as Danny and Olivia Newton-John as Sandy – was released in 1978 it was an instant hit. It has taken around $400m at the international box office, a rather impressive return given it only cost $6m to make. The film soundtrack was also the second-bestselling album of that year in the US. It was the highest-grossing film of 1978. Indeed, it remains one of the bestselling soundtracks of all time. Clearly, we are still hopelessly devoted to Grease.

So, did you know…?

  • There was no air conditioning in the hall where the famous dance contest scene was filmed, and all of the doors had to remain closed to ensure the lighting was right. This lead to a number of extras being struck down by the heat.
  • ‘A hickey from Kenickie is like a Hallmark card,’ says Kenickie (played by Jeff Conaway). And the ‘hickies’ (love bites) on Betty Rizzo’s neck were real. Stockard Channing, who played Rizzo, revealed in an interview that Jeff Conaway insisted on authenticity.

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  • The day the scene with the song Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee – which features the line ‘Elvis, Elvis, let me be’ – was filmed was the same day Elvis Presley died: 16 August 1977. It was rumoured that Elvis was actually offered the role of the Teen Angel for the song Beauty School Dropout. Frankie Avalon eventually played the part.
  • Hopelessly Devoted To You, sung by Olivia Newton-John and nominated for an Academy Award for best original song, was not in the film initially. It was shot after the film had wrapped as it was decided a strong ballad was needed for her character, Sandy.

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  • While filming the Greased Lightning scene, Jeff Conaway was dropped by fellow cast members and injured his back. Years later he claimed this lead to his addiction to prescription painkillers. Conaway’s character was supposed to sing Greased Lightning, as in the stage version, but John Travolta insisted that his character sing the track instead. Director Randal Kleiser asked Conaway if he was agreeable to this. Initially he refused but in the end he gave in.
  • At 6ft 1½in, Conaway had to walk with a stoop to make 6ft 2in Travolta look even taller.

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  • They may have been playing high-school students, but the stars were too old for Rydell High: John Travolta was 23, Olivia Newton- John, 28, Stockard Channing, 33, and Jeff Conaway, 26.
  • In the original stage production, Sandy is an all-American girl with the surname Dumbrowski. Because Olivia Newton-John was Australian, however, producers of the film changed Sandy’s nationality (she became Australian too) and surname (to Olsson) accordingly.

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  • All 20 of the principal background dancers were given actual character names.
  • When the film was released in Spain and Latin America, its name was changed to Brillantina (Brilliantine) because the English title, Grease, translates as grasa (fat).

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  • For the final scene, featuring the song You’re The One That I Want, director Randal Kleiser used a travelling carnival as the set. When he later decided he needed more close-up shots, the carnival had packed up and moved on, which meant a replica had to be built.
  • Henry Winkler, best-known for playing Fonzie in Happy Days, was considered for the role of Danny in the film. He turned down the part, however, for fear of being typecast. For the original stage production, which opened in 1972 and ran for 3,388 performances on Broadway, actors who played Danny included Patrick Swayze, and Richard Gere was the understudy for the role.
  • The car-race scene (filmed in the dry riverbed of the Los Angeles River) left a number of cast members ill afterwards. This was apparently due to pools of stagnant, rubbish-filled water near a bridge where the actors stood. 
  • Olivia Newton-John was sewn into her famous skin-tight black outfit for the final scene because the zip broke on her trousers.

Grease Sing-A-Long will be screened at Cineworld cinemas nationwide on 14 February.

 


Other Valentine’s screenings to catch

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Casablanca will play in Odeon cinemas nationwide on 15 February: www.odeon.co.uk/films/casablanca_1942/15791/

 

The much anticipated film version of Fifty Shades Of Grey will be released nationwide on 13 February.

On Valentine’s Day, The Prince Charles Cinema in London will have screenings of Breakfast At Tiffany’s: 020-7494 3654, www.princecharlescinema.com

To channel your inner Sandy and Danny, go to a drive-in film. The National Diving and Activity Centre’s Drive- In Cinema Experience in Chepstow will show The Grand Budapest Hotel (below) and Love Actually over the Valentine’s weekend: 01291-630046, www.ndac.co.uk/cinema/



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