29+ Behind the Scenes Secrets We Never Knew About Grease
| LAST UPDATE 02/23/2023
We're heading back to the '50s. An era of slicked-back hair, leather jackets, and Pink Ladies. These facts are automatic and systematic, with unanticipated drama and youthful nostalgia; these are the hidden truths about Grease.
Not So Hopeless
Remember when Sandy couldn't stop gushing over bad boy Danny Zuko? Well, while the ladies were inside slumber partying, she was serenading to her feelings outside. However, this scene almost didn't make the cut.
The mellow symphony Hopelessly Devoted To You was easily identified as one of the film's most favorite songs. But it wasn't until near the end of filming that the crew decided to actually write it. Talk about last minute. But it was worth the sleepless studio nights as it was the only song from the film to be nominated for an Oscar.
Fonzie for Danny Zuko
Let's put it this way, last minute decisions seemed to have been the film's forte. It turns out John Travolta was not always going to be the musical heartthrob, as Henry Winkler was allegedly a shoo-in for the part. While they might have both mastered the same combed-over hairstyle, this is a tough pill to swallow.
Winkler was the lead Fonzie, which ultimately made him Paramount's top choice for the part of Danny Zuko, given the cool guy in leather aesthetic. However, Winkler declined the part which benefitted John Travolta. According to Variety, he didn't want to be "typecast." Although now, he has openly admitted to regretting his decision!
The "Crow's Feet Test"
It's no secret that the cast of Grease did not exactly match up to their character's ages. Still, their acting skills managed to pull off the parts with ease. However, to make sure that they would portray the characters accordingly, the cast and crew underwent the "crow's feet test," where the director got up close and personal.
Director Randal Kleiser told Vanity Fair in 2016, "I would get up close to them and see if they had any crow's-feet around their eyes, and that would show they were beyond the surreal age that we had determined would work… High-school kids could not have crow's feet."
Rizzo's Unexpected Age
Despite the subtle yet distinctive test the cast had to go through to make sure they could pass for high schoolers, it seems that Stockard Channing passed with flying colors. While the majority of the cast were out of their teenage years anyway, Channing was the eldest out of all of them.
Channing aged like fine wine. Even at the age of 30, she could pass for a 16-year-old. Most people can't say that, and now we're just dying to know her secret to keeping herself looking young. During filming, she was 33 years old. Despite the lack of wrinkles and crow's feet, the crew drew on freckles just to make her look a bit younger.
Olivia Newton-John's Wardrobe Mishap
The movie-musical really went out with a bang! Not only did the film end with one of the most popular songs of the film, audiences witnessed one of the greatest character transitions ever, which evidently became a favored Halloween costume. The big and blonde perm, the red lips and heels, and the double leather. She made it seem so easy.
While her outfit seemed like a simple bodysuit matched with tight leather pants, Olivia had to go to lengths to strut her stuff like nothing was wrong. The leather trousers were 25 years old, and the zipper ultimately broke. So, it took a little sewing action, but she was literally stitched back into her costume.
Talk about a sticky situation. While chewing gum was a significant element throughout the film, as we saw people chomping away into other people's business, there were many scenes that stood out to us - like the the angelic musical number of Beauty School Dropout. But just how many pieces did they chew?
The cast was blowing bubbles everywhere they went. After the production was finished, it was established that the cast went through approximately 100,000 pieces of bubble gum. That's a lot of chewing. We're surprised their jaws didn't drop off. In fact, bespoke bubble gum packs were then produced to promote the film!
The Voice of Greased Lightnin
While John Travolta was not the first option for Zuko, he took the opportunity to make a few demands for his character. The first was that he wanted the Elvis-style blue-black hair. That was approved. However, the second demand has us taken by surprise, only to learn he was not the original lead singer for Greased Lightnin!
In the original stage production, Kenickie sings the famous number. Jeff Conaway, the actor who played Kenickie in the movie, wasn't too happy about the fact that Travolta essentially stole his song. "I wanted the number," John admitted. "And because I had clout, I could get the number." But that wasn't the only thing that got Conaway down.
Tough Times for Kenickie
Talk about Kenickie getting kicked down in the dumps. While it wasn't a miserable experience for Conaway, there were points during production where his cast mates hurt him - literally. We're not saying he was left out of the crowd, but a physical injury led him down a dark rabbit hole.
