Greased hair, tight pants, and plenty of leather. No, this isn’t a Bon Jovi farewell tour — this is Grease. Bringing the youthful angst and rebelliousness of the ’50s to life like never before, Grease set the benchmark for what a great musical should be: fun, catchy, and filled with heart. Even to this day, fans of all ages can’t help but sing along to every song.
But for a musical so iconic, Grease sure had plenty of unexpected drama behind the scenes. So get ready to be begging “tell me more, tell me more,” because these Grease facts go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong — wah-oooh, yeah!
1. At the time of filming, the entire main cast was too old to be in high school. Director Randal Kleiser actually administered a “crow’s-feet test” around their eyes to see if they could pass for teenagers!
2. Jeff Conway (Kenickie) was supposed to sing “Greased Lightnin’,” which the character actually does in the original Broadway production. John Travolta, however, insisted he be the one to sing it, causing plenty of tension between the two actors.
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3. Things didn’t get any better for Conway when, during the song, he injured his back after being dropped by his fellow cast members. This incident marked the beginning of his addiction to painkillers, which contributed to his untimely death in 2011.
4. The drag-racing scene sure is a fun one, but cast members actually fell ill while filming thanks to the dirty L.A. River water. Director Randal Kleiser even developed a foot infection because of it!
5. The song “Beauty School Dropout” may seem an innocent, comically pointed number, but its inspiration was quite the opposite. Two of Grease‘s writers actually penned the song after watching a news report about a teenager who dropped out of beauty school and became a murderer!
6. In the original musical, Sandy was actually Polish-American and had the last name “Dumbrowski.” To accommodate Olivia Newton-John’s Australian accent and background, they changed the character to Sandy Olsson.
7. During the “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” number, one of the original lyrics was changed to something a little more suggestive: “Elvis, Elvis, let me be! Keep that pelvis far from me!” Coincidentally, Elvis actually died the day the scene was filmed.
8. It took a week to film the entire dance contest scene, which was shot at Huntington Park High School in Los Angeles. Temperatures in the gym reached up to 116 degrees while filming, and some extras even got mildly ill because of the heat.
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9. Believe it or not, producers initially pegged Henry Winkler for the role of Danny Zuko. Winkler, who was still playing Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli on Happy Days at the time, ultimately declined for fear of being typecast.
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10. Olivia Newton-John actually wasn’t producers’ first choice for Sandy, either. Carrie Fisher, Susan Dey, and Marie Osmond were all considered better fits, and Osmond was even the frontrunner for the part until Sandy’s “good girl to bad girl” transformation scared her off.
11. In the early stages of adaptation, Grease was actually proposed as an animated film. The idea was ultimately scrapped, though producers did wind up animating the opening credits.
12. Initially, Coca-Cola struck a deal with producers that guaranteed a number of product placements throughout the film. Unfortunately, the deal fell through, forcing the production crew to obscure all references to the beverage — like that sign behind Sandy — in post production.
13. Jeff Conaway actually had a huge crush on Olivia Newton-John and was incredibly nervous around her on set. Though the pair never got together, Conaway did wind up marrying Newton-John’s sister, Rona.
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14. Annette Charles (Cha Cha DiGregorio) actually suffered an ectopic pregnancy while filming. Following the drag-racing scene, she was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery.
15. Some people just can’t dance, which was unfortunately the case for Dina Manoff (Marty). To account for this, producers actually made sure to exclude her character from all dance scenes!
16. While “Hopelessly Devoted To You” is easily one of Grease‘s most iconic songs, it actually wasn’t written or shot until after the film was pretty much wrapped. This last-minute addition was clearly a worthwhile one, as it was the only song from the movie to be nominated for an Oscar.
17. The leather pants in Grease look pretty tight — so tight, in fact, you might be wondering, “How the heck did they even fit in those things?” Well, believe it or not, Olivia-Newton John actually had to be sewn into her pants and then ripped out of them!
18. Lucie Arnaz, daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, was originally considered for the role of Rizzo but was dropped after Lucille made her refuse to take a screen test. She reportedly told producers, “I used to own that studio; my daughter’s not doing a screen test!”
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19. John Travolta’s sister, Ellen, actually made a small cameo in Grease. She played one of the diner waitresses watching the dance contest on TV, her only line being, “Oh, there’s Danny and Sandy.”
20. Olivia-Newton John actually had to be talked into Sandy’s big transition by John Travolta. “That was such a stretch, and something I was really worried about,” Newton-John recalled. “But when it happened, it was just this amazing feeling. It was very freeing.”