Conaway, unfortunately, injured his back after his castmates dropped him during one of the scenes. The show had to go on, so he was immediately prescribed painkillers. However, this injury led to his struggle with substances, specifically with painkillers, ultimately resulting in his untimely passing in 2011.
We bet you didn't know some special family members of the cast had their very own cameo in Grease! There's nothing better than having family close by, especially when they have experience in acting behind them. Besides the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies, there was another special crew in the film: the famous diner waitresses.
The ladies in blue that served the creamiest malt shakes were spotted sporadically throughout the film. But we never knew one of them was John Travolta's older sister, Ellen! In one scene, she says, "Oh, there's Danny and Sandy!" She later appeared in Happy Days, Joanie Loves Chachi, and Charles in Charge during the 80s.
Romance On Set
We're not surprised by the heat of the film that some real romance sparked on set. One cast member, in particular, was the on-set charmer, that being ladies' man Conaway himself. He definitely tapped into his Kenickie ways and went around flirting with the majority of the film's extras. He even tried to take his best friend's leading lady!
Conaway developed a major crush on Olivia Newton-John, but alas, it was not meant to be. Ironically, he ended up marrying her sister, Rona Newton-John, and they were together for a blissful five years. We can visualize those summer nights as we speak. Sadly, things didn't work out in the long run, and they divorced in 1985.
Marty Had Two Left Feet
It looks like Dinah Manoff had a case of the jitterbug. While it's evident the whole cast was extremely talented, Manoff, who was cast as Pink Lady Marty in the film, had a little trouble grasping some of the dance moves. She was definitely right for the part, and the crew did everything to make it work for her.
Not only could Manoff not keep up with the steps, but she couldn't hold a note either. Maybe they just muted her mic? If we watch the movie closely, it becomes noticeable that Marty is subtly missing from the big musical numbers. She confessed to the Seattle Times in 2010, "They were hiding me. I couldn't really keep up!"
A Near Death Incident
If there was one cast member who was way ahead of the game, it was Annette Charles, who played the fiesty and hip-shaking, Cha Cha. She definitely stole the show in particular scenes, just like when she stole Zuko from Sandy in the big prom dance number. However, in other scenes, she is anything but fit for acting.
In the drag racing scene, Cha Cha prepares Zuko and Leo Balmudo to start their engines for the Thunder Road showdown. However, Charles was quietly suffering from an ectopic pregnancy off-camera. She had to hold on to vehicles for support and was rushed to the hospital immediately after the scene.
A Hickey From Kenickie
When it comes to method acting, these iconic actors, in particular, took their roles extremely seriously. From braving injuries and medical situations to creating real-life heat between characters. That being said, we can't deny Rizzo and Kenickie's love was purer than any high school romance that we've witnessed.
Rumors started circulating that Conaway gave real hickies, aka love bites, to Stockard Channing in between takes, so it was as authentic as possible. Of course, the crew appreciated must have appreciated this, but let's just hope this wasn't done in front of anybody. Awkward!
Most fans can admit that Olivia Newton-John was the perfect Sandy. Her pure essence, combined with her sweet Australian accent, was a shoo-in for the down-to-earth character. However, she was surprisingly not the producer's first choice for the character. While we can't imagine any other girl to play the role, the crew had a list.
A-listers such as Carrie Fisher, Susan Dey, and even Marie Dosmand were all considered to play the sweet girl from down under. Specifically, Marie Osmond seemed ideal for the part - but she was hesitant about the good girl gone bad transition toward the end of the film. Thankfully, Newton-John stepped in, and we've never looked back.
Of course, the film wouldn't be the same without our favorite blonde from down under. Originally, Newton-John was still hung up on her previous 1970 science-fiction production, Toomorrow. According to Joel Thurm's memoir, Sex Drugs & Pilot Season: Confessions of a Casting Director, she was "embarrassed" and "humiliated."
"John really wanted Olivia for the role of Sandy," Thurm shared. "We talked about it, and I said, 'It's a great idea.' But my problem was to make Olivia work. Olivia did not want to do it initially. She didn't leap at this opportunity." Eventually, though, "She met John, and she liked him.." After requesting a screen test, the rest was history.