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After all, Olivia was never really accustomed to playing the “bad girl” — or to the spotlight in general. Before she became a global sensation, Olivia was just another girl from Australia… with one small twist.
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Born in Cambridge, England, Olivia’s father was an MI5 agent and schoolmaster, and among her ancestors were jurists and even a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Unlike her family, however, Olivia preferred to dabble in a field less rigid than law or science.
Music! At just 14 years old, Olivia began performing in coffee shops with three classmates as part of the all-girl group Sol Four. The group was short-lived, however, leading Olivia to begin making frequent local radio and television appearances as “Lovely Livvy.”
National Film and Sound Archive
She eventually won a talent contest on the television series Sing, Sing, Sing, earning a trip to Great Britain to begin her recording career. Olivia was reluctant at first, though after some persuading by her mother she decided to give it a shot.
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In 1966, Olivia record her first single “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine” with Decca records, though the song failed to generate much buzz. Disheartened and missing her boyfriend back home, Olivia was determined to return to Australia — that is, until an old friend decided to pay her a visit.
Pat Carroll, a fellow Australian singer whom Olivia had met on The Go!! Show years prior, arrived in Britain and joined Olivia to form the duo “Pat and Olivia.” The pair toured nightclubs across Europe for several years, though after Pat’s visa expired, Olivia found herself solo once again.
Yet this time would be different for Olivia, as after cutting her first album If Not for You in 1971 she found international success with the title track and the single “Banks of the Ohio.” She was voted Best British Female Vocalist two years straight — this, however, was only the beginning.
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With the release of the singles “Let Me Be There” and “I Honestly Love You,” Olivia earned three Grammy Awards in a two-year span, establishing herself as a force in both the pop and country genres. Unfortunately, not everyone was impressed by the young star’s versatility.
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American country purists rallied against Olivia, claiming that the foreigner’s brand of country-pop had no place among Nashville artists. This stance eventually shifted as the country community embraced the Australian native, though the support of traditional stars like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton didn’t necessarily translate to success on the charts.
Despite moving to the U.S. and earning acclaim for her album Have You Never Been Mellow, Olivia’s seventh album Clearly Love broke her streak of five consecutive gold top 10 singles when “Something Better To Do” stopped at No. 13. She didn’t return to the top 10 until 1978 — though what a year it was.
That’s because it was the year the 29-year-old starred in her breakout role of Sandy in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Grease. The film’s soundtrack became — and remains — one of the best-selling of all time, and the role served as a turning point for Olivia in her career.
Like her character’s dramatic image change in the film, Olivia’s look and music took on an edgier, more mature style. Her next album Totally Hot displayed a leather-clad Olivia on the cover, and the songs within featured a more aggressive, uptempo sound.
Still, this new image wasn’t enough to save her 1980 film Xanadu, which was a critical and commercial disaster and even inspired the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards. The soundtrack, however, proved to be a hit, setting Olivia up for her biggest success yet.
In 1981, Olivia’s new look and sound combined to create Physical, a risqué, rock-oriented album that went on to go double-platinum. The title track, despite its suggestive lyrics, topped the charts for ten weeks, going platinum itself and becoming the undisputed song of the decade.
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To accompany Physical, Olivia released a video album that served as the basis for the fledgling music video industry, earning her a Grammy in the process. The success of the album also led to an international tour, firmly establishing Olivia as the world’s premiere pop star — at least, for a time.
Olivia Newton-John / YouTube
Things began to fizzle for Olivia around the turn of the decade, as her next slew of albums failed to generate any meaningful buzz. After a three-year hiatus following the birth of her daughter Olivia attempted a promising comeback, though her hope of returning to superstardom was tragically derailed.
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In 1992, Olivia was diagnosed with breast cancer, forcing her to cancel all tours and upcoming projects. Thankfully, she made a full recovery, though her battle with cancer did change the way she approached her music.
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Olivia’s songs began taking on more meaning. Her 1994 album, Gaia: One Woman’s Journey, chronicled her fight; 2005’s Stronger Than Before featured a handful of fellow breast-cancer survivors. Still, that didn’t mean the iconic singer was giving up the classics.
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Despite her cancer returning in 2013 and then again in 2017, Olivia continued to tour and perform and even maintained a residency at the Flamingo Las Vegas. But even with so many hit songs to choose from, her Grease classics still remain at the top of every audience’s wish list.
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