An Animated Adult-Film
Remember the beginning scene that overlayed the lyrics "I solve my problems, and I see the light?" Well, that could have continued for the entire production. Originally, the overly chiseled Zuko and big-haired Rizzo were apparently good enough for the team behind Grease - and they pitched the idea of having the entire film animated!
Producers Steve Krantz and Ralph Bakshi owned the rights to Grease at first and liked the idea of an X-rated cartoon love story. The idea fell through, and immediately the casting process started. Thank goodness, it just wouldn't have sat right with us. Still, they still had a snippet of their dream included, as shown in the opening credits.
Dangers on Thunder Road
How can we forget the infamous battle on Thunder Road? The race between the film's antagonist and protagonist was pushed to the limits in their beloved vehicles, bringing Grease Lightnin' into full swing. The scene has a lot of buzz and definitely pumped the audience for the film's finale. However, it wasn't all smooth cruisin'.
While we have already touched upon Annette Charles's health battle during this scene, it seems there was bad energy in the air on this day. It turns out the dirty Los Angeles water from the river caused major illnesses for most cast members and even gave director Randal Kleiser a foot infection! That's not very glamorous.
Bring In the Scientists
In 1976, John Travolta became a part of the Church of Scientology. According to Scientology.com, the elements behind the controversial belief "helps bring Man to total freedom and truth." Travolta was very open about his hopeless devotion to this group, and brought this energy on set with him.
Considering Kleiser's nasty foot infection, Travolta took this opportunity to apply his religious beliefs. According to Vanity Fair, Travolta performed "touch assist" by repeatedly asking him to "feel his finger." Kleiser confessed, "The next day, I was better, and of course, he claimed it was because of the touch assist."
No Grey Hairs, Pink Ladies
Yes, Stockard Channing was the oldest. But Jamie Donnelly, who played Jan, came in a close second at the age of 30 during filming. Yes, she might have passed the crow's feet test, but that doesn't mean she didn't have any further touch-ups to bring her age down a notch. Everyone ages differently, but Donnelly was going grey rather quickly.
Directors thought it'd be odd to see a high schooler with grey hair. To overcome this minor obstacle, Donnelly had to dye over her roots constantly throughout production to maintain that teenage aesthetic. Her hair grew so fast that she would have to carry around a black crayon in case any greys came popping through on the sporadic occasion.
Grease, The Franchise
After the first film's blockbuster success, it's no surprise Paramount wanted to continue its legacy. Although, sometimes, it's better to leave people wanting more with further questions. Still, they took a chance on the film's narrative and decided to blueprint for another 3 films and a TV show. That's a whole lotta Rydell spirit.
Sadly, the producers had their hopes set too high. Perhaps no one could replace the talents of the original Rydell crew. Still, they thought Michele Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield could do the job. Even with the original Eugene (Eddie Deezen) and Didi Conn, it didn't win audiences over. Ultimately, the entire franchise was canceled.
Let's just say James Dean walked so John Travolta could run. Years before Danny Zuko became the generation's bad boy, James Dean was the most rebellious teenage on TV whilst running his course as Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause (1955). While we might think Zuko was a reincarnation of Stark, we aren't entirely wrong.
Despite the greased comb over and glaring eyes, Dean's predominant prop was his cherry red windbreaker. While his chest puffed through the XS white shirt, it added a romantic illusion for any sporadic scene walking in the wind. They thought it was key, so Zuko got his very own blue windbreaker as an unspoken tribute.
The Forbidden Fruit - Well, Fizzy Drink
Subtle promos are everywhere in production. For marketing purposes, they're clever for the sake of a small cameo. However, sometimes brands appear, and there's only so much production can do. Before Grease was released, filmmakers sealed a deal with Pepsi. However, the famous fizzy drink was accidentally outshined by its competitor.
For some reason, the directors did not get the memo, as Coca-Cola drinks and labels are seen throughout pretty much the whole film. Reshooting multiple scenes was far too costly and time-consuming, so the directors had to make do by removing labels or disguising the logos. But one logo still made the cut in a diner scene. Oops!
Working on the Job
Movies are made for the imagination. In most cases, real-life events are totally fabricated for an excellent production. All we can say is just like the kids from East High, the Rydell High students spent a little too much time singing, dancing, and randomly jumping on greased-up cars.
While this differed a lot from most high school experiences, producer Allan Carr had a vision that Danny was a busboy and gas-station employee who sang a song called "Gas Pump Jockey." Of course, this would have made sense considering the abundance of scenes that align with these jobs. Nevertheless, they stuck to the script we know and love.
There are thousands of reasons why Grease was such a success. The insanely clever development of the film was way ahead of its time and stole the hearts of all movie-goers. The masterminds behind the production really knew what they were doing, and ironically, majority of viewers have not noticed that one word is never spoken.
Did you ever notice that the word 'grease' is never said in one line throughout the whole film? Don't worry, we didn't either. We're unsure how we swiftly went by watching it on repeat and never clocking in. While the word 'greased' is used enough, this still doesn't count. Clearly, grease was not the word after all.
'Beauty School Dropout' Horror
As Frenchie decides whether to stay in beauty school and return to R.D, Frankie Avalon, aka, The Teen Angel, gives her a helping hand. In a scene from Frenchie's imagination, Angel serenades Frenchie to help guide her in the right direction singing Beauty School Dropout. While the song seems comical and innocent, it has a darker meaning.
It turns out, before the writers got to work on the film, they stumbled across a news report on television about a teenager who had dropped out of beauty school to become... a murderer. This wasn't exactly the career choice that Frenchie had in mind, but they got one heck of a song out of it!
Olivia's Last Words
As we unlock a whole background about the iconic film set in the 50s, it's only right that we remember our leading lady, the blondest bombshell of the 70s, Miss Olivia Newton-John. The Australian actress sadly passed away in August 2022 after a long battle with breast cancer. However, she left behind a huge legacy.
Her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi, spoke bravely about her late mother on the Today show in February, revealing her last words: "my sunshine." She gradually lost her speech but was still "making jokes." She continued, "She's not Olivia Newton-John to me, but I'm so glad that she was Olivia Newton-John for so many people."
A Very Heated Dance Off
Yes, it's the scene that had us get up from our seats and put rhythm in our feet! The all-mighty dance scene that was set during their high school prom was just one of the most adored events. As we witness Cha Cha try to steal Zuko away from his beloved Sandy, we can't help but wonder how the incredible scene was put together.
It turns out it took those classmates an entire week to get that hand jive dance contest down to a T. It was shot at Huntington Park High School in Los Angeles, and we can only imagine the scorching temperatures combined with the sweat-induced dance moves. The gym reached up to 116 degrees while filming, and some even became ill.
Sandy, the American?
As established, the casting process for Sandy was not as easy as we assumed it would be. While the other candidates were native Americans, the filmmakers went with our girl from down under, and of course, they stuck with the accent too! However, Sandy's character was not actually created as an Australian.
In the original musical on Broadway, Sandy was an all-American sweetheart with the last name Dumbrowski, as opposed to her film name, Sandy Olsson. It was Olivia's demanded talent that changed the game, and it definitely added a twist to the whole narrative. It was the tale of two different worlds in love, you can't beat that!
Lucie Arnaz for Rizzo
Olivia and John weren't the only cast members who weren't the writer's first picks for the film. It turns out Stockard Channing wasn't exactly favored either. Now that it's done and dusted, we don't think there is anyone with the same amount of sass that could simultaneously wear their heart on their sleeve… or so we thought.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's daughter, Lucie Arnaz, was initially considered for the role, and we can see why. The same dark features and facial similarities have us shook. As for why she didn't take the role, despite nailing the audition? It's "actually a stupider story, and they should put that one in, but I'm glad they didn't," she confessed.
While Marie Osmond turned down the part of Sandy for moral reasons, it is understood that Olivia had some similar feelings and opinions. She had an image to uphold in the spotlight, and many more elements were just coming out of their taboo era. So, the whole bad girl image was a tad worrying for her.
In a Vanity Fair interview, Newton-John recalled the moment she was talked into Sandy's persona transition. She admitted, "That was such a stretch and something I was really worried about… But when it happened, it was just this amazing feeling. It was very freeing." Needless to say, her time in Rydell High will live on forever...